Derby, Jul 2017
Second up, was the venue’s original game “The Signal”. Set back from the first game with its own separate reception and briefing space, the backstory around this game is again based on a local legend.
The blurb says:
“Following reports of strange lights in the skies over Derbyshire, your team intercepts a distress signal, which leads you to an abandoned military bunker.”
My usual glazed look during the story and briefing was this time probably more down to sheer tiredness from “Spellbound as a Pair” as much as any personal ambivalence to the plot. This one could be very interesting.
So UFO sightings, strange military bunker. Got it. In we went. Actually before the review of the gameplay itself, a quick note on the fantastic welcome we received again in the second game – more ice cold water, and the welcome cool air from a portable AC unit in the room made it bearable on a very hot day.
On entering, and after the pizzazz of Spellbound, the Signal room felt a little underwhelming – a filing cabinet with padlocks, old desk, a few pictures, a crate, a Windows 7 PC locked, and my 107th old jacket hung up to search through to find a clue.
Now, I admit that having done so many rooms the feeling that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ has somewhat kicked in. A feeling that starts with the recognition of brands of padlock, then types of puzzle design, and eventually leads to recognising filing cabinet manufacturers and specific retailer and price of the UV torch you’re using. For first time players, they wouldn’t perhaps have such a strong aversion to identikit rooms quite yet!
Regardless, we ploughed on — senses dulled a bit from the back-to-back session. The Signal is a linear game – there’s hardly any scope for splitting up and solving things separately. Progress, for us, was a little slow to begin with. Puzzles were simple, but very nicely themed to the storyline, and there was a strong feeling of working through the mystery.
We eventually ground to a halt with a set of laminates which were meant to be used to derive a code to continue. We searched and searched for the final piece of the laminate “jigsaw” but to no avail. We tried to make progress with what we had, wasted time trying to think of an alternative way of getting the missing info. But nope. It was the Dreaded Room Reset Failure.
It happens. Whilst gamesmastering myself, I’ve had it happen. Mea culpa. After a bunch of clues pointing us to the places the pieces might be, we still couldn’t move on. Once we asked directly if that’s what might have happened, we were given a replacement piece, and progress could be made again.
Shortly after, a wonderful retro prop was discovered, that would prove to be useful for the remainder of the game, and we started to get closer to understanding what was being hidden in this bunker.
And, eventually, after what seemed like an age, we hit the secret to the room. It was genuinely a surprise, and the nature of the game changed with the flick of a switch (figuratively).
We moved from a fairly pedestrian experience to something far more interesting and our pace quickened slightly, buoyed by the sudden revelation. At this stage – we were left with what appeared to be a choice. A choice which actually generated two of my favourite things in escape room experiences.
- Multiple storyline paths to take
- Moral choices and debate
With little time to spare due to our sub-par performance, we chose what appeared to be the quickest route to completion, following a previous clue in the game to the letter.
The debate and choice I can imagine would be a lot of fun with bigger teams. This room supports up to 6 players, and that would certainly come down to a vote on the direction to take.
This was definitely an experience of two halves – or at least it should have been. A slight tweak to the gameplay to get the 2nd stage of the story earlier would be great. I know this venue prides itself on adjusting and improving games on a regular basis.
I’d definitely recommend this room, particularly if the story choice element appeals.
We, on the other hand, were terrible. Time to stop doing back-to-back rooms as a pair.
My playthrough of The Signal went a little smoother than Chris’s from the sound of it. I found it initially a solid but unspectacular room, with fairly standard office-style decor, one somewhat ambiguous maths puzzle but also plenty that I liked. However, it was a game that just kept improving as it went on, getting more creative and physical and impressive as it neared the end, with the conclusion being a memorable highlight.
Very few escape rooms give players a choice of ways to complete the game, and I invariably love it when they do. Here the decision flows naturally from the story and gives a real, meaningful difference to how it ends. Our team of four all immediately favoured the same choice, and I was expecting that that would be the ‘obvious’ option that most groups would go for, so it was a surprise to hear from the operators afterwards that actually there’s a near even split in what players decide to do.
Your mileage may vary, but for me that ending helped lift what started out as a fairly typical escape game into something quite memorable. I was also impressed at the way the venue has a separate briefing area for each room – it’s perhaps a small thing, but it’s a really nice way to handle having multiple teams arriving or exiting for different games at the same time.