Resident Evil The Experience London
The horror video game series Resident Evil, out this week, had a limited time live scare experience/escape room running for this weekend only, and James from Thinking Outside The Box Escape Rooms managed to get one of the hotly sought after tickets. What better opportunity to share his experience and thoughts on how the event relates to the Escape Room industry as a whole.
Resident Evil has always been about zombies, and the seventh numbered installment of the franchise has taken it in a very different direction. Dropping the action based shoot-em-up styles of the latest games, it returns to the more lingering horror feeling of the originals. While tied into the overarching story, its focus (in a demo you can play for yourself) is on a single family, no doubt infected by some form of evil, hunting you down and generally causing pant-wetting scares.
As the pr event was marketed as an escape room style scare attraction, a friend of mine and myself had no idea what to expect other than being thrust into a real life version of the ‘Baker House’ and meeting the family members in person. Running an escape room myself, I know the value of secrecy and spoilers when it comes to our games, but in a limited run, those that missed the event will have no opportunity to learn about it any other way, and in the interest of pushing our industry forwards, I feel that other owners can all learn from their ideas and knowing them can improve all of our room designs. This first post will give a full and detailed description of the experience and the second will give it more of an analysis and my own thoughts on how the ideas and execution could be useful in designing escape rooms.
After a 5 odd hour queue (only 28 teams of 2 people would be admitted per day) and a time slot being assigned to us, we returned at the correct moment to lock up our personal belongings and be greeted by the ‘producer’ of the (ahem) world famous TV show ‘Sewer Gators’ (from the game) with whom we had apparently applied to work. She was there ostensibly to explain what we’d be doing for the show, but of course was really explaining the ‘game rules’. Take anything you see with a yellow triangle marked on it and leave everything else. Don’t touch anyone in the house. If you want to leave, this is how to inform us. This hand action actually served to heighten the fear. How intense would this be, if they’re having to give us a physical ‘safe word’? While an initial disclaimer explained that we were agreeing that the actors inside may touch us, and that our clothes may be stained by the set dressing, this ‘in character’ briefing was the beginning of the experience, and until the end, no-one would break character or our suspension of disbelief.
A single torch between us (which my friend swiped) and a bag for objects we’d pick up were given, and after a little more context for the TV show and the situation we’d be walking into, we were handed over to another assistant who would lead us out of the building we were in, around a corner and down the street to a central London premises which fit the brief even just from the outside. We would be searching for a Sewer Gator camera team, but since their phones weren’t responding, the assumption was that they were in the basement. Great. As we got to the front door, we were told to go straight ahead, down the stairs and to the right to get to the basement.
The door opened, we stepped in, and a mechanical baby doll crawled towards us. We laughed about it… nervously. My friend generously took the lead and lead us down to the dark basement where we found the camera equipment and a TV playing static. Looking around, we found a piece of paper that instructed us to sit down by the TV table. Dutifully, we did, though not before I checked under the table for anything that could ‘jump out at us’. After a few moments, the TV burst into life with a recording made by one of the team, Clancy. He informed us in a well performed, tone setting, few minute monologue that there wasn’t much hope for him and he probably shouldn’t be recording the video, since no-one would be coming into the house… unless… the interns! Suddenly his purpose shifted towards trying to help us with the crazy Baker family who were roaming around. We had to talk quietly, lest we attract their attention, to follow instructions they would leave on yellow post it notes, and finish off the poison that another member of the team (Andre?) was working on. He had apparently hidden the instructions in a confined space, which we would have to find in order to completion the concoction and find a way of killing the Baker family. We were instructed that if a phone rang in our room, we should quickly answer it, firstly to silence it, and secondly because someone from the outside seemed to be mysteriously helping them. Before any more could be said, Clancy was found and taken by a Baker and the video ended. Noises around the house creeped us out, and as soon as the door to the next room opened, we rushed through.
The Nightmare Begins
It was a kitchen, though certainly didn’t seem sanitary enough to make anything that wasn’t poisonous. It reminded us instantly of the Resident Evil demo, fantastically decorated, even down to a dead crow in the microwave. A note told us that we would need to split up. One of us would find the instructions for the poison and another would have to find the ingredients and mix them together. Another door lead to a pitch black room that my friend instantly braved with his torch, to find a morgue. Great. Three drawers for body storage. One had the name of one of the camera crew, and the other two had our names and today’s date on it. Great.
I found a button attached to a long cable in my room, pushed it and it turned on a UV light which my friend was able to take through into the other room. He realised he would have to crawl into the confined space… an open drawer at the bottom. Great. After some miscommunications, we were able to read the ingredients, which I went searching for. Just as he got further into the drawer, lights flashed and loud noises gave him a classic jumpscare. Just as I was giggling at his fear, I opened a cupboard to a blast of air and my own nerves were tested. Searching for the rest of the ingredients, we found enough to mix a nice clear vial full and the phone rang to inform us that we had to move on through the door in the morgue to find the safe where the final ingredient must be hidden.
Up some stairs, we found a stylish (still dark) drawing room; bookshelves, what seemed to be a fireplace and a large painting which dutifully fell off the wall revealing a mirror and flashing lights to make us jump. Next to it was a simplistic poem involving various animals. ‘The Fox chases the Hare. The snake waits at the end for its prey.’ Words to that effect. While investigating we stumbled upon various animal statues with numbers written on stickers on their bases. They had to be connected to the riddle. While we were following the instructions, a phone rang to tell us that the safe was hidden behind the family portrait. Looking around the walls, we spotted one and swung it aside to reveal an electronic safe. We merely had to figure out the code. A couple of attempts and we were there… the final ingredient. I quickly fumbled some of it into our vial, sealed it and pocketed the ingredients in my bag. The phone rang again and instructed us to poison the family. The best way, apparently, would be to put some into the gravy or the drinks; preferably both. At that point, the door swung open and we were face to face with the first member of the Baker family.
Lucas Baker, a young hoodie wearing figure lurched in, not looking at us immediately, causing us to consider hiding, but before we had a second he confronted us about why we were in his house. No excuses worked. Reactive and responsive however, Lucas discussed how he had the right to protect his own family, whether or not I was a military man, and that he would have no choice but to put bags over our heads while he figured out what to do with us. “Very reasonable.” I confirmed and we both accepted that whatever would happen next was entirely out of our control.
Friends for dinner
Lead into another room and constantly intimidated, with idle threats and the noise of sharpening knives, our hoods were removed to find Jack Baker, the father of the household, inches from our faces and showing far too much sinister welcome. We were ‘uninvited guests’ at a circular dinner table, covered in disgusting looking entrails, broken up by piles of maggots. Lucas swiped something off my plate and ingested it. Jack was wildly moving around, asking us our names and telling us of why they knew we weren’t locals, as Lucas started playing with a large knife. (It was our smell, of course.) They were insulted by our lack of interest in the food. “Perhaps you need some gravy?” Gravy. I had to poison it. I took the vial out of my bag, under the table, and held it close. “James, why don’t you go and get it?” I looked over at my friend; he knew what I was going to do, and saw the gravy boat inexplicably on a mantelpiece behind me. I stood up, concealed the vial, and while picking it up, poured about half of the liquid into it; I knew we had to try to poison the drinks too.
I brought it to the table and Jack seemed pleased. He smelled it, noted that ‘Ma’ had made it “spicier than usual” and started splashing it into his mouth with his hands. Lucas made it clear that he needed a drink, and my friend was asked to go and get him one. I slipped the vial to him under the table, unnoticed, and he walked over to the other side of the room to do his part of the deed. Lucas started walking over towards him, so my tongue shot into action as I pointedly asked if HE was ever in the military. The distraction worked. My friend had succeeded, and he took a big gulp of the poisoned liquid. The intimidation continued a little while longer; Jack allowing spit to cover our faces as he shouted into our faces and we started looking around more brazenly. We saw a staircase and thin stairs to an attic as Jack went over to lock it. He removed a key from a lock by the side of the trapdoor leading from the stairs and put it around his neck. Lucas reacted first. He looked tired, started stumbling, and Jack followed suit. They collapsed and we realised it was our time to escape. I knew I needed the key, so quickly grabbed it from Jack, half expecting him to jolt back to life, and we ran to the attic door. The key fit into the hole, and we had to hold it open as it slowly raised. Of course Jack and Lucas sprang back to life, crawling and clawing their way towards us. My friend wasted no time in moving away as I held the key in place. As it opened enough for us to clamber through, Jack’s hands reached my ankle and I had to pull it away. As I ran up the stairs, Lucas’s hands came through the gaps, trying to get a grip on me. Seemingly just escaping, we couldn’t relax. The phone in the attic started to ring. “Marguerite is coming. You have to hide. Don’t let her find you.”
I had answered the phone. I had to tell my friend in the most eloquent and succinct manner possible. “Hide! Marguerite!” We heard her outside another door to the room, climbing some stairs. Looking around there were only so many places to hide. We each chose corners of the room, behind sturdy looking furniture. Curling up into balls, we heard the door swing open and a crazy laugh filled the room. She was hunting for us.
“I know you’re here.” she insisted. We stayed silent. She was moving around the room, hitting various things as she got near them. The sudden noises were intense, but we stayed silent and eventually, her noises stopped. It took what seemed like forever for us to slowly peek around from where we were hidden. After a quick glance I whispered to my friend “I think we’re clear.”
“I got a bullet!” my friend told me.
“I found it by the drinks downstairs. When I put the poison in, I grabbed the bullet.”
Impressed by his stealth and quick thinking, I looked around. A wicker basket, various chests of drawers and a locked container were surrounded by mannequins. The game’s attic in real life. I found a playing card… a Jack with a number 6 on it. The phone rang again, informing us that we had to search the rest of the mannequins for the code to open the container. We looked at the others and found an Ace, a Queen, then a King, each with numbers underneath. Perhaps them in their suit order would get us the prize hidden inside. Then we heard her coming back. I was on the other side of the room to my original hiding place. Leaping into the wicker basket and closing it behind me, I was sure we’d got away with it. Marguerite, laughing maniacally explored the room and came across my friend immediately. She shrieked and told him to stand still. Instantly she hunted me down and opened the basket. I stood up, still in the basket.
“You wait there while I get the rest of my family.”
We didn’t. Quickly trying the code in Ace, King, Queen, Jack order, the lock failed to open. A phone call told us that perhaps the Jack was on the other side. A strange way of putting it, perhaps, but Jack, Queen, King, Ace got us the insides of the box; a key and a Resident Evil staple, a crank. Where could we use it? On the wall was a contraption that I fitted the crank to, and winding it lowered a key from the roof. As I cranked faster, we heard a noise. Was she back? Had she discovered her family. We kept going. My friend grabbed the key and the phone rang.
“Have you got both keys?”
“Go through the door, quickly… leave the crank.”
Another door we hadn’t noticed had opened and we proceeded through to what seemed to be a room sized Terrarium. Vines lining the walls held various mutilated dolls in place, and the quality of the decor floored us. After a moment, we spotted an image of a numerical lock and writing telling us to count the blind, count the decapitated and count the crying babies. Looking closer at the dolls, some had had their eyes removed, some were headless and leaning closer to them revealed that crying sounds were coming out of some. A quick count of each type gave us the combination for a lock I only stumbled upon after our count. I started putting the solution into the padlock when a voice emerged from behind the dolls, confirming our thoughts. “The code is 533”.
We unlocked the padlock, which pulled aside the whole panel allowing us to crawl through into another room. A bedroom. Chained to the bed was Clancy, from the video. Instantly suspicious I reluctantly unlocked his chains with my key. He lunged at me and my first thought was of how much of a mistake it had been to unlock him, until I realised that he was hugging me with gratitude.
“Quick, we’ve got to get out of here.”
He explained that we needed to find a large metal key to unlock the front door to finally escape and had we managed to poison the family?
“Well…. Erm…. we managed to get two of them, but Marguerite…. Well… she’s still around.”
We had started our search. Clancy asked if we’d found another key… took it from my friend and unlocked a chest by our entrance. Inside was a gun. It wasn’t loaded, but we handed over the single bullet we had procured in our adventure, dutifully loaded into the chamber. As I spotted a large wardrobe, I noticed what looked like an empty space behind it, judging by the space above it. Clancy asked if we’d checked the wardrobe, and I did what I had to do. Opening the door, we were confronted by a crumpled heap of a person with a large metal key around his neck, who fell out towards us. It was Andre!
“Andre. But I saw them kill you…?”
Clancy was confused, and Andre’s zombie-lique movements only served to confirm what we had feared. Speaking to us, he treated us with distrust and his voice, filled with hate, rose a little too loud for our liking. He was different. He had been ‘turned’. Clancy demanded he hand over the key, and after a tense moment where we thought Andre might attack him, the three of us had his key. We ran out of the room, and headed down the stairs that presented themselves. A bang as the door flung open; Andre was following us, shambling aggressively and not slowing down. Clancy tried to talk him down but he wouldn’t stop. With no other options, Clancy pulled the trigger. An incredibly loud bang told us all we needed to know and Andre slumped down against the wall; a shooting we witnessed mere feet from the wall we were pressing ourselves against.
“I can’t leave if Marguerite is still around. I have to stop her.” Clancy bravely stated. “Take this key, leave the house. Go left, right, then straight on. Repeat it to me.”
“Left, right, straight on.”
And with that, we ran downstairs and out of the house to the street outside. The nightmare was over.
We were given a photo each, taken when we were in the ‘safe’ room and what we later realised was a one-way mirror was revealed by the picture falling off the wall and a score card of how well we’d done. Apparently very well, despite us not necessarily feeling so.
We had experienced an incredibly immersive horror event, and my thoughts instantly went to what we could learn from it for our escape rooms. Check out my post next time; an in depth analysis of exactly what was happening from a gameplay perspective; what designers can take from it, and what could have been improved.