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  1. an online escape room showing two silhouetted figures facing a planet, as shown on a laptop
    Photograph: Supplied/Next Level Escape
  2. The senior man as detective or boss of mafia on gray studio back
    Photograph: Supplied
  3. Screengrab from Isolation escape room
    Photograph: Escape Room

The best online escape rooms to keep you amused in lockdown

Sharpen your wits and lift your spirits by figuring the way out of these fun conundrums

Written by
Stephen A Russell
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Since everything changed in 2020, many of us have spent more time than ever in the digital space. But while we reached out to one another on Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, tweets and whatnot, we drifted apart physically. Congregating together, getting hectic, sweaty and sweary while running around breathlessly in a locked room seemed like a really bad idea. Which should tank the entire concept of a high-stakes escape room, right?

Wrong. Turns out everyone’s favourite panic-inducing entertainment made the switch to digital too. All you need to keep the breakout thrills alive is a reasonably un-wobbly internet connection, coupled with a computer or a tablet, which is pretty handy, given Sydney’s current lockdown status.

The rapidly expanding at-home take on the escape room genre comes in many forms. Some will have you interacting with an actual actor on a video call, some are glorified surveys and others are a bit more video game-like.

Here are a few of our locally-made faves to keep you screaming for more clues/time/chill while you're stuck at home.

Online escape rooms to keep you sane right now.

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Funlab, the team behind Holey Moley, Archie Brother Cirque Electriq and B. Lucky and Sons, has pivoted to offer entertainment online. You and your friends can now enjoy formerly in-person-only events like trivia, escape rooms and something which the crew is calling the "funlympics". The company is offering two virtual escape rooms – the swashbuckling Pirate Island and the enchanting Magic School. Each room is perfect for isolated teams of six to ten, with each participant joining the virtual room individually via Zoom. As with most escape rooms, a gamemaster will be present if you need assistance as your team solves puzzles together online. There's no official advice to dress up for the game, but heck, we'd certainly recommend it. 

Using photospheres, multimedia and the latest web technology, Next Level Escape have adapted one of their physical escape rooms so you can now play it online, and sci-fi fans are going to love this one. It puts you in charge of figuring out what happened to Agent Fox, a top-ranking agent of the Future Directions Bureau. He was sent back on a crucial mission in the 21st century to preserve the integrity of the timeline, but has subsequently gone missing. He’s literally nowhere in time now, and the Bureau suspects skulduggery. Which means it’s down to you to figure out what happened, restore him to the timeline and save the future. No biggie. Next Level Escape have expertly captured the feel of the original game with all its ingenious puzzles, clues, locks and secrets. You can play on your own, or assemble a team of friends to tackle the room together via vid chat. And unlike many of these challenges, you can take as long as you like to dig in deep to the narrative. You are time cops, after all.

You can purchase a code for one device for $15, or a $50 code that nets you a voucher for the same amount to be used at Next Level Escape’s premises after the lockdown, thereby doubling your money. Sign up here.  

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Bad Altitude probably belongs more in the category of story-based online videogames than actual escape rooms. But let's not quibble. The setup is this: you are with some number of friends, either clustered together around one computer screen, using different screens in the same room or in different locations and linked via Google Hangouts, Zoom or any other video chat platform of your choosing. If you're in the same physical space, we suggest clustering around the largest screen you have and nominating one member of your team drive the action. Your mission is to solve problems aboard a commercial flight, from overly sensitive passengers to lost luggage to, as you might expect, landing the whole damn plane. There is no human on the other end in real-time, but several different cartoon characters help or hinder you on your quest. Your primary contact is the flight attendant on board, a very friendly but slightly inept Welshman named Rhys. 

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The original Escape Room in Melbourne has launched a very post-2020 room, called, appropriately, Isolation. It's entirely virtual, but that does not mean it's a videogame. The experience takes place entirely over Zoom, and as we log on, we have no idea what to expect. After a video introduction, we realise there's someone else on the call, and that someone is not doing very well. The man with us is Dr Logan Kaye, an astrophysicist stranded in a remote research station across the globe, and he really needs our help. He's suffering from amnesia, and we soon discover that if we don't recover his memories quickly, he's not going to ever leave the station. The physical escape room is in Logan's room, and solving it means getting him to find clues, try combinations, match numbers and complete other tasks that escape room participants usually do themselves. That means there's absolutely no way to cheat, and Logan himself is both puzzle and guide, making gentle suggestions to lead us to the right track but also gamely trying countless variations until we hit upon the right one. 

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The Aussie online purveyor of escape rooms offers a variety of themed experiences you can tackle with your friends, fam or colleagues. Solve challenges together over video chat or gather your housemates around the computer for some stimulating puzzles, excitement and off-beat fun. Experios has got you covered with options for two to six players and different levels of difficulty to choose from.

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You’ve just seen a spectacular show at the Sydney Opera House. As you’re filing out of the auditorium with the throng of other audience members, you spot a door with a sparkling stained glass window. It's ajar, revealing a glimpse of a room that would not usually be accessible to the public. You can’t help yourself: compelled by curiosity, you enter – and the door swiftly closes behind you. You’re trapped. Next to a baby grand piano you spot an old-timey telephone. Suddenly, it starts ringing madly. Want to know what happens next? Well, you don’t need to physically head for the white sails of Sydney's (and let's be honest, the world's) most iconic building to find out. While auditoriums have sat empty during lockdown restrictions, the Sydney Opera House team got busy developing a virtual escape room designed to transport you into the hidden labyrinth of backstage rooms underneath the venue – without you ever leaving your home. The Trials of Wisdom is a free online game that engages your problem-solving skills to solve riddles and puzzles in order to free yourself. Taking inspiration from Mozart’s fantastical opera The Magic Flute, this game has plenty of hidden Easter eggs to tickle the interests of classical music aficionados and theatrical fanatics, but prior knowledge is not a prerequisite to give these puzzles a crack, which involve decoding ballerinas’ dance positions and deciphering meaning from the ramblings of a frustrated orchestra player.

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