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Photograph: Plymouth Point

The best online escape rooms to try from home

Not quite ready to be locked up in a real-life London escape room? Assemble your team for some intense code cracking

Written by
Alexi Duggins
,
Rose Johnstone
&
Katie McCabe
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Online escape rooms take place entirely through your screen, and even though it’s a novel concept dreamt up during the Covid-19 lockdown, there are already many variations of the genre. Some blend the code-cracking with a bit of interactive theatre using Zoom, others use a digital version of an escape room that can be played through an avatar.

London escape rooms have now reopened, but unlike the virtual Zoom quiz boom, these online replacements seem to have stuck. Want to assemble a team and try one for yourself? Here are four online games that have proved themselves to be more than a lockdown fad.

Want some more ideas for hosting a virtual fun night? Get friends and family living at distance together by playing some of our best online party games, testing your knowledge with online trivia games or getting messy with drinking games you can play over a screen.

Brilliant online escape rooms

Sorry, ‘Doctor Who’, but I’ve never been afraid of your Cybermen. I’ve always found the Doctor’s cyborg-nemeses, with their arthritic robo-gait and perennial quest to ‘upgrade’ (read: destroy) the human race more humorous than terrifying. Which is why, when playing Escape Hunt’s latest online escape room, I was surprised to find myself genuinely afraid of what might happen if I did not prevent their attack on earth. ‘Doctor Who: Worlds Collide’ is seriously captivating. Here’s how it works: you’re on a Zoom call, playing the IRL escape room through the eyes of someone who will obey your every command. The whole process works surprisingly well, and the puzzles are satisfyingly inventive and complex (lasers! music! chess!) while still being achievable. Thankfully, I was able to thwart the Cybermen – and even got a shout-out from the Doctor herself. And if you fancy a little more interactive Whovian theatre, Doctor Who: Time Fracture has just landed in London. 

For this online escape game, you’ll be travelling to Japan via Leeds. Yorkshire-based company Escape Hunt have figured out a way to let people play their real-life games via the internet. You control an avatar (okay, a member of staff wearing a webcam) and tell them where to look, what codes to input and exactly how deftly to wield that potentially lethal sword (if you haven’t guessed yet, it’s samurai-themed). Given that half the fun of escape rooms is the manic energy of a team charging around a room, it’s easy to be sceptical about the idea of someone else playing it for you, but it works – with lots of chances for team-mates to shout out differing theories of how to approach puzzles, or spot clue others have missed. It’s a well-designed escape room, deftly adapted to its online incarnation – with added swords.

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Agent Venture is an enjoyable lo-fi spy mission where you play the backroom support staff to your agent (think the CTU to your Jack Bauer or the Kenny to your Eve Polanski). Throughout this online escape room, you communicate with your operative via Zoom (camera off), using building schematics to guide them, cracking codes to open doors, hacking into email records and calling up staff to blackmail them (all of whom sound curiously like your agent adopting a range of different accents). It’s lots of fun – but you need to keep your wits about you. Things didn’t work so well for Kenny, after all…

If you have that elusive ability to unearth a person’s Facebook profile when armed with nothing but their first name and the fact they went to the Reading Festival in 2005 – you will love Plymouth Point. The interactive ‘whodunnit’ experience is hinged on intense online research, with a hysterical, occultish plot woven in. It opens with a Zoom call from a kindly older woman. She will not answer your questions, as our team awkwardly discovered: she is a pre-record. The kindly older woman explains that her neighbour Ivy Isklander has disappeared, and it’s your job to find her. From there, you’re on a path of password-hacking, code-sourcing, Youtube conspiracy videos and disturbing voicenotes about human sacrifice. It’s not easy to mimic the tension of a real-life escape room through a laptop, but when your friends are shrieking at you via Zoom to jot down the latest clue, the stress does not feel virtual. After all the furious link-clicking, the fictional world you’re thrown into when you crack the case is just about believable enough to make at least one jumpy team member scream.

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