Oxford, Feb 2017
This room is no longer available.
I should note up-front that there was a third of this game that I didn’t directly see, since for a large part of it the team is divided between two rooms, and I was shut in one small office while my two team-mates dealt with the adjacent area.
As you’d guess from that, Control Room is a communication-heavy game, for this first half. A telephone handset is provided so the two halves of the team can talk, although in practice it was simpler to just shout through the closed door.
Communication tasks can easily get frustrating, where everything is simple enough but slowed down by the bottleneck of having to describe visual clues in words, which is the puzzle-solving equivalent of cycling with the brakes on. To City Mazes’s credit that wasn’t the case here, mainly because the information to convey was straightforward to describe in words. There’s a lot of use of laminated instruction sheets, but nonetheless this section was one of the more enjoyable parts of my visit.
Once again, it was the second half of the game that let it down. This time it transitioned from an office to a room full of panels and switches. The components appeared to have been cannibalised from old camper-van dashboards – I’ll be kind and call that ‘amusingly retro’, rather than, say, complaining about how that meant the labels were incongruous. Still, I quite liked the panels as a large-scale piece of custom tech. Sadly the clues were arbitrary with multiple ways to interpret them, and the panels gave little clear feedback on whether we were doing right thing or not. Either of those alone would be fine (ambiguous clues are okay if you can use panel feedback to find the right way to read them, and lack of feedback is okay if the clues have a single interpretation that’s obviously correct when you think of it), but the combination of both is poor, and we needed a hint to progress.
Theme and story was again missing without explanation. We were in an office and then a control room, so that matches the room name, I guess? At one point apparently we were defusing a bomb, though there was no sign of any actual bomb. But we solved that puzzle so I suppose it must have been defused.
One nasty issue I noticed is that after the first half, when the team is supposed to be reunited for the control panel bit, it’s possible for one half of the team to leave the other half stranded. While they can be easily reunited here, it’s possible to miss the clue for that and for the stranded half to provide the others with what they need to progress in the final section. If a team misunderstands and thinks they need to solve the final area to get their teammate(s) out, then one section of the team will end up stuck doing nothing and missing out on the whole conclusion of the game. This could be easily prevented by making it impossible to pass objects into the final area, so that the team has to be reunited before progressing.
There’s a reasonable game in here – with some tweaking and improvements it could be a halfway decent escape room. But it’s well hidden, and few teams will find it worth the search.
The first half of this game was… okay. Our controller sat in another room, and communicating puzzles and answers to each other isn’t a bad mechanism. Of course, we had no idea why we were doing all those things, but by this point we’d pretty much given up on any hope of a backstory or theme.
We found the username and password for our controller pretty quickly, and it was of note that he had an instruction not to use them until we’d completed some other puzzles first (unlocking various cabinets in the room as we went). As just about everything we needed was on a laminated note, that seems like pretty poor design. We should have been able to find those details for him when the time was right.
Having worked our way through a number of puzzles distributed across the two locations, we were able to get into the second room and release our operator.
There’s a significant difference between just following some poorly written instructions, and completing a tough puzzle. We really all felt let down by the quality of the instructions. (Although had they been clear or logically laid out, the game would have been over very quickly!)
Across all the City Mazes games there is a recurring theme of very poor feedback from the puzzles and this was no exception. We had a number of ‘panels’ to complete (who knows why?!) and it took us a considerable amount of time to satisfy ourselves that we had actually completed the first. Similarly, we had no way of knowing if we were tackling the next one right or not – until we’d completed all the parts of it.
Once we had established what the instructions were telling us, we worked our way through the various panels pretty methodically (apply rule, apply rule, apply rule…) and the game was done. Disappointing once again.