London, May 2017
This game is no longer available.
Well, I can’t say I wasn’t warned. As important context for this review, when booking it I was aware it was lowest ranked of all currently open London games at The Logic Escapes Me, so instead of getting a team together as normal I waited until there was a discount offer on tickets and booked in on my own. Unlike most games in the UK, Escape Games London uses the US-style public booking system where tickets are sold on an individual basis and you may end up playing with strangers. In the event there was a group of four booked into the same slot, who were friendly enough to not seem put out at having a random extra person foisted on them.
The game area is distinctive and impressive – it’s a full scale movie theatre. It also has the novel setup that players are split into two teams, playing competitively in parallel, each in one half of the theatre. They take bookings for up to 30 people per slot in this way, with two teams of 15. But since there were only five of us, we stayed on one side with no second team to race against.
The game begins with a video clip of Margo De’Ath, the actress who (according to the game plot) has locked you in. Since you’re in a movie theatre, this plays on the full movie screen and speakers. She periodically reappears throughout the game to ask if you’ve solved the puzzles yet, or to do a scene-setting monologue. The back-story can be pieced together over the course of the game from these and from various clue items… though when I say it can be pieced together, this is in no way necessary or useful to completing the game. One of the team came out with a decent grasp of what the story had been, and the rest of us had no idea; and everyone found the video interjections more annoying than immersive.
The first really big problem came when one of our team noticed that the back was coming off a padlocked cabinet and he could easily scoop out the items within. The operator, who is present in the theatre throughout, shortly afterwards hurried over, scolded us like naughty school children, and told us to put them back until we’d got to them the proper way.
Other than that there were no reset problems or sections left unintentionally open, though twice when I entered a code into a padlock it opened after I’d turned only some of the dials to the correct positions, which suggests they’d been reset rather perfunctorily.
The puzzles were a grab-bag of ideas largely unrelated to each other, with a central strand mainly involving piecing together clues from different laminated sheets. I can see the ghost of a nice idea where the plot slowly emerges one puzzle at a time, but in practice, the implementation is cheap and the story tends to get ignored. I suspect everything is designed to be easily removable for when the theatre is in use for other purposes. A couple of accidental red herrings with junk left at the back of the theatre didn’t help.
For me the low point was a logic puzzle, the culmination of several different sets of clues, which contained a line that stated the precise opposite of what turned out to be required. The operator was hovering as we attempted this section, and prodded us towards trying something while I insisted that the paper clearly stated the opposite. “Try it anyway” he said, so someone did and the lock opened.
The operator was not an entirely welcome presence. While it may have been his intentional persona, he came across as sarcastic and slightly creepy, and also – certainly not part of his persona – as if he’d far rather be spending his bank holiday Monday pretty much anywhere else. But he was also essential to our progress. In some places we wasted time trying to solve things for which we did not yet have sufficient clues (though without anything to signpost that there was missing information), and in others trying to combine ambiguous clues in unintended ways. Where we did solve puzzles, it was often with some prompting to get us to look at the right combinations of clues or to read them in the intended way. We ended up failing the room, partly due to losing a UV torch we needed to progress. The downside of a large venue like this one is that it’s more time-consuming to search, and the operator let the last few minutes run out as we frantically scoured the area trying to work out where the torch had ended up. The operator had begun tidying away used clues and resetting sections of the game as we continued to play, though I don’t think that was the cause of the mysteriously vanishing torch – I think one of us just put it down somewhere obscure while focused on something else.
Having run out of time, we were briefly shown the remaining couple of steps left in the game, then unceremoniously left to find our own way out of the building.
This game gets higher than the minimum rating because if you had no point of comparison, you could mistake it for a playable game, though not a very fun one. The dual team setup, the large-scale venue, and the story-driven concept all have potential, even if the implementation fails to live up to that. But this wasn’t a good game spoiled by a couple of flaws – it was riddled with problems, and nothing short of a complete re-implementation could raise it even to the level of ‘acceptably average’. That they take 30 person bookings for £900 for this experience is downright scandalous.