Date completed: April 2016 (2 players). Succeeded escaping!
Creativity: 8.5; Difficulty: 7; Atmosphere: 8; Fun: 9
- 90 minute ‘room’
- Full mobility
- Fluent English
- Mobile phone
- 2-4 players
After playing the Escape Room, we took to Melbourne’s streets to engage in the silent battleground of the Cold War era Surveillance: Division 5. In this mix of an outdoor treasure hunt and an ‘escape room’, players take on the role of ASIO agents who need to locate a rogue surveillance truck in 90 minutes. (For context of overseas readers, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is the equivalent of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security mixed together (US), MI5 (UK), DGSI (France), BND (Germany), etc.)
Who are the enemy agents? What exactly is a part of this ‘escape room’? This game flips the idea of an escape room as players will have to locate and then break into the truck.
Read on to find out how this game turns some conventional ideas of escape room on their heads!
The start of Surveillance: Division 5 is very original and begins at a pre-arranged spot and time in Flemington. In true Cold War fashion, players must call Escape Room Melbourne (ERM) to initiate a live drop from which they will collect a suitcase. The hunt for the rogue surveillance truck then takes off by mixing doses of traditional espionage tradecraft with navigational puzzles.
Although players are not prevented from using their mobile phones for navigation, we think that you would have a more immersive experience without them. ERM provides the necessary kit to complete the outdoor portion of the game in a 1950s manner. The search for the truck can take some time and is largely linear. However, players who demonstrate good map reading skills, observation, spatial awareness and common sense will have an easier time of it.
In fact, these skills will prove invaluable throughout the entire game. The ‘conventional’ puzzle elements of Surveillance, which are more evident after players find the truck, also mix search skills, pattern association, inductive and interpretative logic and even basic imagery analysis.
Given that there is no confinement of limited space for most of the game, four player teams will have no issues. Even after players have located the surveillance truck, larger teams will still be able to divide and conquer. This game has a fixed price, independent of how many people play it.
ERM has also made a great job inserting “clues” on the outdoor environment. We doubt anyone not related to the game would ever notice them! Oh, the game went on even after it started raining. A little bit of water drops wasn’t going to stop the enemy agents! 😀
Throughout the game, we had only two minor technical hickups which were resolved with some communication with out gamemaster, who was always in character. We loved the external component of the game and wished there was more of it. Given how long it take to run though, we can see why the game has been designed with the length it is now.
Overrall, ERM is very creative in leveraging the suburb of Flemington to provide the setting and they need to be applauded for taking risks in an industry cramped with rooms. Surveillance: Division 5 is a fresh change. By taking an ‘escape room’ outdoors, player expectations of what will be a part of the game will be rebooted. The guy on the park bench half reading, half looking at us – is he a part of the scenario? Why did the man walking the dog ask us if we have found what we were looking for? This incident did happen and although the passer by was not involved with the game, it did show the community engagement and mutual trust ERM has with its neighbours.
Although the ERM website lists the game limit at 90 minutes, the gamemaster informed us that some groups could take upwards of two hours to complete Surveillance: Division 5. I suppose this flexible time limit is purely dependent on whether this ‘room’ has been booked out. After 1 hour and 17 minutes, we were able to find the information about the rogue agents from the truck and call it a day!
Out of the room
Service: Our in character gamemaster followed our progress and communicated with us through walkie talkie occasionally to make sure we were on track. He was responsive to requests for hints or clarification and two technical hickups were resolved through good communication with no disruption to the game.
Given the variety (randomness) of human behaviour in an open environment, we were very impressed with how the gamemaster managed the flow of the game.
To make an obvious point, players will be walking a fair bit in the game so wear comfortable clothing!
Communication: As indicated, communication was by walkie talkie. However, keep the original ERM mobile phone number handy. We encountered a rare issue late game when another business jumped onto the same frequency of the walkie talkie through no fault from ERM. Having the original mobile number allowed us to contact the gamemaster who helped us go to a new channel on the walkie talkie.
Surroundings: The starting location in Flemington takes around 20 minutes by tram from the city followed by a short walk to get to. There is a good cafe nearby which does good coffee and breakfast