Incarcerated: Prisoner of War

Swindon, Feb 2017

Rated between 2.5 and 3 out of 5
Placing you in a Vietnam War prisoner-of-war jail cell, this is unquestionably the most search-heavy escape room I have ever done.
The game has an unusual feature: one member of the team is selected as the commander and imprisoned in a separate cell. While plenty of games split the team up at the start, normally they’re reunited in short order after a couple of puzzles. This game leaves one player separated for way over half the game. That could be horrendous, but fortunately the player is separated only by a gate, so there’s no barrier to communication and items can be passed back and forth easily. That means it interferes with progress on the room less than you might expect. On the other hand, players separation is typically used for communication-based puzzles, and there’s not a lot of that here. As a result, the main point of the separation is atmosphere and novelty value, and since the team can broadly still work together fine, it’s actually successful enough on that basis. Still, it’s prolonged more than it should be.
Decor is straightforward but effective, with lots of use of bamboo and foliage. A few items are anachronistic, including the helpful calculator and of course the hint screen.
With a team of five, each of whom had played between 30 and 80 games, we needed half a dozen clues and barely made it out in the last minute – and Incarcerated consider this their easiest game! Almost every time we needed a clue turned out to be because we hadn’t searched thoroughly enough. In some cases that was sloppiness, and we had no excuse for missing a couple of those. Others were genuinely very hard to find.
This room is full of padlocks. Containers often have more than one lock holding them shut, which can be dispiriting – the buzz of successfully cracking something is diminished when you realise it hasn’t given you any new items or any other immediate gains. Similarly, sometimes the reward for getting past one padlock is – a whole bunch more padlocks.
Since there are several of each type of padlock, this predictably means lots of time spent trying numbers against each possible lock. There are also quite a few sources of numbers which can be combined in a wide variety of tenuous but not totally unreasonable ways. The number of permutations of locks with possible codes kept us quite busy. That was exacerbated by two things. Firstly, one collection of items was incomplete until near the end, but we had no way to know it was incomplete, and each time a new part was discovered it could be used to generate a creative new set of possible codes that then needed to be tried on each of the locks. And secondly, some of the codes we tried early on turned out to be correct, but on locks we didn’t have access to until much later.
As a result, I found it quite a frustrating game. Teams will likely enjoy it more with foreknowledge of just how important thorough searching is here – it would have gone a lot more smoothly for us if we’d spent more time scouring every square inch of the room and less time churning through possible lock combination numbers. If you love search-based rooms, you’ll probably have a great time and blow straight past most of the elements that I was unhappy with; I found it a nice enough room let down by puzzle design and by too many similar padlocks. 2.5 / 5
This room starts well, with a nice initial setup that give it a dynamic we’ve seen before but was particularly on theme here; it also forces us into strong teamwork. Be prepared for a search heavy room; look everywhere!
On the downside, like all their rooms, it is lock heavy; however the numerous locked supply chests are at least in keeping with the theme, albeit again frustrating that it wasn’t clear which code was for which lock.
This is the strongest of their three rooms, and if you’re going to do one of them I would suggest this. 3 / 5

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