This beautiful story with an escape room hanging off it is set in a mental hospital and is a particularly special experience.
This was another game I’d saved for a special occasion and special team. Team Pig got together in Bermondsey to seek out the well-renowned AI Escape. We had always intended to play their older game Leo’s Path but procrastinated long enough that it had finished by the time we got round to it. Bummer.
Anyway, navigating the Biscuit Factory successfully we found our way down to AI Escape’s basement and met the house dog Coco, a floofy white Samoyed, as well as our hosts. The formalities out of the way we were taken through to the room. There is lots of space, which is well-used, and the game is almost completely linear so it’s usually clear what happens next.
The different sub-areas have contrasting themes, decorations, and details which all form part of the same overarching theme. As to the puzzles, they were not too challenging, but easy to get wrong if you weren’t paying attention. There’s a lot of media to take in, and whilst you might solve the game without it, you won’t have as good an experience. The mental hospital theme and the emotions and storytelling of the game are also a lot to take in, and the game is recommended for over-16s. I do think the disclaimers they’ve written on their website are a little overkill, but I suppose better safe than sorry.
One of the puzzles was described to us as “this has broken relationships and friendships, and you’ll know it when you see it”. I’m happy to report that ours were unaffected by it. But throughout the game, ignore nothing…
Finishing things off with a finale that brought together so much of the ingredients from the rest of the room, it was only after completing things – with the aid of the host, who had to come and join us to make the last bit of tech do what it was meant to – it was only then I began to realise how much my desire to escape quickly had led to leaving the story behind. The explanation made far more sense when we took it slowly.
Clues and communications came via a text chat app on (if I recall correctly) an iPod touch, though for the most part we were left to our own devices to get on with things.
We finished the game with 16 minutes left on the clock and having had one hint. There are several possible endings, and we managed to get the “worst” winning ending, mainly by misunderstanding the goal. The host was visibly disappointed that we hadn’t “got” the story. We probably should have been disappointed as well. It’s a bit hard to tell. They’ve given 70 minutes instead of the traditional 60 to allow you to take part in the story and experience everything. That’s probably more worthwhile than getting bogged down in escape times.
MAD is a work of art, a beautiful story that you participate in first, and an escape game second. The puzzles complement the narrative and act as little microcosms of points in the story. The creativity and thoughtfulness put in by the designers and hosts are evident throughout, and the attention to detail ever-present. I have no hesitation in declaring this generally awesome.
It misses 10/10 by a whisker: the complexity of the story means you can miss bits too easily, and finicky tech caused us confusion.
Accessibility: Stairs down to the entrance.
Alerts: Pretty heavy mental health themes, though it’s managed thoughtfully. There is a very friendly but also very large white dog hanging around reception. She won’t come into the room with you.
Capacity: This game takes 3-5 players, or 6 at a stretch. 4 would be ideal, 3 would be fine if experienced. 2 would be physically impossible due to one of the puzzles.
Cost: We paid £87 for our group of 3; the price as at time of writing is £90-130 depending on the number playing.
Emergency exit: The main door had a magnetic lock with an emergency button.
Getting there: AI Escape is a short walk from Bermondsey station (Jubilee line). Follow the instructions on the confirmation email carefully, as the industrial estate where it’s located has several entrances and is a maze.
Note: This game was formerly known as Kill M.A.D.