Paignton, May 2019
Many escape rooms are tucked away in out of town industrial parks, or hidden in dubious alleyways on the cheaper side of town, or confined to an unwanted upstairs floor above a different business. In contrast, Escape Rooms Paignton have an imposing frontage on one of Paignton’s main roads. This impressive presence was undermined a little once we got inside and I realised that the escape rooms were smallish areas separated from the main area by divider walls that didn’t reach to the ceiling, a design that pretty much guarantees noise leakage from adjacent games.
The website doesn’t give any clues as to the story behind this game, other than asking whether you can solve the mystery. Having now played it, I’m none the wiser. There were plenty of things to unlock and various Agatha Christie books lying around, but not much sign of any kind of storyline; when we eventually solved the final puzzle, it rewarded us with a conclusion that wasn’t so much ‘low budget’ as ‘Blue Peter ten minute art project’.
In truth it initially struck me as a weak but unobjectionable escape room, though the problems mounted up as we went on. First of these was energetic use of clue items that left us floundering in an ambiguous abundance of letters and numbers and cryptic markings. Also in jigsaw pieces – oh, the endless jigsaw pieces! – although those at least resolved cleanly to an unambiguous code. And of course there was also the way it didn’t stick to the ‘one key, one lock’ convention, and without warning threw in a couple of excruciatingly impossible search targets in a game that otherwise required very little searching.
I judge it more harshly in retrospect, since it was only when we finished that it became clear how liberally they’d included intentional red herrings, as well as one or two bits left over from earlier iterations of the game design. Even so, by fifteen or twenty minutes in my expectations had sunk pretty far. Strangely, that made the game far more tolerable, once I accepted that a sizeable chunk of the available information would turn out to be purely there to distract us, and solutions would by no means be the most logical way to resolve the clues. Instead I tried whatever answers seemed vaguely plausible, and then leaned on the gamemaster whenever that didn’t get us through.
I’m not sure whether the soundtrack of pop hits was an intentional part of the game or just a Spotify stream. Since the songs were entirely to my taste (even if several decades too modern for Agatha Christie), that went a surprisingly long way to making it an acceptably entertaining experience. Does that mean you should play this game? No, it most definitely does not.