Leeds, Apr 2018
Locked In have a big old building on the north side of Leeds, with a briefing area expansive enough to take a dozen teams. It has the feel of an institution or an old hotel, and when we entered our game room it seemed less like a transition to a different environment than a convincing extension of where we already were.
Despite the name of the game, you’re not attempting to steal anything. Rather, you’re investigating the reported theft of a wealthy guest’s jewellery from her hotel room, with some hints that the victim may be hiding a secret or two of her own.
Padlocks are sometimes criticised for taking away from a game’s immersion. Hotel Heist is full of them, but they are a very natural fit for the environment – that is, as long as you accept that the room’s occupant is compulsively secretive and likes to give herself password reminders in the form of cryptic puzzles.
Exploring a hotel room and unlocking drawers and suitcases might sound a rather mundane setting compared to many escape games, but I found it a surprisingly pleasant environment. The venue use audio to build the ambience, with periodic hotel sound effects that sometimes go beyond background noise to be startling interruptions that you gradually get used to.
The quantity of locks reflect the number of puzzles, and an often non-linear game structure. It’s the kind of game where you’re looking for padlock codes anywhere and everywhere, although while we did find ourselves trying each code on a number of locks the answers were sufficiently clear-cut that that didn’t become a drag. The two puzzles we were stuck on the longest were also two of the more memorable and interesting steps of the game.
The briefing instructs you that you’ll accumulate pieces of evidence as you proceed, which helps give a measure of progress. You also build up an impression of the hotel’s occupant and the culprit of the theft. Where the game could be stronger is that there’s a separation between story and puzzles; that is, while the story and theme is used as materials for the puzzles, the actual puzzle content is quite abstract, detracting a little from the sense that you’re performing an investigation. There’s also a rather flagrant red herring, which seemed an unnecessary confusion.
But although the design emphasises quantity over quality, it’s inventive and makes excellent use of the setting. It also continues longer than I expected – we completed what I’d expected to be the final step to find a puzzle beyond that, then another and a third before we completed it. As a result it felt pleasingly substantial, and a satisfying addition to our Leeds schedule of games.