London, Oct 2017
It’s always sad to see a high quality game close, but the blow is softened when the reason is to allow the venue to create a new game in its place. That was the case with Escape Plan, whose much-loved first game shut down last summer to make way for its sequel.
Their new game is again set in the Second World War, but this time in Britain preparing for the final assault of the Luftwaffe. Your task is to get into the Operations Room and get as many air squadrons as possible ready to defend their country.
The top end of the escape game market seems to be getting ever more high-budget and spectacular, and in some ways The Battle for Britain is quite a modest game: it makes plenty of use of paper-based clues and presents puzzles for their own sake rather than using a more immersive style. Despite the big electronic setpiece that forms the central hub of the game, I felt it still had a low-tech, very handmade feel with use of found objects and chunky wooden components. That’s part of its charm though, as well as being suitable for the setting.
This is a very non-linear game that rewards a divide and conquer approach. It has a mass of different puzzles ranging from very straightforward to reasonably tricky, and at most points in the game there’s plenty of choice for things to work on. It’s also a room with a scoring system, where you’re not required to finish everything to complete the game. The more puzzles you complete correctly, the higher the number of enemy planes shot down, and as long as you get past a threshold number you’ll emerge victorious.
You might wonder how an escape room, which of necessity takes place in a room at ground level, can effectively be based around a large-scale air battle. The answer is of course that most of the content consists of the preparations for the battle. However, it would be an anticlimax if that were all there was, and fortunately that’s not the case. Everything leads up to a final sequence that provides a dramatic finale both in terms of the setting and in terms of the game. This is the point where you discover whether you got any answers wrong, with potentially unfortunate consequences for the squadrons under your command, as the battle plays out.
It’s a game that just works, partially thanks to the spread of difficulty that means there’s plenty for teams to get stuck into straight away, and partially thanks to solid design and structuring that manages to avoid confusion despite the number of independent clues available at the same time. Each puzzle is usually stand-alone and unconnected to the other elements of the room, but because they all have the payoff of getting another piece of your forces ready for battle, it feels much more unified than just a grab-bag of different puzzles. That’s also helped by some clever puzzles, the dramatic finish and some nice touches such as the 1940s accent used to deliver hints.
The design also seems to be built on an admirable level of research and interest in the real history of the battle. Even if that’s only noticed by history buffs, it still gives a satisfying solidity to the design, and we came out feeling like we’d just saved the country from the Nazis.