When I realized my husband would be turning 30, I decided I wanted to do something a little more memorable than a dinner or a gift card for his birthday. So, I rented him a spaceship.
More accurately, I booked us a trip to Proxima Command, an escape room-style experience in Toronto, Canada, that’s much closer to an extended, Choose Your Own Adventure-style session of Star Trek: Bridge Crew than a traditional, puzzle-based escape room. We headed down to Christie Street, one of the quiet and enigmatic stretches of Toronto filled with charming independent shops and restaurants. We showed up as a group of six for our booking and were invited into a briefing room, where we were asked if we had any sensitivity to a water-based smoke machine or flashing lights, and received a brief rundown of the journey we were about to embark on.
Proxima Command takes place in a dark room that has been outfitted with dozens of tablets and monitors on the wall, a speaker system that projects the voice of a GLaDOS-style AI, and a set of challenges to complete. My husband assumed the role of captain, taking a chair in the middle of the room, and we all moved to our respective stations. I chose to be the science officer on our voyage, whereas our friends took roles like weapons or helm.
Much of the experience was endearingly campy. The characters who would appear on our viewscreen to help us or threaten us strongly reminded me of ’90s PC gaming models, and the voice acting was largely computer generated. They were just a small snippet of the experience, and it didn’t stop us from taking joy in blowing them up or howl at them for denying us aid.
Also, we were politely informed by our helpful AI that we had heroically infiltrated an enemy base, blown it up, stole some tech, and rescued our ship ... but the enemy brain experimentation we had undergone left us with some amnesia. Oops! That meant we had to figure everything out ourselves. (Luckily, there’s a self-destruct function for times where we really got ourselves into a pickle, and we got to take another shot at the scenario from a checkpoint.)
The ship needed all of us to effectively operate — the helm would turn to set up the weapons projectiles, while the science officer would control shields and hack enemies, and engineering controlled energy levels and allocated power. Some roles were more demanding than others, but we all had moments to shine, and more importantly, there were “red alert” moments where klaxons were blaring, smoke was pouring in from hull damage, and our sensors were flickering and the image was disrupted before our eyes. Pulling back from that brink through teamwork and firepower was immensely satisfying.
The entire layout is cleverly set up to mimic actually being on a Star Trek-style bridge — larger monitors act as “windows” out to space, the systems are complicated enough that I found myself reaching frantically over multiple tablets, fiddling and spinning elements of the UI. While I love a game of Bridge Crew with my pals, that’s limited to a smaller set of inputs — I move the mouse, hit some keys, but largely sit there and watch the action unfold. Proxima Command’s physical nature requires more of an investment, and of course the ability to make it to the location, but it was a fantastic change of pace for our group of gamers who dabble in all kinds of co-op games. We even had a custom movie trailer mocked up, which makes for a fun memento.
There were also intriguing points that could have led to completely alternate paths. At one point, a friendly ship offered to take our dark tech from us, and at that point we could have been granted a new mission. At another point, we picked a fight we could have dodged, and looted the shell of our enemy’s ship while hooting and hollering.
Proxima Command is only a year old, and there’s more on the way. Co-founder Michael Chapman told me about a plan that would eventually expand Proxima Command to have more missions and allow multiple crews, a spaceship connecting them, cooperation between multiple crews, and even PvP combat.
Right now, Proxima Command feels like a prototype for something larger, and a work in progress. But that’s OK. For the price of $200 CAD, we were able to live out a Star Trek episode and have a blast doing it. Toronto hides a bustling, thriving nerd culture, and Proxima Command is one of the most interesting seeds of possibility that can be found.