London, Apr 2018
Mission: Breakout, better known as ‘that escape room in a disused tube station’, has the advantage of a spectacular location, with even the initial descent into the venue helping build atmosphere in a way that no normal location can compete with. Where their first game is Blitz themed, their latest uses the tube station setting more directly with a ghostly tale of a passenger who alighted at the closed station and was never seen again.
As TFL-sponsored investigators, your job is to don hard hats and descend into the station to investigate the paranormal goings-on. Those are real hard hats not metaphorical ones: the players are kitted up in hats and high-vis jackets. A nice immersive touch I thought; but no, the hats at least are essential equipment. Expect to be clambering around a sometimes dark area full of machinery, low ceilings and other hazards for the unwary.
While it might make an over-sensitive health and safety manager uncomfortable, the game environment is first-rate. This isn’t simply due to its setting in an actual old tube station. Most of the game is constructed from scratch, but looks utterly convincing as genuine station left-overs. It appears to have been built with plenty of skill and budget plus a great sense of the theatrical, with lighting and other effects used to build atmosphere further.
Amidst the gorgeous set, the puzzles were sometimes Lost Passenger’s weak point. To be clear, that’s relative to the very high bar set by everything else about it. Still, with a profusion of levers and dials and controls, it was often not very clear what’s scenery and what’s part of the game. That’s not a problem in itself – explicitly marking the important components would undermine the immersive set. However, we tended to find ourselves trying any number of things, then realise we’d solved something without knowing what triggered it, which items had caused it or how we should have known to try them. Looking over the puzzle sequence in retrospect, at least two points seem to me to need a somewhat arbitrary leap, where the correct answer is something that players may well try, but where they might also try a variety of equally plausible alternatives.
Games don’t need to spoon-feed players: it’s fine to give them a baffling array of controls and let them figure out what to do by experimentation. That’s tricky to pull off well though and the key requirement is good feedback mechanisms, to cue players when they’re on the right track, to non-verbally teach them the puzzle requirements and to give a clear reward when they complete it. Lost Passenger did that well in places, and less well elsewhere.
As a result all of our group came out feeling that Lost Passenger didn’t quite live up to its potential, but had different views on how much that affected a game that we all agreed was outstanding in its visuals and theatre. Easily frustrated players should therefore approach this one with caution. However, despite that caveat, I hugely enjoyed the game. It successfully captures the feel of an underground adventure, with lavish big components and great physical exploration, lighting levels that were often atmospherically dim but managed not to annoy me with unnecessary darkness, and a number of special effects added purely for fun. It doesn’t much attempt to develop its back story, but plays well with the theme, while keeping the fear factor at a level most teams should find comfortable.
Although it’s a decently challenging difficulty level, I’d particularly recommend Lost Passenger to less experienced groups who’ll likely be more tolerant of the occasional tenuous step in the puzzles. All but the pickiest teams should find a great deal to enjoy here though, and most players will be blown away by set and spectacle.