Alita: Battle Angel – Passport to Iron City
February 14 sees the release of the new sci-fi film “Alita: Battle Angel.” Part of the awareness campaign is an immersive pop-up experience called Passport to Iron City. The good news is that I’ve had several friends ask me about it out of the blue. The bad news is that they seem to think it’s a promotional escape room, which it most definitely isn’t. It’s much more.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is based on a popular manga, but for Americans, it’s virtually a new property. Because of this, Passport to Iron City does not require any knowledge of the characters or setting. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve seen the movie, since Iron City opens before the film. It is a standalone entertainment experience for people of all backgrounds.
Several people have asked me about this new escape room, so the word is getting out. Except, as mentioned earlier, it’s not an escape room. I think the confusion stems from escape rooms being most audiences’ first/only exposure to immersive entertainment so far. Therefore, it’s the best language available for some people and provides a reference point to talk about something new.
It’s been fascinating to see this genre of entertainment evolve with each new effort. I think the closest comparison to Passport to Iron City is the Ready Player One challenge from last year. Only ten months later, Iron City has surpassed it in nearly every way
“Immersive” has become a buzzword in danger of overuse, especially by marketing companies who apply it to anything. Iron City uses it correctly with a functioning pub and sets that don’t feel temporary. The Kansas bar, a film location recreated by the production designer, is appropriately dim but full of enough information to start learning about the world you’ve stepped into. None of it is in-your-face; you can read and explore as much or as little as you care to. This even extends to one of the beer offerings that is brewed just for the world of Alita. The can is themed, but it isn’t full of logos. It’s just a beer you’d find in Iron City.
After 45 minutes of lounging, learning, and meeting your new teammates, you are welcomed into Iron City itself by actors who are fully in character. They give a brief introduction and explanation before turning you loose. Once inside the large set, the eyes are drawn in every direction to the art, vehicles, robotics and more that lurk around every corner. It’s not a maze, but it does feel like there is always more to discover around each corner.
Tearing your gaze away from the details, you start the heart of the experience. Nearly a dozen challenges of varying types await you in Iron City. Some mental, some physical, some tactile, the creators went out of their way to utilize all of your senses. There is not enough time for teams to attempt them all, so having a plan is important. After each success, your team will score points, with a digital leaderboard updating in real time on one end of the room.
Teamwork is essential to most of the challenges, so you’ll want to stick with your team the whole time. Interestingly, there is a semi-secret side mission that IS best with a smaller group. So you’ll want to coordinate how, and if, your team wants to tackle this optional challenge. My group did not have a good plan in place and it cost us in terms of diverting our attention from the main tasks.
The game will end too early because you can’t finish everything (but you’ll want to!) All teams gather for the finale–a Motorball race. Wagering earned credits on the racers, everyone cheers around a digital screen, hoping their bet pays off. Anyone who bets correctly on the winner doubles their wager, which can be huge. It was enough to knock my team from first place pre-Motorball down to 3rd. After a winner is announced and cool prizes/souvenirs handed out, there is free time to browse Iron City, check out the challenges you didn’t try, and take pictures.
You can take pictures during the game, of course, but it’s not a good idea. You’ll want to be fully aware of your surroundings for each challenge. Enjoy the moment! There is enough time for selfies after the game has finished. Naturally there is a gift shop where you can purchase in-world items like chocolate and hot sauce, all packaged thematically like the beer and all supporting woman-led companies.
The whole experience takes about two hours with few slow spots. As an evolution of, or introduction to, immersive entertainment, Passport to Iron City is a great way to show people there is more to this genre than escape rooms. As for the film “Alita: Battle Angel,” I am more excited to see it now than I was before, which means Iron City succeeded. Just as important, the game did NOT feel like a long advertisement for the film. It was its own thing, as promised, and shows this type of experience is viable on its own even if there was no film.
Early bird tickets are $25 from now through Feb. 13th, and are a good deal for a unique night out. After Feb. 14th, when the movie opens, ticket prices are set to double. There are no tickets available at the door, so you’ll need to book online. The experience is running in LA, New York, and Austin. For Los Angeles, Iron City is located at 1025 E 16th Street, Los Angeles 90021. More information, including an introduction from James Cameron, and tickets are available at their website.