A mainstay of team-building away days and party activities, escape rooms are big business. These Crystal Maze-style puzzle boxes come in every shape and size, from elaborate missions spanning several stages to cramped Victorian prison cells and claustrophobic dungeons.
But if locking yourself in a dark room for an hour is not the way you want to spend your Saturday, you have other options. Virtual escape rooms take the problem-solving, deductive reasoning and teamwork elements of physical escape rooms, and bring the challenge online.
Physical escape rooms were inspired by video games, so there are plenty of classic examples of the genre to choose from. These older games tend to be designed around solo play, while more modern virtual escape rooms allow groups of friends to play as a team. Some escape rooms incorporate group-based games like trivia quizzes, while others take advantage of the online format by making you traipse around the internet in search of clues, like a digital sleuth.
Other online games with friends have also become popular. If you need some inspiration, we’ve rounded up the best online games and multiplayer apps to play with your friends while at home.
As with physical escape rooms, the mission is as the name suggests – to escape the room – through a series of problem-solving missions and teamwork. Here are a few of our favourites.
The best online escape rooms for 2021 are:
Best for potter-heads – Hogwarts digital escape room: £0, Docs.google.com
Best for a quick game – Trapped In The Web: £8.99, Trappedintheweb.com
Best for taking your time – The Panic Room: From £4.99, Thepanicroomonline.co.uk
Best for retro gaming style– The Crimson Room: £0, Crazygames.com
Best immersive experience – Mr X: £0, Escapedurham.co.uk
Best for TV fans – Escape live: From £15, Escapelive.co.uk
Best for a long game – Deadlocked escape rooms: From £12, Deadlockedrooms.com
Hogwarts digital escape room: Free, Docs.google.com
Best: For potter-heads
Harry Potter fans will be pleased to hear about this free escape room, created by an American librarian in Pennsylvania.
You can explore the school of witchcraft and wizardry without leaving the sofa. The game starts right where it should, as first-years who have just been assigned to their houses. There are team-building exercises, trivia questions to answer and puzzles to solve that you can do as an individual player, or in a team with your friends.
Trapped In The Web: £8.99, Trappedintheweb.com
Best: For a quick game
Here you can play solo or with a team to complete tasks that will take between one to two hours. There are five themed rooms to choose from: space race, cabin fever, a night at the theatre, school’s out and out of hours. Each has a different storyline and series of puzzles to complete and clues to collect.
Based on general knowledge, it’ll put a pub quiz with a poor connection to shame. Each game costs £8.99 to play.
If you’re experienced with escape rooms, we recommend you try playing Out Of Hours (£8.99, Trappedintheweb.com), where your mission is to investigate a rogue CEO and their dodgy dealings.
The Panic Room: From £4.99, Thepanicroomonline.net
Best: For taking your time
Unlike escape rooms offline, there is no time limit to complete The Panic Room, so you and your team can take as long as you like.
CSI: Grounded (£20, Thepanicroomonline.co.uk) piqued our interest. Avery Stone died 30,000ft up in the air on a private company jet, everyone on board is a suspect and you and your team have to solve the puzzles to find who the killer is.
You can choose your game by difficulty level, how many players can join and the age appropriateness. Prices start from just £15 and, as we say, there’s no expiry time on it, so you can play it whenever you want.
The Crimson Room: Free, Crazygames.com
Best: For retro gaming style
This Japanese game is retro in style but the premise is simple: you’ve woken up drunk, locked in someone else’s bedroom and you need to get out before the timer is up. It’s free to play and involves clicking around for hidden objects and clues to help you escape. It’s a good one to play on your own if you want to kill some time.
Mr X: Free, Escapedurham.co.uk
Best: Immersive experience
Escape Rooms Durham took its game online during the pandemic. They’ve since reopened their doors, but you can still dive into their virtual escape room.
Users are tasked with finding the identity of a mysterious Mr X, a dangerous agent dropping clues in your path. It recommends using all the resources on the internet at your disposable, from Twitter, Youtube, Google Maps and local websites in your hunt for answers and will take you between 45 minutes and two hours to complete.
If you need an extra helping hand, it’s encouraging you can email the team behind the game or talk to the Mr X team on Facebook. It’s free to play and is easy to involve a team or play on your own if you prefer.
Escape Live: From £15, Escapelive.co.uk
Best: For TV fans
Another business that pivoted to online during lockdown, Escape Live now continues to offer online games alongside its physical escape rooms.
It has 15 different rooms to choose from, with themes including sword in the stone, Shakespeare’s script, pirate’s blunder and prison break and prices start from £15 per person.
For any Peaky Blinders fans, get in quick and book a slot in The Raid (from £25 per person, Escapelive.co.uk). This is a child-friendly version (for aged 10-plus) where your goal is to find incriminating evidence against the Shelby family before Major Campbell and his men raid the bookies, all while Tommy, Arthur, Polly and John are attending business matters in London.
Deadlocked Escape Rooms: From £12, Deadlockedrooms.com
Best: For a long game
Reading-based escape room, Deadlocked, launched “the insiders” (£12, Deadlockedrooms.com) during the pandemic, as part of its “escape at home” experience.
The three “episodes” take you into the Wexell Corporation, and your aim is to find the mole at the company who has been working against them using sensitive information. You can play alone or in a team and it recommends allowing a break of three days in between each episode. Perfect for scheduling your next few online meet ups with friends.
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