I was very cynical when news of this first broke – great, some posh hipsters are going to piss all over my childhood. The good news is that that initial opinion is very much unwarranted. However you do need to go into this on the understanding that it’s an interactive theatrical adaptation of the TV show rather than a straight redo.
With that in mind I’m going to put the rest under a cut. If you don’t want to be spoiled then don’t click under the cut. I won’t be revealing *everything* to keep some surprises, but I wouldn’t be able to give proper criticism without some spoilers so on your own head be it.
Honestly, stop now if you don’t want to know.
It’s good and I’m glad I did it but from my perspective it’s not qu-i-i-i-te great.
You are well looked after as you walk in through the doors of an otherwise unassuming office block. The original show was filmed in an airhangar of course, this makes pretty good use of the given space. You sign your health and safety waiver, stick your stuff in a locker, select your bomber jacket (as a fat bastard some bigger ones on the rack would be nice, although thanks to the introduction bloke for accommodating and finding me a slightly bigger one), then after a pep talk you get taken to a room outside your first zone, shown some video then your Mazemaster comes and greets you. I think we had a good one, a female whose name I don’t remember, but she was very matter-of-fact and on it – everyone was going to get two games but if you run round there might be time for a fifth game in each zone. She also played the guitar at one point which was a nice touch.
We went straight into Industrial and the initial feeling is very exciting, although this gives way eventually to the idea that they’ve just painted all the walls a grey-brown and there’s not much else going on. The first game played was the original spider-web/bells game, a game that’s reasonably high up the ranking of design concepts from the first series (also includes height and a risk of falling). At this point the first slight disappointment, on telly all the industrial games would have been shown on a monitor, here we have some small windows, not only can we not get very good angles on the game but with seven people plus Maze Master trying to get a look in it’s a real squeeze, to the point where for some of the games I didn’t really bother and just shouted advice that was relevant because it was exactly the same game as on the show (I tried not to do that too much, the average age of my team who all ran their own escape rooms (with one exception) was about twelve and I wasn’t quite sure if I would be deliberately ruining their experience for them although as we will see I probably did that inadvertantly anyway).
The second game was mine, as an original game I won’t spoil it too much – a treasure hunt built around a murder at a poker game – I think the game and clues made sense, although it didn’t feel like a big trail. The few treasure-hunt games throughout the maze felt like mini-escape rooms rather than treasure hunts, lots of abstract inference and finding things rather than solving clues. As to whether this is a good thing I leave as an exercise for the reader. About a third of the games are originals which for me is a bit disappointing as I always thought not knowing what was about to happen was one of the central “things” of the show. In the main they’re well made.
Transitioning zones is fun – they’re not in the same order as on telly but they’re mildly inventive. I won’t spoil these, only to say don’t panic if the thought of the Aztec climbing wall puts you off, there’s a slightly easier alternative. You don’t need to be superfit to do the Maze – I did it – but you can’t be completely useless either.
After the excitement of transitioning to Futuristic the decor is more of a disappointment than Industrial, it’s just lots of white paint and lights in the main. There is also one major complaint for me in that the windows to watch the game are probably too reflective, it’s a real struggle to see into the room. This zone probably had my second favourite adaptation, the game where you have to guide someone through a maze they cannot see which was quite tense and exciting, although like Industrial very few of the games have the camera-monitor set up, this adapted by painting a grid on the floor and apparently laser bollards whilst the team guided from diagrams.
Medieval felt much more like it, dark (very dark actually) and moody, and clearly there’s a bit with a long table and book case off to one side. For some reason we were told to keep it down around this zone (some story about the Mazemaster falling out with her friend who lives there, and if she catches us we’ll lose all our crystals, we speculated after that it might be the bit that most adjoins the next office block). I got done over by a version of the egg in the tree game (the egg is really heavy and I’d suggest the game is basically impossible with the holes positioned as they are). The adaptations were generally quite good but again there needs to be more viewing space, and I wouldn’t have used the pub names game with exactly the same trick as the one on the TV show.
The best zone for me was Aztec which felt like it had some effort put into it – floor lined with sand, relevant looking decor on all of the walls. There was a good adaptation of the Eggy Swamp game which changed a few things and felt quite big scale. By this point everyone had played two games so as the only person not to have won a crystal the Mazemaster insisted I try again in a game involving finding things in sand that we thought chatting to other teams after was basically impossible (we half-joked that they had forgotten to actually bury the objects) so I was given a fourth game, a patronisingly easy version of the game where you have to use blocks to build a cube, but with really easy shapes.
Now I shouldn’t really complain – I got twice the experience as anybody else on the team and it’s them I felt most sorry for. The Mazemaster was lovely, but as a 34 year old my story of the maze I can tell others is much funnier for not actually winning any of the games so I’d have been perfectly happy to let somebody else play (despite, at the same time, being perfectly happy to have a go at All Of The Games). Pitching the difficulty is a difficult thing – on television teams ranged from 1-10 crystals, everyone seems to be getting 11-18. Are the adaptations easier than the original or are we all just great people?
We did not get to experience a lock-in. It looked like it would have been very difficult to get locked in for timing out, if you sauntered your way out when the MM suggested there was five seconds left on her kitchen timer there would be no issue and in fact suggesting someone comes out of a game early earned someone a telling off. There seemed to be at least one auto lock-in per zone, chatting to others (including one who deliberately failed just to see what happened) they’re taken away and given a riddle to solve, they’re released immediately if they solve it, after a certain amount of time if they haven’t been released the team are forced to buy them out. This seems like a reasonable compromise for the money involved, although the suggestion is the riddle was nothing special.
The Dome is quite nicely done, all the Maze Masters (there are four teams going round at once) meet up and one at a time you get to do it – just gold tokens, no silvers. They’re smaller than the ones used on telly and grabbing them in the air is actually much MUCH harder than you might think. Your haul is weighed and converted rather than hand counted. The end could probably do with a bit more gravitas to be honest.
I had a fun time. Chatting in the bar afterwards (my memory is saying £2 for a can of Coke but it may be wrong) someone bought up the good point that the experience is as it’s shown on TV but not the experience of actually doing it on television (which took two days to film an episode on two cameras of course). As an operation evidently it’s really well thought out (evidently it runs like clockwork to get all the teams in and around and not to bump into each other, the MazeMasters have two way comms with people in their ears but they only talk back when there was an issue), you occasionally see black T-shirt clad staff roaming about resetting games although it didn’t really bother us.
Knowing what I do now would I pay sixty quid for it? Mmm. If they were to do it again next year with new games, limiting teams to six and with a sort of “hardcore” mode where there was a bit more danger of getting locked in, and with games of equivalent difficulty to the show then possibly. As it is they’ve done a great job of hiding the fact they’re doing it all in an office block but I can’t pretend it was quite as exciting as the Indiegogo illustration suggested:
That it is any good at all is to be applauded. But as suggested earlier you do need to go into it knowing that you’re getting a version of the TV show rather than the TV show itself.