Crawley, Aug 2017
The world of scare attractions is not one I’m particularly familiar with, but apparently Tulleys Farm is well known there for their Shocktober event every Halloween. They’ve now expanded into escape rooms as well, with two rooms now open; The Outfitters was the first one we tried, and it has a 1920s Prohibition setting. You’re faced with a gentleman’s clothing store suspected of being a front for a bootleg bar, and need to find your way in so you can bust the Mob owners.
As with many games, the basic rules are provided by a video briefing. Tulleys clearly have a plan here for a meta-story, since the video is based around a dystopian human testing concept that doesn’t relate to the game’s content – although it then transitions into the game-specific briefing section. While unexpected, it was both well made and amusing.
Once the time started we got stuck in with gusto, with a set of starting puzzles that were approachable without being trivial. Having an accessible starting point so that the team can get stuck in without facing an immediate brick wall is important for less experienced players in particular, and both Tulleys games do that well. Given the company’s background, I was pleased but not surprised to find that the game was built to a high standard of decoration and presentation. The welcome discovery was that the puzzle content was also good quality. In Outfitters it’s broadly of a traditional style, with hidden numbers and other common tropes, often leading to numeric padlocks; but those puzzles were solidly designed and well themed, and mixed in with many much more ambitious mechanisms (the workings for which were impressively well concealed).
Outfitters had only recently opened and was still being tweaked, and we did notice some design flaws: a puzzle that requires some outside knowledge (though it’s knowledge that’s very widespread in the UK at least), another where moving some items lost information that was relevant to solving a puzzle, some sequencing issues around the midway point. However, the operators were still refining the game, and volunteered a list of planned adjustments that addressed pretty much all those points, so I’m confident those will be dealt with in the near future.
This is a big game. It could have been half as expansive and would still have impressed. Tulleys have the physical space and I suspect are used to building larger environments than many escape game venues, particularly when compared to London games burdened with an insane rental cost per square foot. And the extra space does make a difference, allowing more immersive and elaborate sets; I find it gives more of a sense of physical exploration, too.
There’s also plenty to get through. I thought the host was quite quick to give hints and suggestions, though he said afterwards that he’d been helping less than usual; so experienced teams confident in their puzzle solving skills may wish to ask beforehand for minimal clues.
Outfitters is in many ways a classic style of game, but excels on quantity and quality of puzzles, as well as the nicely executed period build. It’s not that there’s any single stand-out section (though the bit with the [redacted] in the [redacted] was pretty cool), it’s just a whole lot of very good escape game.