Cardiff, Dec 2016
Alcatraz is a padlock-heavy, very linear game with a tendency towards fairly numeric puzzles. A good first impression was somewhat let down by some weaknesses of the game.
First of these was a puzzle where the clue for the answer was ambiguous, giving two possible answers only one of which would work. That’s a design weakness, and was entirely avoidable here. It was compounded by the context, which involved a communication element that made the ambiguity harder to detect. (While discussing the room afterwards, we mentioned it to the operators and they said they were considering adjusting it to remove the ambiguity.)
The room uses dim lighting throughout, and provides torches. This adds to the atmosphere, but it gets tiresome using a torch the whole time, and continually asking each other to hold a light on whichever padlock you’re trying to open. On the other hand, I’m glad to say there were enough torches for the whole team, and the room was only dim rather than actually dark, so the torches were useful but not absolutely essential.
Their hint system is partly a tech solution that’s anachronous to the theme, and partly relies on staff stepping into the room. I’m not a fan of either, particularly since the tech half of it didn’t work quite right a couple of times.
The main (tech-based) hint system is interesting in that it pretty much mandates a linear structure to their games. There are a couple of aspects to it I really like. Firstly, it means the players aren’t reliant on the operators to get their hints, and that helps with the immersion. And secondly, it provides a way to measure progress through the room as well as subtle encouragement to focus on the correct set of puzzles. Against that, it’s possible to mistakenly take a hint for a puzzle you’ve already solved and incur an unnecessary time penalty. The more glaring problem though was that it was a little flakey, for which I suspect the low light levels in the room are partly to blame.
All that said, I don’t want to give the impression it was a terrible room. The final couple of puzzles in particular were a strong finish. The decor is well executed, and it’s a good size, both physically and in terms of the quantity of puzzles to work through. It suffers from some common escape room bugbears (flawed hint system, use of torches and UV) and enthusiasts will find many of the puzzle styles familiar from other rooms, but a less jaded team would likely have a great time.
This room has very appropriate decor and starting setup. There were at least 3 puzzles however where the solution wasn’t clear/ambiguous even after we worked out the answer; I will credit the company with actively seeking feedback to improve their room straight after the game, and hope that means they’ll improve it by the time you might choose to do it.
Although UV can be overused, I felt it was manageable in this room. There was also some nice physicality involved. A huge bugbear of mine is rooms with more than one potential identical style lock (e.g. 4 digit combination); this is easy to avoid and they should fix this quickly as it detracts from the room.
Once they fix the bugs, it will be well worth doing.