H-Division Review | “Take a deep dive into The Ripper’s mind using both traditional and modern investigation methods. Help me and the Met Police profile this serial killer and experience a bar which relives the Victorian London era. Hats, capes, typewriters, telegrams and of course cocktails come as standard”
Date Played: 9th June
Time Taken: ~1hr 30
Number of Players: 2
It was only a few days after we played Lollipop’s well known (and well loved) immersive experience, The Grid that we decided to book ourselves in to play their brand new Victorian themed immersive experience. Where The Grid was light-hearted, fun, energetic, and definitely escape room-y, it’s Victorian counterpart was… Not so good. Much closer to ‘Bletchley’ in style and substance, but whilst I haven’t yet personally played Bletchley, based on the comments of the people I was with, H-Division is surely the weakest of the three.
Enter Victorian London
H-Division is located in East London, actually directly opposite the fantastic Escape Plan on Bethnal Green Road. It’s about a 10 minute walk from where we live, so we set off a little early and stopped off for a bite to eat around the corner before hyping ourselves up to step into Victorian London. It’s a well-chosen area of
On arriving at the venue, which sits above a Geisha-themed Japanese restaurant, we were led upstairs by a woman in a kimono, past the toilets, and left outside a mysterious red door at the top of the building with the words “POLICE” stencilled over the top. We knocked and were shown to a table by the captain of the police force, where we were promptly given a case file, two bobby hats and a jacket each.
The setup of the room is probably the most impressive part of the whole experience. It felt immersive, like we really were sitting in a busy police department in 1888. There were detective boards all over the walls with red string between different events. There were typewriters and magnifying classes, and Morse code machines, as well as a blacklight torch… Which technically wasn’t used by the police in this period, but we’ll suspend disbelief. Around us, a few other people sitting at tables, enthusiastically getting into their cases.
We were very quickly served our introductory drink, but any subsequent drinks we’d have to work for. I think working hard for your drinks actually makes them taste all the better though – there’s nothing quite like turning a case over to your chief detective and receiving a delicious cocktail for your hard-earned work.
Jack the Ripper… And His Victims
So, let’s talk about Jack the Ripper’s victims. Consider this a big ol’ content warning for the fact that this experience does deal with Jack the Ripper and themes of murder. But not your light hearted murder in abstract, the game is based on a real event. Let’s discuss.
This is a discourse that comes up a lot in the escape room world and we’ve always got to ask the question whether we’re just being too sensitive, or whether this is a genuine harmful practise. Folks in the escape room world all agree that using historical events or characters the victims’ families would remember is a big no-no. I don’t need to remind you all of the *groans* Greek Escape Auschwitz escape room that was very quickly shut down. I even thought the Jersey War Tunnels was very uncarefully toeing the line with their WWII room that featured certain flags on the wall and certain books on the shelf. Edgy themes are PR nightmares, as our friends over at REA have written about here. But Jack the Ripper is so long ago right? It’s almost fictional at this point? Nobody could possibly be offended? Yes, yes and yes. Except, there’s something distasteful about using the names and photographs of the real, female victims for a fun and light-hearted game. So I’ll just leave the thought open there on the table. Is it okay to sort through files about real women who were brutally murdered, just because it was 134 years ago? I don’t have an answer, but it made me uncomfortable.
Could you Crack the Case?
Onto the real reason we were at H-Division… To catch Jack the Ripper! An elusive serial murderer who has escaped the clutches of many an investigator. Now it was our turn to crack the case. So, no pressure! But thankfully we had a series of casefiles to help us out, and some delicious drinks.
The ‘puzzles’ centred around the premise that you had to sort through case files within your team but were supposed to come to different conclusions. Once you’ve made a decision, you convert your decisions and answers into a series of letters and numbers that you then tap out onto a handy Morse Code machine on the table, which the bartender converts into a different cocktail. Hence the need for everyone at a table to submit different answers.
It’s very difficult to talk about the experience without straying into spoiler territory, so I’ll instead just say that the ‘puzzles’ were what let the whole experience down. Of course, take this with a pinch of salt – we are The Escape Roomer, so good puzzles are the numero uno of what we look for in an experience. For us, H-Division’s puzzles were a let down. From a completely illogical romp through Victorian England, we found ourselves with a case file that had already been scribbled over by another team, and we also found ourselves accidentally discovering ill-hidden physical clues and being told off by the hosts for ‘jumping ahead’. For sure, I can forgive technology breaking. Which it did twice. But the one thing we didn’t like the most during the whole experience was having to ask for multiple clues as to what to do with a correct answer only to be exasperatedly told by our host that it meant we needed to go and take something from someone else’s desk, as if that was obvious. A week later and I still can’t figure that one out.
From what we could tell, we weren’t the only ones who struggled with the puzzle flow, as more than once other players on other tables leaned over to ours and asked quietly “have you got any idea what we’re supposed to do?” In the end, we didn’t crack the case. Our Jack the Ripper escaped our clutches with a tantalising handwritten note laughing at our inability to police. By the looks of it, neither did anyone sitting nearby us either. But at least the cocktails were delicious.
If you were planning to try H-Division, we’d strongly recommend instead going for The Grid, or skipping it altogether. That is of course unless you’re there just for the cocktails and the atmosphere. Those were both brilliant, and we absolutely commend the artists behind the bar creating those. But unfortunately you can’t go and just do the cocktails, you’ve got to ‘solve’ the case to win those cocktails, and therein the problem lies. From the problematic use of victim’s real photos and information to support the game, to illogical and misleading puzzles where the answer is “you can write anything down it’s all correct”, to broken technology… Leads to an all round experience that leaves a lot wanting. The silver lining? It is only open for a limited time however, so I’ll cheers to hoping they use the space, or even the basic premise, to make something more fun next time.
When all was said and done, H-Division is okay. But only okay. The full experience costs £38 per person. For this you get 3 cocktails and a game. For full disclaimer, we weren’t charged for the experience, which makes it all the more disappointing that we didn’t enjoy it. Out of all the ~400 or so ‘immersive’ puzzle experiences I’ve played, this is the first one I thought about leaving halfway through. But the cocktails really were delicious, so at a point we stopped trying to overthink the case and just sat back and enjoyed a drink or two and chatted about other things.
For a similar vibe, we think you might also like Evans and Peel Detective Agency.
H-Division is located in Bethnal Green and can be booked by heading to their website here.