Published on June 7th, 2018 | by Dean Love1
Adventox, London – Mission X and Alcatraz
To be fair, after over 100 games, it’s probably quite odd I’ve not actually seen one in an actual shopping centre by now. I mean, I’ve even played a game that is set in a shopping centre, but in the real world that’s in a pub. It’s something Adventox embrace, with a big glass fronting allowing the curious to peer into the reception space, briefing area and even the GM control hub. It’s a neat set-up.
West12 Shopping Centre is the the other shopping centre near Shepherds Bush that isn’t Westfields, and in reality it’s more a VUE cinema with some restaurants attached. But it does have an Argos. Being based out of a retail space meant I had my doubts: surely that must mean sky-high rents and hence relatively small rooms. Especially as they have two copies of each. To my surprise, that wasn’t the case. Along with the generous reception area the rooms don’t feel small at all. They’re not the biggest games you’ll ever play, but they’ve certainly not compromised here.
Mission X was up first. Interestingly there are video briefings that happen in yet another room – you’re left alone with a video playing for a few minutes, then the host returns and takes you to your game. The video itself was traditional badly acted, over dramatic escape game fair, but set up the story: there’s a missile going to launch from somewhere in London. You need to track it down and stop it.
We’re then taken to the room and, man, rarely have been been so stumped within just minutes of starting the game. See, there’s not much in the first room. There’s little more than one item that needs a code and a few other props, none of which seemed to relate to numbers. At this point, we would usually assume we had failed to search properly, but there was so little in the room that it was hard to see what we could have missed. We had missed something, of course, and just need to look at some things closer. Really close. But yeah, that was a good fifteen minutes of frustration before it actually felt like the game had started.
Things improved vastly once we were out of the first room and continued to ramp up from there. The worn decor of the first room gave way to something a little more impressive, there were some fairly smart puzzles, and an ending featuring a nice set-piece and some real drama. It’s almost like the pacing of this game was linear. Really slow at the start and ramping up over the course of the game. That sounds like it should work, but the reality is that it doesn’t. Every other form of media, be it books, films, albums, etc. recognise the need to vary the pace up and down a little. A straight linear climb might sound sensible, but if you start the players off with such low expectations it’s really hard to re-engage them as the game gets better.
Overall it’s not a bad game, and I’d almost suggest it as being an ideal “first escape room” experience as offers a decent variety of puzzles (if some are a little uninspired) along with some drama and some flair. It’s just that first ten minutes were so bad, I wouldn’t want those to be someone’s introduction to escape games.
Next we played Alcatraz, and this one certainly steps things up a notch. There’s a similar video briefing, but this one ends with you being blindfolded and led to your cells. The team is split up, and I think our experience suffered a bit here playing with just two people. There are certain things only one of you can see or interact with and if that person develops a blind spot for what you need to do, you can get stuck easily. It’s far better having four players, so you can have two per cell.
That said, despite a few frustrations we were able to make progress slowly through this first part of the game, and because there’s more going on: the cells have more in them, you need to communicate with each other, and it just looks more impressive, the slow start is far less frustrating. After the previous game we should have figured out that careful searching was required but we still managed to miss something! After some teamwork you’ll manage to free yourselves from the cells, and there’s a cool twist here that’s pretty clever.
Again, the second part of the game is probably stronger, and it does something quite interesting that I’ve not really seen done before. There are a couple of puzzles that are neither abstract, nor realistic. For example, you need to ensure you don’t get caught by the guard. Now, the guard isn’t ever going to come and catch you and put you back in your cell if you don’t, but if you take the necessary action, you’ll discover a needed clue to another puzzle. On the one hand, it doesn’t make any sense, but on the other it’s better than having a completely random logic puzzle in the middle of a cell.
Like Mission X, there’s a nice centerpiece finale, though this one is a bit less dramatic and a bit more cerebral, but still fun. There’s some nice real-world deduction involved in a few of the puzzles too: using information around the room for what it actually is, rather than extracting random codes from it.
Overall Alcatraz was narrowly the better of the two games. It still suffered from some less inspired puzzle design, and while the set was spacious and looked realistic, prisons are a pretty easy type of set to build. In a group of four, this one probably would be a good introductory game for those new to escaping!
Result – we escaped Mission X with around fifteen minutes left and Alcatraz with just five
Date played: 25 January 2018
Team: Dean, Katherine
Summary: Two games that are solid if a little unremarkable. A few ups and downs, with Alcatraz being the pick of the two.