Escape Reality | Manchester

*Gifted – this means that we were invited to play the escape room and VR games free of charge, however, all opinions are my own

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The girls and I have taken on our fair share of escape rooms so when Escape Reality invited us to visit their new digs in The Printworks, Manchester, we were more than happy to accept the challenge. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve actually become a bit addicted to escape rooms so was looking forward to taking my dad, uncle, Adam and the kids along for a few hours of family feuding fun.

Last Sunday morning, my noisy clan arrived at Escape Reality ready to take on ‘Bank Job’. With a team of six, I assumed we’d utterly smash it. I was wrong… but more on that later. We’d arrived early so decided to take advantage of the cosy social area which boasts a great soundtrack, bar, sofas and an array of fancy dress items.

My dad, uncle, and the girls dived straight into an impromptu photoshoot using various props as Adam and I enjoyed a coffee. Once they’d finished playing dress-up, we put our bags in the free lockers provided and met our game master, Alice (who was flipping lovely). She gave us a thorough de-brief of what to expect and answered our questions. The basic premise is that you have one hour to solve the clues, find a ‘rare diamond’, and escape.

The setup was a little different to other rooms I’d previously played, with ‘clue’ QR codes dotted around the room and accessed via a tablet, instead of a screen with prompts. This somehow made the game feel less intrusive and more immersive, giving the players full control.

Once you’ve activated a clue, you are then ‘frozen’ from activating another for 10 minutes to stop you from getting too lazy. The tablet also provided a countdown clock so you could take it around the room as you progressed and keep an eye on the time left.

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My initial failing was letting Lucie take charge of the tablet as, two minutes into the game, she’d gone a bit power-mad and already opted for a clue without doing any detective work or consulting the rest of the team. I swiftly confiscated it and decided that we should probably form some kind of strategy.

This idea went out of the window as my family raced around the themed room enthusiastically throwing around whatever items they could get their hands on in an effort to break out as fast as possible. At this point, I decided that if you can’t beat them, join them – and after ten minutes, we hadn’t solved a single clue.

I spotted a list on the wall and figured that it was part of another puzzle so quietly collared Adam and we managed to crack it together with minimal bickering. Hurrah! (Although for full disclosure, Adam did tell me afterward that I was behaving a la Veruca Salt at one point *the shame*)

It seemed like this got the ball rolling and before long, all six us were working as a team and making good progress. We found that there was enough variety in the puzzles to keep us busy and engaged without being frustratingly impossible to complete.

I can’t go into detail without spoiling it after that but, 45 minutes in, we were close to success and getting a bit giddy when disaster struck. In our premature excitement, we’d only managed to accidentally lock the elusive ‘diamond’ back in a safe that we’d already conquered. Whilst scrambling to try and figure out the clue to open it again, our time ran out.

Dear reader, we had failed. Alice came to let us out and offered commiserations. After we stopped passively-aggressively blaming one another, we posed for a complimentary team picture then made another pit stop in the social area before giving VR gaming a go.

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*my dad and uncle do have actual human faces but don’t use social media, hence the emojis to preserve anonymity

Adam and I have tried VR gaming before and found it to be a rather solitary experience but this was different. We followed Escape Reality’s Jamie into another room and after talking us through the practicalities, he guided us through an hour of virtual battlefields, archery, walking planks, fighting stickmen, drumming, singing, dancing, and generally having a merry old time laughing at one other.

My dad was so taken with his first VR experience that, as soon as we finished, he was already talking about planning another session with our extended family! As a family of seasoned gamers, I have no doubt that this is going to become a regular occurrence.

One particular stand-out point for me at Escape Reality is that there was no pressure to leave. In other venues, it sometimes felt that as soon as you’d finished your allocated game, you were swiftly herded out of the building to make space for the next customer. But here, we were encouraged to hang around for a while and allowed get a bit silly, take lots of pictures and reflect on the experience.

It’s not often that the girls willingly participate in family activities these days, being teenagers and all, but they were fully invested in this one and it was heartwarming to see them giggling and posing for selfies with their grandad. Thank you to Alice, Jamie and the rest of the Escape Reality Manchester team for such a memorable day.

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