Pete and I have been huge fans of escape rooms for a few years now.
Since taking part in our first during a trip to visit friends in Bristol in 2019, we’ve completed around ten real-world experiences along with numerous in-box versions. I love that feeling of being stuck in my very own adventure game and having to use my wits (and usually a little bit of luck) to break out.
Thanks to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this weekend just gone, we found ourselves with four days off work an no plan what to do with them. The idea of doing something like an escape room was appealing so we grabbed my laptop to see what we could find. We ended up stumbling across the HiddenCity website, and its promise of ‘treasure hunt-style experiences guided by your phone’ was rather intriguing.
The company name sounded familiar. After digging out my old notes, I realised that I’d booked their Bright Lights Evening Trail experience a few years ago when Quietschisto from RNG came over to London for a holiday. Our journey that evening took us all around the central part of the city from Southbank to Holborn and in between, with cryptic clues sent by text message leading us from one location to the next once we’d figured out their solutions.
Their current games seemed slightly different to my previous experience though. The trailers portrayed them as now being more like escape room experiences but on the streets of London, with narratives, puzzles and even story choices leading to different paths. The fact they could be booked and started on any day was a bonus, so we grabbed some tickets for Moriarty’s Game: The Professor’s Invitation and headed to a pub on Marylebone High Street the following morning.
The way the game tried to combine both virtual and real-world elements gave the whole thing an amazing clandestine feeling.
After opting to play using WhatsApp instead of SMS and sending a message to confirm we were ready to begin, we received our first contact. It was Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ mortal enemy, and he was issuing an invitation for us to prove ourselves as some of the city’s finest minds. If we succeeded in following his trail of clues and finding his secret hideout, he’d make us an offer we couldn’t refuse; but if we failed, our answers would be used against us. It all sounded wonderfully ominous.
A further message contained what read like a series of crossword puzzles, with wording such as ‘pass a patient pricker to arrive at a biblical baker’s door’. As anyone who watched us stream The 11th Hour a while back will be able to testify, cryptic clues like this are completely lost on us and we began to worry when we still didn’t have the answer after ten minutes. It was then that we realised we were facing the wrong direction. After turning ourselves around and giggling at how stupid we’d been, we eventually arrived at the next location.
This was our favourite part of the experience. Moriarty’s message informed us that the subtlest of our cohort should go inside and say a phrase to one of the people behind the counter. We had no idea whether they’d know what we were talking about and so it took a while to gather up enough courage, but I was handed a notebook full of symbols and drawings once I’d spoken to them. The way the game tried to combine both virtual and real-world elements gave the whole thing an amazing clandestine feeling.
We grabbed ourselves a couple of drinks and found a spot in the sunshine outside to tackle the next set of puzzles. I don’t want to give too much away about this as it would spoil the experience for future players, so let’s just say it involved deciphering a code and then using certain details in the notebook to make a phone call and obtain information. Fans of the adventure genre will love the way it makes you feel as though you’re in your very own video game and although the challenges weren’t too difficult, they were fun to complete.
Continuing our journey through the backstreets of London, we received a WhatsApp message from another number. The Metropolitan Police wanted to know if we’d come across a man luring unsuspecting members of the public into playing a dangerous game and advised that one of their detectives would be in touch. We were then contacted by Dr John Watson with an important choice: we could either help them in double-crossing this mastermind or enter a life of crime with the organiser of all that is evil in the city.
Screw Sherlock. We decided to side with Moriarty as we quite fancied being criminals for the day and wondered whether this choice would have much impact on how the game played out. We eventually came across the answer. Finding signs marked with the villain’s symbol along the course was a thrill, even more so when we found a few which seemed to have nothing to do with the path we were on. It appears that players who went with Sherlock could have been sent on a different trail with alternative puzzles.
Around four hours after starting out on Marylebone High Street, we arrived at the final destination where we were awarded with chocolate and a voice-message from Moriarty himself. He was delighted with our progress and offered a lifetime association with his organisation complete with membership card. We had no idea which part of London we were in at the end of our adventure but discovered it was only a couple of tube stops away from the beginning. We’d lost ourselves for the whole afternoon and it shows just how immersive the experience was.
Both Pete and I would recommend Moriarty’s Game. The crossword-type clues were easy to follow once we’d wrapped our brains around how they worked, and we only got stuck in one location for a while due to mistakenly reading the clue in a literal rather than cryptic way. We saw parts of London we’d never come across before despite going to the city for years, and it was great being able to do this in a way which appealed to our love of escape rooms and adventure games.
It was great being able to see new parts of London in a way which appealed to our love of escape rooms and adventure games.
Although the experience took us the entire afternoon to complete due to us slowly strolling, it felt as though it could be completed in perhaps two if you pushed yourself. The pressure of completing against another team would certainly add to the speed and excitement. We checked the leaderboard on our way home and were pleased to see we were in first place – but we highly suspect we were the only team playing on Friday as we didn’t encounter anyone else along our route!
Thankfully the day was sunny and warm. We’re not sure we would have enjoyed our afternoon as much as we did if it had been cold and wet. The reassuring thing about our booking though was that we had the option of feely changing the date and time as many times as we needed to, so we could have replanned our adventure for an alternative date if necessary. The other thing I should point our is that Moriarty’s Game isn’t suitable for wheelchairs as there are rather a few steps.
While the themes of HiddenCity’s other games, The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat and The Enchanted Mirror, don’t appeal to us as much as this one, that isn’t going to stop us from trying another at some point in the future. Escape rooms are still our preference but this was a nice alternative for a day out. Check out the official website for further information if you’re interested in going an adventure.