|image from Breakout Manchester|
So, obviously, Breakout Manchester will always hold a special place in our hearts as the place we did our first (and second!) room escape. We booked it on a whim, having read about room escapes in London a few months earlier and then being very excited to realise there was one a lot nearer to home. I opted for Sabotage, mainly because it was the first room that had availability, not realising it was one of the harder rooms. When we did it it was a 4* difficulty, but it has since been upped to a 5*, I don't know if it has changed in content, or if they have just adjusted it because it's fairly tricky.
The premise of Sabotage is to stop a missile strike in an enemy control centre, and escape, in 60 minutes. We got out with about 30 seconds to spare, and were absolutely hooked. I won't talk about the specific content because there is nothing worse than spoilers, but I will say that the puzzles took lots of different formats, and there was a lot to do in the time. The room made good use of technology, and there was a lot of information to assimilate, but the story felt generally believable, and the plot you were given before you went in made good sense.
When we returned, for my Birthday, we decided to go back to basics and do the easiest room, John Monroe, which is rated as 3* difficulty. We wanted to work our way up through the difficulty of the different rooms over time, and assumed we would find the John Monroe room a breeze after succeeding at Sabotage. We were a little over-confident I think, and didn't do that much better time-wise in the end, missing one or two obvious things for a little while. The plot here centres around a detective who has been murdered by someone he was investigating, and you have to work out from the suspects who it was. Again the puzzles took lots of different forms, and there was very little overlap with the puzzles in Sabotage. We assumed that the rooms would all be the same things just in different settings, but actually it used a variety of approaches that we didn't see in Sabotage at all. Our only bug with this room was that the story seemed a little less logical, particularly when some of the information on the suspects hidden in the room said that they were suspected of murdering John Monroe - it didn't make sense that he would have hidden those in his own office before he died. We do have a tendency to analyse these things in depth afterwards, and it's worth saying that it didn't in any way bother us during the game!
As a company Breakout seem to be doing great, since we first visited they have opened a further three rooms (two of which are the same so you can play two teams against each other - a great idea). They have also opened a site in Liverpool, which we have also visited and will be writing about another time. They don't seem to be resting on their laurels, and even the fact that, for example, Sabotage has changed it's rating makes me think they are constantly reviewing and improving the games they have.
The staff have always seemed really keen and enthusiastic, across both sites, and they have a good twitter presence too. I really like that they run the rooms for two people (not all places do this, and it puts me off going if we have to pay for a minimum of three), and they have great attention to detail. From the moment the door is shut, the room set-ups feel incredibly realistic, with a lot of props and items. As well as making the games more complex by throwing in a few red herrings, they generally capture the feel of the setting, so the two game rooms above felt completely different inside.
All room escape games generally have a way for you to get hints if you are completely stuck, and Breakout deliver theirs through a large screen in the room, which is also where the clock counts down. Generally there will be a noise to alert you when there is a hint so that you know to look (and I like that the noise is also themed to the room - so much thought!), and your helper types up a clue to appear on the screen.
If we could improve something about Breakout it would be this hint system, which, although better than some of the others we have seen suffers because you can't have a two way dialogue with your helper. This means that you sometimes get hints when you don't want them, or before you're desperate enough! The Husband and I have come out from Breakout rooms and felt like we had too many hints, and wondered what our time would have been without them. I did see on twitter recently that a team asked not to be given any so perhaps we might try that in future! Ideally though it would be good to be able to have some kind of way to signal that you want a hint, or even better, what it is you want a hint with. At other times we have been really struggling with something, but got hints about something else that we understood, or had already done. In one room, there was also a puzzle that we struggled with for ages, partly because The Husband is colour blind. We didn't think to mention it on the way in, and when we explained afterwards, the guy said he would have helped us a lot sooner had he realised. We both felt we would have been disappointed not to have succeeded because of it, especially as we knew what we had to do! I can honestly say it is the only thing we would change about Breakout, and it certainly hasn't stopped us going back.
Setting wise, Breakout Manchester works pretty well. It is centrally located and easy to find. The John Monroe room actually includes a large window facing out onto a busy street (the rooms are on the first floor of the building), and I was put off for a few seconds when I thought we would be seen by everyone doing their shopping. The minute the clock started ticking I rapidly forgot about it, although they did tell us a few people have tried to report burglaries when they have seen the room getting "ransacked" from outside. It has a large waiting area with plenty of seating, and all of the rooms have felt a good size. Having been to other places since, it is clear that the rooms aren't purpose built, but they do a good job to make the rooms feel realistic, with plenty of detail.
Something I really like about Breakout, and didn't really register until we played other rooms, was the use of background music too. Again, it's the little details like this that set the mood, particularly when it changes pace as you enter the last ten minutes. I've always found the staff at Breakout Manchester seem to love their work, and they really make the experience each time, helping to set the scene and get you engaged from the outset. I can't wait to go back and try some of the other rooms soon, and look forward to seeing what they have achieved by their second birthday!