Plymouth, Jun 2017
Escape Rooms Plymouth have been around for a while – they claim to have been the fifth escape venue in the country. Germ is one of their original two games; they currently have four, after moving to new and larger premises. These premises include a spacious and attractive café area (well, depending on your feelings about plastic mannequins in cages!) that we’d happily have spent time in before or after the games.
The name ‘Germ’ led me to expect a laboratory or plague scenario, and I’m sure the briefing mentioned something about the Cold War, but the room turned out to have a concrete bunker style with decorations that mainly referred to World War 2. But this isn’t a story-driven game, and although the theme wasn’t what I’d expected, it’s maintained reasonably consistently throughout.
The game progresses through multiple stages, each of which consists of a non-linear set of padlock puzzles, with some elements collected over time and used later.
I’m never keen on games where each solution needs to be tried on multiple padlocks. To be fair, that’s not a major problem in this game, thanks to its division into different areas plus occasional hints for which number goes in which lock.
Within the confines of the format there’s decent variation in the puzzle ideas, but too many of them come down to simple clues painted on walls. A bigger problem is that there are other messages and graffiti added here and there, apparently as an intentional part of the decorations, which look like meaningful clues but are not used. There’s also a fuzzy boundary between the decorations and props that turn out to be important and the ones that do not. The end result is that too much of the game becomes a matter of guessing which pieces of information are intended to be used and which should be ignored. It’s by no means the worst such offender I’ve seen, but it weakens a game that would in any case struggle to rise above average.
The final puzzle had handwritten answers scrawled in from a previous team. I imagine that was an unfortunate one-off, and maybe was partly because we booked in unexpectedly at short notice, but nonetheless: a good reset process should not allow that to happen. Regardless, Germ wasn’t a disaster of a game, but equally it’s not one to go out of your way for.