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I blitzed through a free Call of Duty-themed escape room — and had a blast

Toronto’s newest escape room event is all about Call of Duty

An example of the prizes you can win in a Captive Experiences room (the money is not real) Cass Marshall/Polygon
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Sweat beads on my brow and rolls down the side of my face as I snap open the heavy weapons chest. Inside is an unexpected treasure: a remote-controlled car with a flashlight strapped on top. Then we realize that the heavy aircraft controller that we examined and put aside earlier wasn’t just a prop; it’s an essential part of the puzzle. “This is what it’s for!” Not only is the car equipped with a little flashlight, but there’s a camera mapped to the controller; it’ll need to be our eyes in retrieving the next clue from the darkened storage space nearby. Before long, we have our hands on a little lockbox, which gives us the next key we need and a hefty cash bonus to boot.

This Toronto pop-up escape room experience is a partnership between Activision and Captive Experiences, and the entire thing is a blast. In true Call of Duty spirit, the experience weights speed and competitiveness over slow and methodical puzzle-solving. There are a series of rooms, all based around various maps from the video game franchise. Each room is relatively small, but you’re not meant to stick around. Once you solve the room’s puzzle, you get a key to the next zone. If another team beats you to that room, you’re out. If you fail to solve the puzzle, you’re out. You’ll have to overcome both the environment and another team if you want to reach the final Blackout room.

The Asylum room in the Black Ops 4 escape experience.
This is fine. It’s fine.
Cass Marshall/Polygon

I didn’t get the chance to work through the puzzle in each and every room, although I did get to do a visual tour. Seaside is an adorable little Italian restaurant, complete with a charming bar and flags strung from the ceiling. Asylum is exactly what you would expect from a video game medical facility, including the menacing chalkboard message from someone who absolutely got murdered. Nuketown is charming, warm, and retro; the construction site comes complete with plenty of waist-high cover, and there’s a firing range complete with a scoreboard.

I arrived to the event on a press preview day, so the entire experience wasn’t quite up to the final polish that players will experience. Tech staff were running through audio cues and testing the sound systems; the final escape rooms will be appropriately lit in each zone, and each room has its own audio to match. The aircraft controller for our little remote control car ran out of batteries, and we required a brief staff intervention. None of these rehearsal day hiccups were enough to sour the experience; I still had a fantastic time and the entire thing whetted my appetite for more escape rooms down the road.

The firing range is full of interesting secrets Cass Marshall/Polygon

It’s surprising that Captive Experiences has managed to create a union between a quick-moving, competitive first-person shooter and escape rooms that works so well. The crew has several Call of Duty fans among them who had fun setting up the environments, going so far as to carefully pick out the right paper cups to bring the right ambiance to a room.

Even if someone isn’t a Call of Duty fan, the entire experience was a fantastic, quick, slightly alarming introduction to what escape rooms are about. While the entire exhibit is more a greatest hits tour of some moments and memories from Call of Duty as opposed to a big, immersive environment you explore and settle into, that works in its favor.

The construction site room is appropriately prepared Cass Marshall/Polygon

If you’re in Toronto, the event is absolutely worth a spin. It’s not the sort of thing that is a must-visit event for fans of the franchise, especially because they’ll likely be sinking their teeth into the game itself this weekend. This homage manages to feel novel, fun, and accessible to people who just want a fun escape room challenge but haven’t earned their stripes in Black Ops. Captive Experiences also claims that the experience is great for corporate team-building, and there are definitely worse ways to bond with the folks from accounting.

The event runs through Sunday, Oct. 14, at 502 Adelaide St. W in Toronto. It’s free, but PlayStation Plus subscribers can get extra access, including earlier start times.

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