London, May 2017
This game is a modified version of their previous game ‘Escape from the Age of Steampunk’.
Escape Land is hidden away in a basement found behind an unobtrusive door on Oxford Street that I must have walked past a dozen times without noticing before. They were among the earlier set of escape rooms to open in London, and I’ve been intending to visit while not quite getting round to it for far too long now.
The first game we played was Professor Oxford’s Experiments. This was previously known as Escape from the Age of Steampunk, and although it’s apparently been somewhat revamped as well as renamed, the website warns that it’s too similar to be attempted by players who’ve done the previous version. I can only guess that perhaps ‘steampunk’ was too obscure a term for the general public.
Playing this reminded me more than anything of the well-known Claustrophilia game in Budapest, for three reasons. Firstly, it’s entirely low tech, with padlocks and mechanical mechanisms in place of electronics. There are plenty of locked drawers, numerical combinations to find, and solid wooden components. Secondly, the puzzles have something of a thrown together feel, in that they don’t particularly relate to one another in any way. While there’s a broad ‘steampunk’ theme going on, a lot of the game content appears to have been selected because the designer thought it would be a cool thing to have in the game. (Despite the game name and picture, there’s nothing much to suggest a laboratory here.) And finally, the puzzles have an unembarrassed eclecticism that ranges from simple number puzzles, through search and collection tasks, to some original and clever physical puzzles that make ingenious use of basic components.
Three in particular require co-operation and are trickier than they look; I really liked all of those, though one is time-consuming and can only be attempted by two people at a time, so could turn into a bottleneck for a team.
In some places past players have clearly found simpler alternatives to the ‘official’ solutions, and the game has warning signs threatening players with time penalties if they, say, open a hatch instead of using the mechanism in the intended way. That’s clunky game design, but Escape Land gets away with it because it doesn’t damage immersion – it can’t, because there isn’t any immersion, that’s not something this game is aiming for – and the signs made me smile instead of interfering with my enjoyment.
Nothing in this game struck me as particularly difficult, but there’s a lot to get through, meaning a constant stream of small victories. The game embodies the ‘first generation’ design style that most more recent games try to get away from – but it’s also a traditional room done really well, and a reminder that games don’t need immersion, or pretty sets, or a story or even a goal other than ‘get out of the room’ – if the content is varied, well-designed and fun, that’s enough for a very enjoyable game.