Breaking out of the every day with a live-action escape game

Inundated by digital stimulation everywhere we go in the 21st century, it’s now hard to picture our lives without constant connection and attachment to some sort of electronic device throughout the typical day. By the same token, it seems that people are starting to realize that the virtual world isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be; sometimes we need to step back from the onslaught in order to be fully present. Perhaps that’s why there has been a resurgence in the popularity of things that remind us of simpler times — board games, vinyl recordings, typewriters — when we had to slow down to truly appreciate the moment.

Located at 16604 109 Ave., Breakout Entertainment (@BreakOutEDM), a new live-action game concept, fits the bill. The first of its kind in Edmonton, the business is run by a group of young entrepreneurs who decided that gathering friends (or being paired with strangers) and doing away with cellphones for a short period would be good for everyone. Opening their doors last fall, word started to spread about this venture that, in every sense, is an escape from your cares. The task: enter a room where you’re given a back story and then follow the clues, puzzles and riddles that fall into your path, solving them with just your wits.

I was excited by this idea and I really wanted to go and try this out, so I told anyone who would listen to me about it. Most people seemed intrigued by the idea, but no one exclaimed to me “I’m up for the challenge! Let’s conquer the game!” Eventually, during one of our Local Good editorial meetings, Breakout Entertainment was broached as an option to list for a post regarding nerdy night suggestions, and it occurred to me that maybe it’d be fun to write a story based on first-hand experience.

When I finally got around to planning this outing, I realized that, unless you’ve got a lot of free time during weekday afternoons, pre-booking one of the available slots is highly recommended. There are four rooms in the place that open up hourly, but, despite the number of games that they can accommodate in a day, it was apparent that evenings and weekends fill up quickly. I selected a Saturday that was almost a month down the road in an effort to provide us enough time to find six people (the maximum that can enter each room at a time) and to also get in at a decent hour. What I did like is that I could book all six spots for the room we selected and hold the space without having to pay in advance. Of course, if you can’t make it or the number of participants changes, you should let them know. Otherwise, all you need to do is show up and everyone can pay for their own play. 

The Hall of Fame wall at Breakout Entertainment. Photo from @breakoutedm Instagram page.

The Hall of Fame wall at Breakout Entertainment. Photo from @breakoutedm Instagram page.

We aimed to all meet at the venue about 15 minutes before our game began, so that we’d have time to prep for what might lie ahead. As we entered, we were greeted by a wall that indicated the high scores to beat. The fastest escape clocked for the room we were about to play was 31 minutes and 30 seconds. Since you’re given just 45 minutes to break out, that was pretty impressive. But, we thought we could do better; my friends and I jokingly boasted that we’d see the staff in 10 minutes. As we each signed the waiver where we agreed that we were healthy enough and that we would refrain from damaging any of the props (apparently people have gotten so upset about failing that they’ve taken it out on the props), we psyched ourselves up. We could do this!

For $25, they store your coats and you receive a locker where you can secure your belongings — no phones allowed in the rooms as they can’t have you snapping photos and risk the game’s secrets being given away. You’re then led to a room where they tell you the characters you’re playing, the back story of what has happened in the world you’ve stepped into and your goal, which, if met, will ultimately lead you to freedom. During the 45 minutes, your group is allowed to push the buzzer twice. Each press of the button hails an employee who will come to give you an additional clue.

The Secret Laboratory is where we were barricaded and our mission was to find a formula that would save the world from a zombie apocalypse due to the release of a deadly virus. I can’t really go into any details because I don’t want to ruin anything for those who intend to attempt this in the near future, so I’m just going to explain what happened as six relatively smart people tried their hand here.

First off, I had the benefit of knowing everyone who was with me, but some groups meet for the first time in their given room. If that’s the case, you pretty much put any and all awkwardness aside since you’ve got such a short time to solve the problem and it’s better to band together. If you’re looking for an ice breaker, keep Breakout Entertainment in mind! Secondly, I feel like we should have gone in with a game plan. The problem is, we had no idea what to expect when the door swung open — what we would see or what we would have to do — so the six of us kind of spent the initial five to 10 minutes wandering aimlessly until we started finding locks that held further clues. Maybe we needed to have some sort of leader to direct us a bit more, although it’s possible less fun would be had that way. Thirdly, it’s so important to listen to things clearly and to pay attention to order. Nearer the end of our allotted time, I think we started to fade a little bit, and we missed out on information that could have gotten us to the finish in time. Lastly, we requested our last bonus clue too late. If we had buzzed for it earlier, we probably would have progressed through the game a bit faster.

Unfortunately, we failed miserably, but the employee who came in at the end to direct us out and reset the game for the next group said we were actually getting really close (they can see you on their computer monitors). That felt a little comforting to know. Even though we didn’t succeed, we had plenty of fun and that was the whole point.

The one room we played was definitely well thought out. However, we certainly noticed that some of the props were seeing some general wear and tear after a few months of use. I guess that’s why Breakout Entertainment takes the opportunity to create a whole new game every once in a while, which makes complete sense. Fans of the game who have played all four rooms eventually need something fresh to stimulate them. From the one attempt at the Secret Laboratory, I know I wouldn’t be inclined to work through the same game twice. You’ve already learned too much about the scenario to want to try it all over again. Yet, we were all raring to test out the other three rooms.

This is a smart business. The best part about playing these escape games is that it brings you back to how you felt as a child. You get to use your imagination, your intellect and your teamwork skills. Most importantly, it proves that we don’t have to stare at a screen to entertain ourselves.

About Crystal Lee