If ever I get locked in an underground bunker with fellow survivors of a nuclear apocalypse and have to escape before the oxygen runs out, I am sad to say I do not think we would make it.
Last weekend I put my survival skills and logical thinking to the test with Claustrophobia, a new real-world escape game in Dubai – and concluded that it is better for everyone if I never sign up to be a saviour of the human race.
Like similar race-against-time escape games, Claustrophobia locks up a team of four in a room and challenges players to crack codes and find clues to free themselves within an hour.
This particular variation was created in Russia in 2013, with more than 51 game rooms. Claustrophobia now has 144 themed quests in 33 cities worldwide.
A few friends and I booked the post-apocalyptic Vault 13 challenge in the Dubai gaming zone.
The “To Live” room, which traps you in a madman’s lair, is also available, while the art heist-themed Museum of Contemporary Art and Sherlock Holmes-inspired Baker Street, 221B quests are due to open next month.
Vault 13 is the rundown shelter of the survivors of a nuclear holocaust that has wiped out most of humanity. Before we are locked in, we stash our belongings in a locker and the game master leads us through the guidelines. For this particular challenge, we are told that moderate force and strength would be necessary to access some clues and that hints would be available if we were struggling with the puzzles.
As soon as the countdown clock began, we were pushed into a dingy room with random items scattered around. Discarded car seats, a tabletop radio that made static crackling and whistling sounds, a vending machine stocked with cola, two oxygen tanks and a wooden cupboard – any of them could be concealing crucial clues.
We spread out to inspect every corner. I have some experience playing this type of escape game, so every object in the room, many of which had numbers on them, felt like it could be important. After 10 minutes, we were still disoriented, mumbling to ourselves and shouting out digits.
Do the numbers on the hard hat hanging in the cupboard need to be punched into the access-control keypad on the wall, or are we reading too much into a useless product serial number?
At that moment, the game master put us out of our misery and guided us towards our next clue. Along the way, we unearthed a machine gun, a monstrous bionic arm and a metal detector, all of which proved critical to progressing towards freedom.
It took us close to 20 minutes to get to a second room, in which a biological experiment on plants was underway. With a torch and a flickering bulb as our only sources of light, we were struggling to understand the function and importance of certain consoles.
Time was running out when we reached the third and final room, and we had only 10 minutes to secure our escape. The sinister soundtrack that reinforced a post-apocalyptic mood became creepy and added to our anxiety.
With three minutes to spare, we managed to find the missing piece of the puzzle, which involved some chemistry know-how, and made it out in time – but not without constant guidance and clues from the game master, whose distorted robot voice we heard whenever we found ourselves staring at a clue without making progress.
Perhaps we would have done better if we were avid video-gamers. Many quests are modelled on such games – Vault 13 draws heavily on the Fallout series of role-playing games – or films.
Claustrophobia provides a more sensory experience than other escape games I’ve played. The atmosphere, props, visual design and music help immerse you in the role of a distressed individual fighting to stay alive.
• A session for two, three or four players at Claustrophobia in Red Diamond Building, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai, costs from Dh380; visit www.phobia.ae