Incarcerated: Detention

Swindon, Feb 2017

Rated between 1.5 and 2 out of 5
Incarcerated are a small independent escape room company run by an enthusiast who played some games and was inspired to set up his own version. As such, I hate to give such a low rating to his room – but I really didn’t enjoy it, not simply due to implementation flaws or budget constraints but because of a design idea that in my opinion is badly misguided.
That design idea is to base the entire room around three-digit combination locks. When you enter, there are eight or more right away, and others emerge as you progress.
In various other reviews I’ve complained about ambiguous locks and having to laboriously try each possible combination on each available lock. That’s worse when you have lots of numbers, especially when there are numbers around the room that may or may not be part of the game, and worse still when there are various one or two digit numbers that may need to be combined to make an answer. Worse again is when you have items that combine to form an answer, but which will only give the correct answer when you have all of the items, with relevant items released a few at a time and giving a different false answer each time. This room was an exaggerated object lesson in all of these.
First time players in a room usually get carried away with numbers found on written on old furniture or scrawled inside the cover of second-hand books. After a couple of escape games the genre conventions become familiar. Relevant clues are easy to recognise. Things that fit together usually look like they fit together. If something you wouldn’t normally pay attention to is important, then there’ll be a hint to get you to pay attention to it. I felt that this room left me unable to rely on those assumptions. Since as a player those assumptions are important for ignoring the irrelevant, that made the profusion of padlocks even worse, as we checked each mark and decoration and tried to bend any stray number into a code in a way that would have been embarrassingly tenuous had not a couple of the actual codes turned out to be just as much of a stretch.
After a while opening a lock started to inspire relief more than exhilaration, and we took plentiful hints not because we’d run out of ideas but because trudging through them had just ceased to be fun. Worryingly, I believe the operator said that we took fewer hints than most teams, even though we’d had too many for me to bother counting.
At a couple of points we had a laminated sheet of puzzles involving finding arbitrary numbers and combining them as instructed – and I remember those as some of the more fun parts of the room.
The room finished well, with a nice touch that meant I came out with a smile despite pretty much everything beforehand. 1.5 / 5
This was an immensely frustrating room, so much so that I sat down in the middle, ostensibly to look and see what we’d missed, but actually in part because I was fed up with the number of identical padlocks. The theme is detention; that should mean a play on fond school memories, not actually subjecting participants to mindless repetition trying one code out on 10+ locks. It gave a feeling of lack of direction; we had no sense what was coming next or where to apply it.
I haven’t rated this a 1 or 1.5 because (a) everything technically worked as it was supposed to, (b) there were a couple of nice puzzles (and an entertaining ending), and (c) I believe the owners are genuinely trying to create a good game, rather than just do cheap and get punters in. However their philosophy here with regard to locks is totally wrong and it needs to be changed; I did not have fun in this room. 2 / 5

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