Ipswich, Dec 2017
Humanity is once again in peril, this time from an epidemic that’s swept the globe and left your team as the last scientists on Earth. Fortunately there is an antidote hidden somewhere in a laboratory, if you can reach it in time.
The Escape franchise has spread to something like 14 different cities in the UK now, with a couple more on the way, so they must be doing something right. I’ve now played six of their games, and they tend to follow a straightforward format based around a mostly linear sequence of puzzles, typically with each step resolving a numeric padlock that releases some clues for the next step. If that description sounds like it could apply to the majority of all escape rooms, that’s because the Escape games are positioned squarely in the mainstream of the industry.
That’s all true of Contagion. The laboratory theme is provided by obvious staples such as lab coats and a periodic table, but the relatively sparse decor was less jarring with the setting than it would have been with a different game; plain white walls aren’t out of place in a lab or scientist’s office.
Contagion includes a couple of fun gadgets that I’ve seen enough times now to not get excited about, but which will impress if you haven’t come across them before. They get extra points here for being vaguely on-theme, too. More than the gadgetry though, I respect Escape for having consistently solid puzzles – there’s nothing dubious, nothing ambiguous, and everything resolves neatly to a clear answer.
The flip side of that is that if you’ve played a lot of games there’s not much that’s very challenging either. The volume of content seems pitched to make sure most beginner teams can successfully escape, so more experienced groups will likely find they’re walking out the exit door with a large chunk of time still on the clock.
So far none of the games from Escape have blown me away, but I’ve never had a bad time in one of their rooms either. They’re reliably satisfactory, and although they’re all at a fairly similar level, Contagion went down well. And while it’s certainly on the easy side, that just means it’s a good one to play with a smaller team than usual, or to save for when you want to introduce someone new to escaping.