(no spoilers here)
It's immediately clear that this is something different.
In the 'time travel lab' that serves as reception, our guide won't drop character for asecond, even while he confiscates our phones and runs us through a safety briefing. We have a mission, the names of some characters who will be important - framing for the challenges ahead. Then there's a video briefing, delivered in a darkened room with huge screens at each end, and the clock starts.
We run into the first room of three and, without revealing too much, we're all immediately impressed. This isn't a room, it's a set, a coherent space that just happens to contain puzzles, rather than a playroom of puzzles that happens to have some set dressing. There's heavy use of technology, and it all works, which is much harder to achieve than it seems.
Each room varies, but the puzzle space is typically broad rather than deep, with enough things to work on simultaneously that every member of the team is busy. This lets everyone find their place, with some more story-oriented members of our team getting up to speed on the backstory (via the classic 'audio log' mechanic imported from computer games) while I scrabbled to re-wire a power supply.
We're being watched, and our voices monitored, throughout. This takes some getting used to. But it means that hints are presented on screens in-character as needed, avoiding the immersion-breaking of the usual CB-radio-to-the-crew. And they're done cleverly, with a light touch - on a hard puzzle that we made steady progress on, we were left alone for 15 minutes, but when we missed a key object in a cursory search, it was pointed out to us quickly.
As a part of Fire Hazard, I believe that game mechanics matter far more than aesthetics, and I'm often disappointed to see them sacrificed in the name of 'immersive experience'. Not here. The mechanics are tight, the product of (as I learned later) countless rounds of testing and tweaking.
This is the leap forwards in time that I've been waiting for. There are a lot of escape rooms out there, but Time Run is leading the next wave - Escape Room 2.0, if you will - by adding story, tech, and higher production values to a successful formula, without letting the gameplay slip.
Active entertainment is more popular than ever, with a Crystal Maze reboot in the pipeline, Slingshot doing something with biometrics, and Fire Hazard building new high-energy, physically active games.
I can't wait to see what happens next.