Real Life Gaming – Prison Escape (Exclusive English Edition) [Review]

80 actors, 170 players, 1 actual prison.

Location: Breda, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 10, 2018

Team size: up to 400 players; we recommend ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Duration: 3 hours

Price: €79.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Very public

REA Reaction

Prison Escape was no escape room; it was a massive and intense roleplaying game with 80 talented actors and a gigantic cast of players. Prison Escape was a living, breathing entity, an organism with systems that impacted one another. A disruption here trickled down to there.

From their extensive prison intake introduction, to the various escape conspiracies, Prison Escape was a factory that produced individual moments for its players to experience. Some of those moments were epic; others were dull snippets of prison life. They all came together to form a story arc for each player.

The planning, coordination, and care that went into Prison Escape was mind-boggling. When we stop to think about what they have achieved, it’s impossible to be anything but impressed.Lisa's Prison Escape mugshot in an orange jump suit.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • LARPers or people who are willing to be social
  • Players who are comfortable knowing that they will not experience most of the things that this game has to offer

Why play?

  • Fairly open-ended gameplay where with some luck, you’ll get out of it what you put into it
  • Playing a prison escape game in an actual prison
  • The actors were phenomenal.
  • Prison Escape was truly massive in scope.

Story

We were all new convicts serving 10-year sentences in the Breda Prison Dome. We could either find a way to make a new life behind bars or attempt to escape.

The crowd of 180 players gathered outside of the Breda Prison Dome.

Setting

Prison Escape was played in and around the Breda Prison Dome, the retired prison that also hosted Up The Game. While some key components like prison locks had been removed from the structure, this was an otherwise authentic setting. It would have been impossible to ask more of the set.

The Prison Dome was massive, imposing, and strangely beautiful. While we had just spent two days in this building for the conference, it felt a lot less friendly under these circumstances, devoid of stage lighting, booths, and conference infrastructure.

David's Prison Escape mugshot in an grey jump suit.

Gameplay

Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape was not an escape room at all. Prison Escape was something between a real life game and an immersive theater.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, conversation, and a willingness to take action.

Exterior of the Breda Prison Dome with barred windows and barbed wire.

Analysis

This is an ever-evolving production so these points may not be relevant. If you’re planning to play Prison Escape, I strongly encourage you to skip the spoiler boxes below as the information contained therein may impact the way you choose to play the game.

Have your own experience first. Then return to read the rest of this review. You’ve been warned. 

+ The Breda Prison Dome was a phenomenal venue. This setting that had felt friendly days before was suddenly foreboding. It was an incredible transformation back to its natural state.

Prison Escape had an imposing introduction. It established the game world. It put us in character and costume. The prison warden delivered a badass welcome to hell speech.

Introduction - Discussion

+ The costumes – both ours and the actors’ – further solidified our characters in this experience. The prison guards had a clever technique for efficiently getting each prisoner into a prison jumpsuit that fit them perfectly, without ever disrupting the intense introductory sequence or breaking the fiction.

– The introduction took a long time. We spent a good portion of the first third of Prison Escape standing at attention. The novelty wore off quickly and discomfort set in.

– The grand introduction didn’t matter all that much. Prison Escape shattered that world just as soon as they had established it. We played the rest of the experience in a much looser, more zany prison world. As players, we had a bit of trouble accepting this transition. For quite some time, we were convinced that the harsh reality of the introduction would return. It didn’t. This dramatically impacted our understanding of the game’s world.

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Prison Escape set up epic individual moments. As an individual (or a small group), we’d be dispatched to accomplish a task that would be central to one of the plot threads. We had to come up with our own strategy and proceed. Succeed or fail, Prison Escape created memorable individual moments. For both of us, and most people we’ve talked to, these were the highlights of the experience.

Mid-Game Discussion

+ Prison Escape left a lot of breadcrumbs to lead players into a plot thread of their own. From found objects to the actors, if we observed carefully and made some basic connections, we’d find a plot thread to follow. Prison Escape worked hard to ensure that every player – even those with no experience in this type of gameplay – could engage with it.

+/- The different plot threads affected one another dramatically. When one plot succeeded long before it was intended to, it shattered another plot thread that hinged on an affected character. One group’s win caused another group to fail.

– After a certain point, if a plot thread failed, there was nothing else to do in Prison Escape. There came a point where it was impossible to break into the other storylines. There were no new plots taking shape. When David’s plot was disrupted midway through, there was no more fun to be had at Prison Escape

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+/- Many of the escape plots were comically ridiculous. This was a ton of fun. It was strange, however, when juxtaposed with the serious tone established in the introduction.

End-Game - Discussion

– The few dozen people who didn’t escape didn’t get an end to their story. They got to watch another group’s plot resolve, but they weren’t participants anymore, only onlookers. They didn’t get a conclusion. We don’t recommend that everyone win. We do recommend that everyone receive an interactive ending.

– About 80% of the participants in our play-through escaped the prison. This seemed like a high number. It diminished the victory for those who succeed and added insult to those who did not. While the escape was fun, the best moments of the experience weren’t in achieving victory. We don’t think everyone needs to escape to enjoy Prison Escape. There was a missed opportunity to catch some plots in action and bring back the intensity of the introduction.

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+ The actors were phenomenal. Furthermore, they were all speaking in their second language. This was the first time Real Life Gaming had run Prison Escape in English. We were seriously impressed with the English and the acting, especially all of the improvisation.

+ In Prison Escape, we were responsible for our own experiences, to a point. If we observed, conversed, played, strategized, and engaged, it could be a truly epic experience.

? In Prison Escape, the game structure was responsible for our experiences, to a point. There was a fair bit of luck involved in getting started. The actions of actors and other players would also affect our experiences, both negatively and positively. We weren’t entirely in control of our own destiny, which made sense in a prison.

Prison Escape is not consistent. It is not a stock experience, David and I had profoundly different experiences. Your game will be unique, as will your individual experiences within it.

The Breda Prison Dome lit at night.

Tips for Playing

  • Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of standing at attention.
  • Do not wear a skirt or dress.
  • Bring as few personal effects as you can. You’ll be locking them in lockers during the experience.
  • Be open to the highs and lows of the experience.
  • Take action. You have to actively play if you want anything to happen.

Book your event with Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Real Life Gaming provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

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