On Saturday evening I headed up to central London to give the newly opened Variant 31 a whirl. They’ve had a lot of technical issues and opening date delays, and reviews of the preview dates were extremely mixed, so I was looking forward to finding out for myself what this new London attraction is all about. Thanks Love Pop Ups London for the opportunity.
Variant 31 advertises itself as a 90 minute adrenaline pumping live-action experience across seven buildings, 35 floors, and 42.000 square feet. This immersive experience claims to be a mix between an escape room and a zombie hunting action game, in which there are hundreds of paths to take and no two experiences will ever be the same.
As instructed, we arrived 10 minutes before our time slot, and there were already a good chunk of people waiting. It took a while to actually get into the building to check in and get geared up, there are only two check-in pads in the welcome area, where players have to sign the waivers, so adding a few more would definitely speed up the process. We get a short but thorough instruction on what to do and how the technology works and we’re off.
The vests we were outfitted with have several sensors and lights on them, as well as a gun in a holster with a gun attached via a cable, so you’re never going to drop your gun in a panic and lose it! Which honestly is a big relief. In the first room, we are made familiar with the premise of the game: Toxico Technologies produced serums via human experimentation and things took a terrible turn, but then a mysterious fire broke out, destroying everything and everyone in the building complex. Now, twentyfive years later, we are volunteer patients entering the building for the first time to explore and find out what really happened.
From the get-go, it’s an intense experience. All the rooms are very dark and brilliantly decorated with a very grubby, broken down, damaged look. Immediately we try to find clues and figure out what’s going on, but it’s just so scary and daaark and there are zombies lurking around every corner. If you don’t shoot a zombie quick enough and they get close to you, your vest turns from green to orange. At this point you have 90 seconds to find a charging station to heal yourself. If you fail, your vest turns red and you’re dead, you now have to find a doctor who can revive you. This sounds all fine and well, but it’s a whole different ballgame to be in this experience, in a dark and dingy building, literally crawling through cracks in the walls, running up and down narrow staircases, finding blood smeared rooms, fire damaged items strewn everywhere, and zombies lurking in every darkened crevice. Some rooms are so dark, they’re pitch black and all you can see is the dim light from the little light pads you have to touch to collect points, in other rooms there are zombies hiding under tables or stairs, grabbing your ankles out of nowhere. There is just so much to explore, at times we forget that we should be finding information and solving puzzles.
To be fair, I wouldn’t really call this an escape room, not even slightly. Sure, it has a few codes to collect and information to gather, but it doesn’t have enough elements to qualify as an escape room. That said, it is a BRILLIANT experience. It’s just as adrenaline-pumping and high energy as they claim it is, and just so much fun! We went exploring different areas, we ran a few errands for some the characters, we were hearded into tiny spaces, scared by a myriad of characters, and eventually lead to the final exit with a bit of a great finale. It’s like living a video game in real life and it’s just amazing! The most immersive experience I’ve ever taken part in, and there have been A LOT of immersive experiences!
I only have two critizisms for Variant 31. first off, the charging stations you need to heal yourself take way too long to recharge between uses. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but this means that just one team member can heal themself while the others die as it just takes way too long to be usable again. This is really annoying as all your collected points get deleted when you die and you have to start all over again. The second point is that the experience wasn’t as long as advertised. By the time we were geared up and actually started our game it was 6.30pm, and we left on the other side at 7.40pm, so not quite the 90 minutes we had expected. They might be counting the gearing up and getting basic instructions, but I definitely wouldn’t count that towards the actual duration of the experience.
Still, I had a fantastic time and will definitely go back again while it’s still on as it’s just a brilliant amount of fun and excitement and so much to see and do, there are definitely areas I haven’t explored yet! Five out of six rainbow sloths from me!