The year is 1940. You’re in a small room with your closest friends, the light dim. You’re sat on an uncomfortable steel chair and feel damp in the air gazing at an old projector that faces the worn brick wall. You plead for it to burst into life so that it can whisper your mission to stop the Nazi spies and win the war. (There’s also a health and safety form to sign as, after all, it’s actually 2016 and the chair is from IKEA.) But for the sake of the game let’s pretend it’s 1940.
The abandoned tube station of South Kentish Town has been given new life by the people behind Mission Breakout. Prior to being a breakout destination, the tube station was a less than legitimate sauna, complete with crusty towels.
Upon descending into the depths of the station and transported to the Second World War, explicit orders are given by none other than Churchill himself (pictured, um, above): he wants you to crack the Nazi code and win the war. Really.So it follows that your team is locked in a room and given an hour to use all the teamwork skills in the group’s repertoire to reconnect all the machines and escape the chamber. Warning: you will get very into it. And learn a lot about your team mates in that room, too – be careful not to take anybody too competitive. I learned this the hard way by taking my (now ex-)girlfriend.
A bit more detail. After watching a stirring speech from the cigar-toting wartime PM you’re marched into a room that looks impressively like a bunker (a family friendly one, no page three pin-ups to be found). There’s an overarching suspension of reality: the lighting is key to the mood, along with a number of finer details such as clocks set to key dates, aged oak furniture and seemingly archaic clothing scattered in a careful chaos around the room.
Telegrams are passed back and forth with the powers that be as you scour the room for any possible clue: reconnecting wires and repowering the bunker is nowhere as easy as it seems, and requires the team to be constantly on the look-out for any round peg to replace the triangle one that’s been found in the circle hole.
Luckily for me I had a maths genius on my team and three women intent on proving their famed ability to multi-task. This made me rather useless in all honesty. I elected myself as mascot and stood aside offering encouragement where applicable through compliments and chants improvised to each particular task. I thought this would help; however, I now completely appreciate how Frankenstein’s monster had felt when all he wanted to do was help the villagers solve a breakout puzzle in a whimsical manner for some light night entertainment.
One of the key themes of the game is Alan Turing’s famed Enigma Machine. For those unfamiliar with the Second World War’s contribution to modern technological advances and changing the face of (nay, inventing) modern computing as we know it today, you can just watch The Imitation Game. It is so much easier to understand modern technological miracles when they’re produced and explained by Benedict Cumberbatch. The enigma machine was designed to crack Nazi codes and you are called upon to master it in this game.Ever fancied yourself as a spy? Well, after this you’ll know in no uncertain terms that you are one hundred percent not cut out for it. Funnily enough, code cracking just isn’t as easy as it looks on the films. But surely, you might argue, I shouldn’t struggle with a simple bit of problem solving? You’re wrong. I tend to just run away from my problems – but that’s much harder when the problem is that you are locked into it. Watching me try and crack that code was like watching a sheep trying to use an iPhone (after upgrading to iOS10).
Inevitably, through no fault of my own – in fact I accept no responsibility for this whatsoever – we did not complete the breakout in the hour provided. It all got a bit messy in the end. (Reassuringly for myself and my ego only about 30% of people actually complete the breakout in the hour.) A team of competitive breakout gamers that take on these challenges worldwide with their spare time took a whole 38 minutes to complete the tasks which made the Labours of Hercules seem like a shopping list that read “milk, bread, eggs”.
Despite the difficulty this was an incredibly fun hour and I can fully understand the hype around these games: even though I found myself lost for most of the time, it was nice to just enjoy all the noises, lights and wonder of it all – a bit like a visit to Harrods, in fact.Me and my team of experts exited with a smile on our face and with a lot to have a good laugh about at the pub afterwards. I fully understand why many of the visitors to this abandoned station are corporate: the experience is perfectly suited to businesses.
The entire feat is much more impressive when you find out that the current owners acquired the tube station via Zoopla no less. Nobody told me that you can get abandoned tube stations on Zoopla. If I’d known this earlier I wouldn’t be renting a cupboard in Kentish Town; I’d be living a subterranean existence, trying to hitchhike the northern line.