London, May 2017
This was a temporary pop-up game and is now closed.
Escape This Room is one of the most recent additions to the London escape game scene – but however only a temporary addition, since it turns out they’re only running until 27th May, putting them in competition for shortest pop-up escape room run ever.
The game follows a familiar bank heist theme. What makes it unusual is that the game is immersive from the moment you enter the venue – you’re greeted in character and the briefing is provided as part of the game. Once playing, the hint system also uses a custom and story-based mechanism.
Puzzles are designed with the same dedication to the narrative. There’s very little that looks like it was placed in the room for players as an intentional puzzle; it’s a naturalistic style throughout, and there are some good thinking outside the box and physical tasks involved.
The biggest break of that immersion is a rule that players should not take objects from one location to the next, except where explicitly instructed to do so. The game progresses through multiple areas, and for the most part each part is self-contained with respect to the clues and puzzles in it; after leaving an area, you typically can’t then return to it.
I’m not sure if that design decision was made for game structure reasons or to allow the operators to start resetting it before players reach the end of the game. Either way, I rather like the way this separates the game into distinct stages. Since objects are, by and large, only available at the appropriate time, there’s less scope for accidental red herrings, and structures the game as a series of distinct challenges. The downside, apart from the somewhat immersion-breaking signs reminding you not to take unnecessary objects with you, and the slightly heavy-handed instructions on what you do need to carry through, is that players can make game-breaking mistakes by failing to bring these items. We did in fact make one such mistake, and would have been completely stuck without the operators letting us back into the previous room – although to their credit, they did so in a way that avoided breaking immersion.
The set is a bit bare-bones, with most areas having plain walls and simple office-style furniture. That’s suitable enough for the theme, and understandable given the pop-up nature of the game; and some sections look quite a bit more impressive. Still, they could do more here, perhaps with background audio.
It’s extremely common for new venues to have teething problems when they first open, and I’d intended to wait for a while before playing this game to let it settle in – but changed plans on realising it was only open for a month. So at the time we visited it had been open only one week, and apparently one element happened to fail just before we arrived. That barely affected us in the game though, with the effect that a couple of elements were mysteriously not required where a small sequence had been short-cut.
My impression was of a game with lots of strong points but also some flaws and rough edges. The latter includes something that will be frustrating for teams if they don’t have at least one player with excellent eyesight [edit: see the owner’s comment below re. this point]; a few too many distraction items in one section; and a puzzle that relies on the players making an assumption that I could guess at but which felt unwarranted without an explicit game clue to back it up. Against that, there’s lots of variety and interesting ideas with some cool tech, and above all the story-driven design throughout.
The website boasts that it is an “immersive, cinematic experience”, and its claim of immersion is rock solid, to the point where it’s rubbing up against the dividing line between escape room and immersive theatre. And despite the simplicity of much of the decor, at its best moments it manages to justify the ‘cinematic’ tag as well. (To any designers reading this: I’m still waiting for a heist game where I get to be lowered to a safe via a rope over a touch-sensitive floor. Can someone please please build one?)
If booking, I’d suggest playing with a team of three or perhaps four, to minimise bottlenecks; and it might be best to aim for the latter half of the month since it looks like there are on-going small tweaks and improvements still being made.
Full disclosure: we were invited to play this game for free for review purposes.