Passport To Iron City, The Alita: Battle Angel Experience [Review]

The Factory is always watching.

Location:  New York City (Austin & Los Angeles)

Date Played: January 17, 2019

Team size: Up to 6; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 2 hours

Price: $25 per player (early bird Jan 26 – Feb 13)

Ticketing: Public, and there are multiple teams playing at once

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Passport To Iron City was substantially more than I was expecting. It had more detail, more gameplay, and more time within the world than I’d imagined a pop-up experiential movie promotion was capable of.

I went in a bit skeptical and left thinking, “maybe I’ll go see that movie…” which is a feeling that brand activations rarely manage to instill in me.

In-game: A scrapyard with a red sign reading, "Scavenging in Progress"

As substantial as this was, I wanted more gameplay. Over the course of a 2-hour experience, I spent only 40 minutes playing games. There was so much I didn’t get to play. We also didn’t have enough information at the onset to actively strategize our team’s gameplay based on point value or fun factor. The experience felt unbalanced.

I’m glad that I experienced Passport to Iron City. It was clearly made with love and an appropriate budget… two things that are often missing from branded pop-ups. It expanded my understanding of what a brand activation can be.

If you’re looking for puzzle-focused gameplay, there is a little something for you at Passport to Iron City. That said, this experience is really for players who are open to variety in gameplay and the experience beyond the games. Check it out if you’re in New York City, Austin, or Los Angeles.

In-game: A robotic totem.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who are comfortable knowing that they can’t do everything
  • People who don’t need to win to have fun

Why play?

  • A large beautiful set
  • Tons of actors
  • A variety of challenges
  • An unusual social experience
  • Value

Story

Set within the world of the existing manga and upcoming movie, Alita: Battle Angel, we were set free within a wreckage-filled dystopian city where we competed against other teams for credits.

There wasn’t a rigid narrative. Neither the title character Alita nor her story seemed to play a role within Passport to Iron City. We were just a bunch of normal folk trying to get by in a ruined world.

In-game: a jukebox beside a wall of wanted posters.

Setting

The set was the star of Passport to Iron City. Designed in conjunction with the production designers of the movie, it looked lived in.

The experience played out over three main areas:

In-game: a table with a touch screen in the Kansas Bar.

The Kansas Bar was a functional and fully-themed bar that served in-world food and drink. Upon entry, we met our teammates, familiarized ourselves with some of the game materials, and got to know the folks playing on other teams.

In-game: A marketplace table with an actor setting up shop.

Iron City was laid out as a series of small businesses that housed the various characters and challenges. This was a detailed and heavily varied dystopian environment.

An in-world branded chocolate bar.

At the conclusion of the game, we exited through a gift shop. It sold some quality stuff including in-world chocolates and hot sauces (produced by women-owned businesses Valerie Confections and Yellowbird Sauce, respectively), as well as the obligatory t-shirts, manga, and other gift-shoppy things.

In-world branded hot sauce collection.
🔥

Gameplay

Passport To Iron City was an eclectic game with a varied level of difficulty.

Gameplay covered escape room-y skills including traditional puzzling and searching challenges as well as an assortment of sensory, reaction-time, and gambling games… and that’s just what I saw. I missed a fair amount of the available gameplay.

In-game: an empty "Kansas Bar" glass beside a map of Iron City and an illuminated touchscreen.

Analysis

➕ There was a lot going on. The size, scale, and depth of Passport To Iron City really surprised me, especially when compared with most other brand activations that I’ve encountered.

➕ I loved that the food and drink were in-world. The names and labels were all part of the experience. Designers rarely take that detail into account, but it made a difference.

In-game: A marketplace table with an actor setting up shop.

➖ The Passport To Iron City website could have set better expectations for timing. Sure, I didn’t look in the FAQ to learn how long the game would be, but this should have been front and center because it’s a selling feature. The entire experience was about 2 hours. Passport To Iron City was fighting against expectations that this would likely be a 15-30 minute experience.

➕ Gameplay included a broad variety of options. No matter who you are, there’s probably a game within Passport To Iron City that you’ll be good at.

➖ We were given the opportunity – and strongly encouraged – to strategize our approach to selecting challenges, but we weren’t given enough information about those challenges to produce a viable strategy. In the end, we pretty much found ourselves going to the game stations that were open or had no line.

❓ Playing on media day, there were a lot of people, but we didn’t have a packed game. If attendance were substantially greater, I imagine that the dynamics and availability of certain games would be crunched.

➕ I truly enjoyed the scavenger game. It had a surprising amount of depth. The actors overseeing it were as engaged as they were funny.

In-game: A marketplace table with an actor looking at the products.

➖ This is a nitpick, but one of the marketplace games had an unfair round. It was maddening.

➕/➖ I enjoyed most of the challenges, but found myself wishing that I had another couple of minutes in most of them. For a 2-hour experience, 40 minutes of gameplay felt light. I know that I missed at least one challenge that others felt was the strongest of the evening.

➖ The point value of the various challenges seemed almost random. I always felt like I had control over the task at hand; I never felt like I was strategically in control of my own destiny within the game.

In-game: the Motorball raceway.

❓ The climax of the experience was watching a Motorball race (the Alita equivalent of the obligatory blood sport race that is legally required as part of any sci-fi dystopian epic). Your level of enjoyment will be directly tied with your interest in gambling.

❓ There was a lot of content within Passport to Iron City that I didn’t have time to even see, let alone experience. I don’t know how much content I missed. That speaks to the depth of what’s available, but it also means that you can’t do everything.

➕ I am not a gift shop guy… but I’m still surprised at the quality of the goods. The chocolate and hot sauces were amazing.

➕ If you’re able to book as an early bird (January 26 – February 13, 2019), $25 per ticket is a fantastic value.

Tips For Visiting

  • The New York City venue is a short walk from the Bedford stop on the L train.
  • Passport To Iron City has ADA accessible venues.
  • There is a coat check.

Book your hour with Passport To Iron City, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Passport To Iron City comped our tickets for this game.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.