London, Mar 2017
We reviewed this when it was a temporary pop-up game in London, and it is now being run by The Panic Room in Gravesend.
Hidden behind a non-descriptive shop front facade, the staff greeted us in a very friendly way and in full character. Some reservations I had about the small waiting area were quickly dispelled, since it immediately felt like we were in an immersive experience; on top of the staff, we were briefed by a helpful and rather disturbing video that set the tone for a mysterious technology research company, with a strong tongue-in-cheek dystopian story overlay that had me grinning before we even walked in. It’s really apparent how much effort and production values had gone into this (similar to the advertising video on their site); and it made us want to like the room even before we entered.
The initial small space was quickly forgotten, although I wouldn’t advise doing this room with more than 4 people. There was a careful series of puzzles deliberately escalating in difficulty, two of which required a lot of lateral thinking and were incredibly satisfying once solved. I didn’t even mind that I’d done a similar one recently, because they’d adapted it in such a way that it felt completely different and required us to completely rethink how to solve it.
Having completed the initial set of instructions, the strong story was continued and we entered a second phase, again adding to the overall fun experience. Again the puzzles all felt on theme, were varied, and a couple perplexed us for a while.
There was not a padlock in sight in this room, just a delightful and varied array of puzzles – an excellent blend of lateral thinking, mental and practical / physical challenges. However there is one thing that distinguishes this room above almost all others, that provides a completely different and surprising experience, heightening all the rest, whilst also being completely on theme; frustratingly there isn’t a way to say more without giving it away, but it’s worth going just for that.
This is my favourite room in London, and you should get there before June (when they may be moving on…)
I really enjoy escape rooms. Nonetheless, as I’ve played more and more of them, I get ever more picky. I see beginner teams come bundling out of a room flushed with excitement and happiness, where I emerge thinking, ‘hmm, that was really very good – perhaps three and a half out of five’. Flaws in rooms become harder to ignore, and a game has to be something pretty special to recapture the thrill of my first few rooms.
All of which is important context when I say: Loop was amazing, and I came out of it absolutely buzzing.
For spoiler reasons I can’t discuss the thing I liked best about the room, so I’ll just say that the room is designed around a particular idea that I’ve never seen done elsewhere, which was entirely unexpected, and which added a whole new edge to the tension and the time pressure. So switching to the areas I can talk about:
From the outset the game is immersive. The briefing is performed in character, and even the fact that you can ask the operators for hints makes perfect sense within the story. The fact that a room is filled with puzzles and clues normally relies on willing suspension of disbelief, and while there’s inevitably some of that here, it gets surprisingly close to all elements fitting plausibly into the scenario (particularly in the first half).
The intro video and another scripted section were scripted with witty black humour and animations (and a certain guest celebrity voice-over). Clues were provided via a custom themed device. Every one of the main components and contraptions is custom-built and fits well into the theme, and worked for us without glitch or malfunction. Audio and lighting are used effectively both to intensify the atmosphere and to signpost successful solutions.
There’s a clear meta-structure to the puzzles that gives clear goals and a way to measure progress, and a non-linear order that rewards a divide-and-conquer approach while still keeping the different strands intertwined. The variety of puzzles includes something for pretty much all tastes, though tends towards the hands-on and physical. A few points are potential bottlenecks, particularly for larger teams; normally there’s plenty for the other players to work on in parallel, but it’s possible to have completed all but one major item which can be tackled by no more than a couple of players simultaneously.
Once in a while a room provides that most satisfying of puzzle moments, where a problem seems intractable at first but slowly starts to take shape, and then the critical breakthrough arrives all at once in a sudden eureka moment. Loop managed that for me on no fewer than three separate occasions. The whole game is a masterclass in the right way to build an escape room, and adds humour, flair and originality to boot. It’s not yet decided how long it’ll be open for, but why chance it? Go book a slot right now!