Outside the room
It was clear, right from the start, that Time Run was going to be something special. When it first popped into my inbox, a quick look at the website hinted at production values well beyond anything else currently available in London. The site beckons you in, beguiles you as it swishes around the screen, and hooks you with a trailer that, frankly, seemed fanciful. I can assure you, it is not.
At around £35 per person (peak times), it’s significantly more expensive than the rest of London’s escape rooms, which I guess is why it took me so long to go there. I felt justifying the 40% premium over other rooms and asking my friends to pay that as well was unnecessary with so many other options. Eventually though, the overwhelmingly positive reviews and the fear that all the tickets to the original “closing” date of September might sell out, forced my hand.
The instructions you receive are very specific – turn up no more than five minutes early and not a moment late – so at the anointed hour we sauntered up to the entrance. And what an entrance! While the surrounding area isn’t the prettiest in the world (just in behind the railway line from London Fields to Cambridge Heath), they’ve done a good job setting the scene, with the Time Run logo from the front page of the website, serving as an entrance into the event. While we waited for the main door to open, from the other direction came our adversaries (soon to be known as “Hackney to the Future”). Time Run has two rooms, but you’re briefed together – ideal if you’re planning an outing for up to ten people.
We were greeted at the door by Aubrey Defoe, Luna Fox’s assistant (more later!), and from the moment he answered that buzzer it was clear that this would be an entirely immersive gaming experience. He performed his role admirably – putting us all at ease, ad libbing when we said things that were unexpected and gently teasing members of the two teams. Often escape rooms say something like “the experience will last up to 90 minutes”, when really what they mean is there’s some admin to get out of the way before and after your experience. Here, it was genuinely an experience from start to finish and Defoe most definitely was a part of that. Suddenly that 40% premium didn’t seem very high at all.
Your adventure beings with the story of Luna Fox, the discoverer of time travel. She’s ventured through the time portals she created and found that certain objects, through their power, distort history. She’s enlisted you to track down these objects to bring them to safety, and more specifically, in this case, “The Lance of Longinus”. Luna is off in another part of time though, so you’re ably assisted by Babbage, her robot assistant.
Inside the room
Hold your horses, the briefing isn’t actually over – not content with the initial “welcome” briefing by Aubrey, they throw in a second video based briefing, split between Babbage and Luna, to set your task. Before you know it, that’s over though and the two teams part ways before walking through their respective portals to start the game proper…
Reviewing escape rooms is an art, and one which I’ll freely admit I have yet to master. I need to convey the feel of the room without giving away specifics and convince you of the quality of the puzzles without giving you any evidence to back those claims up. It’s never an easy challenge, but with Time Run, I really have my work cut out.
First off, it was pleasingly non-linear. The story arc allows team mates to go off and explore independently, although every so often you’ll find that there’s a particular element that draws you all back together again. There were definitely parts of this room where my team mates solved puzzles that I was only vaguely aware of BUT the good news was that there were plenty of puzzles to go around, so I wasn’t at all disappointed. Looking back at the whole experience, I never felt I was sidelined from the puzzles, and never felt any frustration at lack of progress. Well done Time Run!
So, there were puzzles aplenty, but were they any good? Overall, yes. There were definitely a couple of puzzles that I felt were a little weak – a couple near the beginning where you more or less got given a combination for a lock, and one near the end where the answer didn’t feel like it was a natural part of the game, but in truth I’m being incredibly picky, because it’s so hard to find fault. This experience was packed to the gunnels with fun puzzles. If it lacked one thing it was a single truly impressive puzzle. The designers had gone down the route of making the set impressive and beautifully embedding the puzzles within it, but it was rare for the solution to a puzzle to make me go “Wow!”. My “Wow!” bar is pretty high though, and they certainly made me smile, so overall they did well on the puzzles.
As alluded to above, the set was amazing. I don’t bandy this sort of thing around very often, but this was reminiscent of the Crystal Maze (note – Dean Rodgers, one of the people behind Time Run is part of the team that will bring us the Crystal Maze experience later in the year – Time Run bodes well for that!). This wasn’t a room which had been decorated – it felt more like it had been built in its entirety. Frankly, should you ever actually go through a time portal after playing this game, I can’t help but feel you’d be sorely disappointed with reality – it can’t possibly have the level of detail available here. They have put an immense amount of effort into getting things just right, and what they lacked in “Wow!” for the puzzles themselves, they more than made up for when I saw the set.
Throughout the experience, whenever we were moving slowly, they helped us along with clues. The clues were just right to give you a helping hand, without feeling like they were spoon feeding you the answer (although I’m sure that they could do that for people struggling with the rooms!). More on this later – because unlike many escape rooms, every hint counts.
When we finally escaped I realised that I’d barely stopped moving and thinking since we walked through the original portal. There’s just no let up in this game – you’re constantly being drawn forward, given new clues to analyse and new puzzles to solve. It’s this escape room addict’s idea of how games should be played – frantic from start to finish.
Aside: Not relevant to the review, but an interesting technical note for escape room aficionados. The venue has only two “rooms”, but allows people in every 45 minutes. That probably explains why they can afford to have such impressive looking sets – they’re taking around £150-£180 an hour per room I’d guess, compared to a typical room which would get around £70 even if it was full occupancy, which seems rare these days. It also means they must be running an impressively slick resetting scheme. Oh, and it tells you something else, which I’ll leave you to work out yourself.
I felt we did a decent job in the escape room, and in retrospect, the fact that I never felt unsure of what to do next should have hinted that we were doing reasonably well. It turned out that we’d taken the record with a time of 46:10 and only 6 hints. One of the nice touches of this escape room is that they give you a report card (nice, because we did well 🙂 ) and on both counts we fell into the top category – Godlike for number of hints (0-10) and Time Masters for time (<50 minutes). According to our host that made us the “Time Run World Champions” – no one had had fewer hints, and no one with that number of hints had finished quicker. High fives all round (metaphorically speaking – we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves!)
Really? Do you need to read this section? Time Run is a must do escape room. I’m torn about what to recommend though – this should absolutely not be your first escape room. This should be your last escape room because every other experience you take part in will undoubtedly feel poorer in comparison. But do make sure you do it!
My only hope is that they open another room. Oh, it turns out that’s exactly what they plan to do – expect to see me right at the front of the queue…
Probably the strongest criticism I can level at Time Run is the lack of eating establishments nearby. We eschewed the local Vietnamese restaurants and the French bistro, and instead headed down to Broadway Market and ate at Franco Manca, a wonderful Italian chain that specialises in sourdough pizza. Don’t expect fancy dining here – you’ll be sitting on benches in a relatively crowded room, but the pizza is very, very good – right to the last crust.
Don’t take my word for it…
Other reviews for this room – let me know if you know of others:
Detailed Room Ratings
Clever indeed that they can start resetting rooms before games are finished!
We did this last night and maybe I was a bit too ambitious bringing 3 newbies to the game. I was really disappointed we didn’t make it in time and probably needed another 10 minutes at least 🙁 Their sets and set up were amazing so now I’m worried nothing will live up to this…argh. Here’s hoping they start their next room soon! (Oh and we also ate in Franco Manca – which is always awesome so not sure why “criticism” 😉
You’re obviously not as lazy than me – when I said “nearby”, I meant “within 100m” :-).
Bad luck on not getting out – with Time Run, whether or not you get out depends on whether you “get” the last few puzzles. If you struggle early on they’ll help you along a lot I suspect, but if you struggle later, I think they leave you alone a bit more.
Don’t worry too much about other rooms living up to it. I hold out hopes for Oubliette Escape Rooms (see why), clueQuest’s new room and as you say, hopefully Time Run will open a new one soon.
If you’re looking for something that might fill the gap in the meantime, perhaps Secret Studio?
Play it on the easier setting though – I think it’s one of the tougher games I’ve played!