A glimpse at the future?
Beyond the great dome of Utopia lies a desolate wasteland. Disease has ravaged the population, resources are scarce and, for those still managing to survive, life is hard.
Yet, long condemned to the darkness, the Dystopians have become resilient and determined. No longer will they accept their fate quietly and no longer will the advancements of Utopia benefit only the few.
Besides, they’ve made some advancements of their own and Utopia might just need them more than they realise.
In May 2020, we had planned to do a small tour of Midlands based escape rooms, to cover Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, and a few others that were more accessible by car than our usual method of public transport. Of course, that trip was delayed, and after over a year in and out of lockdown, the trip morphed from a long weekend in the Midlands into a two week road trip encompassing nearly 60 games, covering the Midlands and beyond.
Derby had always been an intended stop on our initial postponed trip and again on the rescheduled and expanded trip, thanks in part to the chatter about two particular games from Make Your Escape. The perfect opportunity to fit these in was Day Six of the trip, and Make Your Escape marked the halfway point of the games, with our first game of the day bringing the total number of games played to 30 for the trip so far. We had already solved the mystery of The Signal and broken the curse in Spellbound, but after a short break, it was time for what many might consider to be the main event: a double bill of the games that ensure Make Your Escape is mentioned anytime someone looks for a recommendation in Derby – Dystopia and Utopia.
The two games are two sides of the same coin, with the stories of Dystopia and Utopia closely intertwined, and players will want to play both to get the full story. The narratives of the two are actually so intertwined that in addition to playing them either as standalones or back to back, they can actually be played concurrently as a “versus” scenario, where actions taken in either Utopia or Dystopia will have a direct effect on the other. As it was just the two of us, we opted to play the games in succession to get the full experience, and learn the truth behind the facade, beginning in the world of Dystopia.
Covid-19 Procedures: At the time of our visit in May 2021, Make Your Escape required the use of face coverings, for both customers and staff. Hand sanitiser stations are readily available throughout reception and in the games. The games are also staggered to allow for enhanced cleaning between teams. We were the only team present in the venue for the duration of our mid-week visit and the venue require teams to check in using NHS Track and Trace.
Harry returned as our GM, and led us up another staircase to the entrance to Dystopia. He was able to skip a bit of the health and safety information, but gave us some specific information for Dystopia before closing the door behind us. As the door shut, a screen flickered to life, and we began to learn more about the strange goings on in Dystopia from none other than a Dystopian citizen. With our mission firmly in our minds, we set about exploring the entrance to a rather derelict apartment building that we found ourselves in.
I love a good story set in a dystopian future, and the space we found ourselves in reminded me of just about every film I’ve seen, or novel I’ve read, set in the ruins of the “old” world. The set was beautifully designed, despite its dark and grimy feel, and the atmosphere created by both the set design and the sound design were perfect, allowing for a greater suspension of disbelief and immersion. Dystopia led us on quite a journey, with plenty of things to explore. As we moved through Dystopia, the narrative unfolded,
As we approached the finale of the game, the pace intensified, climaxing as we crawled our way to Utopia. If you opt to play Dystopia as a standalone game, or begin your double bill with Utopia instead, the ending might feel somewhat ambiguous. (Since the two games can actually be played in any order, Utopia’s ending suffers from a similar problem, but I’ll leave that for another review.) However, as we were playing one directly following the other, the conclusion felt more like the natural end of a chapter, with the story to be continued after the cliffhanger.
On a side note, if you’re thinking of playing Dystopia and Utopia in succession (and you really should), Make Your Escape’s advice is to begin with Dystopia. The intertwined narratives of the two are somewhat circular, which allows them to be played in either order, but Make Your Escape feel that the narrative does flow a little bit better in this order. Which game you prefer of the two will depend on the style of game you prefer; for me, the gritty and more physical aspects of Dystopia set it above Utopia, but Gord preferred the minimalist, tech-heavy, and futuristic feeling of Utopia. (Although we both agree that Dystopia had the stronger puzzle design).
As with many highly narrative driven games, Dystopia followed a relatively linear puzzle path. This opened up a bit, but for the most part, one thing led to another as we uncovered the secrets of Dystopia. The puzzles throughout were solid, and particularly well sign posted, following what felt like a logical progression, and intertwining the narrative with the puzzles.
Dystopia’s puzzles relied more on physical things – padlocks and such, but also more tactile tasks, making them much more suited to players that take a hands on approach (like me). Those that like more tech in their games are likely to prefer Utopia, but to me, the puzzles in Dystopia reign supreme, with some that were not only clever, but also just beautiful in their simplicity.
There was one particular puzzle/task that seemed like it would need to be repeated, and I thought would play a much bigger role in our time in Dystopia. As it turns out, if we had played “against” the Utopians, it would have. But as we didn’t, this was something that we only needed to complete once. (Which is both a positive and a negative, as it would have certainly upped the pressure, but also the immersion.)
As with the other games we played at Make Your Escape, clues were delivered using a screen in the game. The screen was also used to display our time and deliver a video introduction, letting us know that, a bit like 1984 and Big Brother, someone is always watching…
Harry had already acted as our GM in Spellbound, so had a good idea of how we think, and he was clearly paying close attention throughout our time in Dystopia. While I can’t recall needing an outright clue, one minor technical problem resulted in our successful completion of a puzzle, but no code. Thankfully Harry noticed right away, and quickly rectified the situation to avoid any dip in the pace of the game or frustration/confusion due to this.
Will you choose to play Dystopia as a standalone game, in succession with it’s brighter and more futuristic sibling, or pit yourself against an opposing Utopian team? The choice is yours, but whichever you choose, you’re in for a treat.
Team: 2 players – escaped in 38 minutes
Address: 1st Floor, 4 Osmaston Rd, Derby DE1 2HR