Mission Escape Games: Vampire Castle Is Like Playing The 7th Guest... In Real Life

Mission Escape Games (MEG) is a Sydney-based "puzzle game simulator" that takes the concept of gamification to a whole new level. Armed with nothing but their wits and whatever clues they can find, the player is tasked with escaping a series of interconnected chambers before the time-limit runs out. Last week, we tested our mettle in the toughest version that MEG offers. Scottish swearing ensued.

Real-life puzzle games are all the rage these days. You can find examples in most major metropolitan cities around the world and they're typically among the highest-rated things to do on TripAdvisor.

Last week, we decided to test out the concept at Mission Escape Games in Sydney. This was ostensibly part of a "team-building exercise" but was really just an excuse to faff about on the company's dime.

However, we found that you can actually learn quite a bit about your mates during one of these play-fests: particularly who has strong leadership qualities and who is likely to crack under pressure.

If you've ever played The Room or The 7th Guest, you'll have a good idea of what's involved. Players start off in a locked room and must solve a series of puzzles to open the door; which reveals another locked room and another set of puzzles. The ultimate aim is to make your way through all the rooms in under an hour. Here's the spiel from the company's website:

Find clues, knick knacks and think logically to solve brainteasers to attain freedom. Nothing is as it seems so “Escape” from what you thought was normal. You have an hour, so be fast!

In other words, it's pretty much a point-and-click puzzle game — but with the "point-and-click" replaced with real-world environments.

According to MEG, only around 30 per cent of participants complete the game on their first try (although they could just be saying that to give the winners a greater sense of accomplishment.)

Tickets are $30 per head for a team of 3~6. Parties of two or under are charged an extra $5 although we can't imagine anyone wanting to play this thing on their own. The emphasis is definitely on teamwork and bouncing suggestions and ideas off your companions.

There are currently two different games available at MEG Sydney which are rated at different difficulty levels. We plumped for the "Vampire's Castle", which had a spooky Medieval theme complete with creepy paintings, moving coffins and sacrificial altars.

Partaking in the challenge were myself and Mark Serrels, Luke Hopewell and Campbell Simpson from Gizmodo, Angus from Lifehacker, our publisher Danny Allen and Allure Media's night editor, Elly Hart. We all get along pretty well which made for a relatively stress-free experience. I can only imagine how frustrating this game must be if you're playing with aresholes or people you clash with — so choose your teammates wisely!

Following a brief overview of the rules, we were led blindfolded into the first room and left to work out how to unlock the only door by piecing together various bric-a-brac. Without giving too much away, this included an innocuous chessboard that proved to be one of the most difficult puzzles in the entire game. By the time we cracked it we had sapped away more than half of our time-limit and still had two thirds of the challenge to go.

One thing I found particularly fascinating about the experience was the way everyone's personality traits came to the forefront. The more dominant members of the group quickly asserted a leadership role, while their passive counterparts kind of faded into the wallpaper, content to listen and watch. Despite the absence of any real peril, I imagine this is how everyone would react during an actual crisis situation.

People's varying sense of competitiveness also became readily apparent. Mark was probably the keenest player in this sense — it was apparent that he didn't want this fiendish mind-trap to get the better of him. As the clock neared zero, this led to a litany of hilariously embittered accusations ranging from piss-poor "acoustics" to cheating game design.

In retrospect, we were probably over-thinking the first room's final puzzle and weren't fully gelling as a team. Instead of working together, everyone was just wildly throwing out suggestions and attempting to do their own thing. Eventually, the solution clicked into place and we were onto the next room.

From that point onward, we established a pretty decent groove and completed the rest of the game in short order. It was still a close thing, mind: the final challenge was solved with barely three minutes left on the clock. (I may have squealed a bit towards the end there.)

All in all, I was pretty chuffed with the Mission Escape Games experience. At $30 per head, it's certainly not a cheap way to spend an hour — but same can be said of nearly all "live" entertainment. If you can convince your gamer buddies to give it a try instead of seeing the latest crappy blockbuster movie, we reckon you won't be disappointed. (Mark was right though: the acoustics are pretty terrible.)

To book a session in the Vampire's Castle, head to the MEG website. As mentioned, you can find similar offerings in most major cities around Australia. Examples include OzEscape , Mystic Clue Room Escape, Exitus and Puzzle Room Escape.

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