Didn’t that chap who used to be in a band called Take That once sing about loving angels instead? Now being an employee of Escape Rooms, I wholeheartedly endorse this message. Love Angel instead. Our Angel venue, that is. It’s about an 8 minute walk from Angel, Old Street and Barbican. But, more important than its accessibility, the two games we have there are something truly different.
Our London Bridge venue was one of the first escape rooms to open in this country and our team has played more escape games than your average sane person. Some of us have even remained sane. We know the usual model, we know how it works, we know what to expect. There’s an almost-infinite variety of themes and settings, a huge range of truly innovative, imaginative puzzles out there – it’s truly remarkable what can be achieved with a few boxes and padlocks, but we disparage neither our London Bridge venue nor our competitors when we say that, just perhaps, there can, must, should be more to it than that.
Yes, there are games out there already which experiment with VR. But anyone who’s ever been involved in tech knows that VR has been The Next Big Thing for at least twenty years. The possibilities with VR are almost endless. But they are still possibilities, and the technology does not yet exist which enables us to transcend the physical and visual aspects of what visual effects artists call ‘the uncanny valley’ – the theory in applied aesthetics which holds that the closer the virtual approximates the real, the greater the discord generated by increasingly subtle differences.
Many people, most especially film-makers, treat the ease and the variety afforded by the green screen as an excuse to go for super-reality, forgetting that so much of how we relate to the world relies on plausibility as conveyed by the real and physical, and our unconscious reactions to same. The Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back was filmed in sub-zero temperatures in Norway. Sure, you could green-screen the same setting, but the actors, by virtue of their presence in a comfortable studio with central heating, would not move with the same stiffness true cold creates. Ditto some of the mountain scenes in The Lord of the Rings and their CGI-mirrors in the later adaptation of The Hobbit.
Their visible breath would look like but not as really visible breath. And the genuine frost that coats ‘80s facial hair in sub-zero temperatures can only be approximated by CGI frost on CGI ‘80s facial hair in a fake-freezing setting.
The difference, however subtle, between the fake and the real will be accentuated by the same subtlety: so much of what we know about the world is based on our imagination rooted in real experience, so we can spot a fake without really seeing it. We know, almost intuitively, when a thing is real; we know, almost intuitively, when it is pretend.
The games at our Angel venue take the former approach. They are sci-fi, but they are a physical, malleable, tangible sci-fi. They are more akin to original Star Wars, not prequel Star Wars. And can there be higher praise? You’re transported into a high-tech, science-fiction world – and transported physically, not virtually. You’re really there. You’re not holding a virtual laser gun; you’re holding a real one. You’re not holding virtual power cores; you’re holding real ones. You’re not plugging in virtual moon base power generators; you’re plugging in real ones. (Though not actually on a moon base – imagination still has its place, and our budget isn’t quite that big.)We’ve dispensed with padlocks (excepting the one there is in the Dark Side of the Moon) in favour of other, more imaginative, physical variants: digital dial pads, sure, but also button-panels; and, one of Project DIVA’s special features, a light-up pressure-pad floor grid. Cables, laser beams and robots bring to life the immersive nature of the games. You’re not playing a glorified video-game, you’re in the game.
So, if you’re a seasoned escape game veterans in search of something different, or if you’re total new-comers unsure of the genre and hoping for something unique, you really have only one first port of call. I’d recommend them even over our games at London Bridge, tried and tested and approved though they are. If you want something different, something immersive, something which can marry your physical skills and your virtual wits, something that has been more than once compared with The Crystal Maze, come to Escape Rooms: Angel.
By Benjamin Mercer