Hastings, Sep 2018
I was expecting Abducted to be an unusual escape room, and it was; but it was unusual in a rather different way to what I expected. Note that there are two versions, a normal 60 minute experience and an ‘extreme’ 90 minute experience, and naturally we played the extreme version. They run the normal game in the daytime, and that’s much closer to a typical horror-themed escape room experience. The extreme version is played after dark, and extends the normal game with additional content that’s very different in style.
If you’re considering playing and want only the most general and spoiler-free information about it, then here’s the high-level executive summary. The additional content consists of a dramatic sequence that’s best described as immersive theatre, plus an outdoor game involving running and hiding. The latter is very much set up as a game with clear rules, and while there’s plenty of adrenaline and fear of getting caught, it doesn’t attempt to blur the lines to make it a more immersive and terrifying experience. Serious horror junkies may find most of it too carefully artificial to really scratch their itch, and puzzle fans may be dissatisfied with various parts of the escape room. For anyone else, it’s an entertainingly unique blend of different experiences that is more approachable than its billing may suggest.
The pre-game disclaimer states that actors may touch you; that sounds a lot more ominous than it turns out. I’ve played horror/escape cross-over games elsewhere in which the puzzles are a perfunctory inclusion and hard to focus on amidst the actor interactions and atmospheric effects. In contrast to that, Abducted is a proper escape room. It’s creepily atmospheric but puzzle-driven, and you’re focusing on solving not hiding or being constantly startled.
As an escape room, it is both original and wildly variable. Immersion is built up by the high quality set, with its array of disturbing implements and unreliable lighting, but reduced by the out of character health and safety instructions at game start, and the various plastic instruction plaques that mark some items as puzzles. Some of these puzzles are not just incongruous with the theme but are things I think should never be found in an escape room, such as a trick question brain teaser I’ve seen on the internet several times, and a traditional wooden puzzle that’s difficult enough to be a complete dead end for many teams. In contrast, the most interesting step was a physical manipulation task that used the decor well and which I haven’t seen used anywhere else.
My impression is that they expect a majority of teams to fail. Clues are strictly limited to three; our search-averse group burned two of them on what turned out to be embarrassing search fails, and then used the third near the end as a deliberate tactical decision to attempt to improve our score. But although we mostly wasted our clues on what ought to have been quite simple steps, the game includes many points where it’s easy to get stuck by just not noticing something, or with the type of mechanism where either you get it or you don’t. (I should note that they’ve done a good job of using LED indicators to show when you’ve successfully completed some tasks, or when something previously locked can now be opened, which helps prevent a great deal of unnecessary confusion.)
The game may have given the impression of being more difficult than it actually is, because not everything in it needs to be completed to count as a success: it includes a bonus track of puzzles which, if solved, grants the players an advantage in the game section that follows. Successfully escaping is tricky, doing so while also finishing the bonus content would be much harder. A large group might do better, although they also adjust the number of puzzles in the room based on the number of players. That has the unfortunate effect of leaving ghost puzzles, where parts of the decor very clearly look like puzzles that you’ll come to later, but which are never used – although in practice that was less of a distraction than I’d have expected.
For spoiler reasons I’m going to say less about the non escape room sections, except to repeat that it was less theatrical and more gamified than I’d expected. It’s possible to beat the escape room section and fail what follows, or – I assume – vice versa, though I’d think of them as separate challenges rather than the end section being an extension of the escape room. Win or lose though, it ensures the experience ends on an adrenaline high.
Abducted is clearly going to be a matter of taste: some players will love it and others really won’t. My teammate, keen to find the most intense horror games in the country, would have preferred something more full-on terrifying. Being less of a scare freak I was entirely happy with the balance of frights and fun, and I thought the escape room was successful despite what I’d class as some fairly glaring flaws in the puzzle design. More importantly, the three different elements involved in the experience added up to something that was more satisfying than the sum of its parts. For that reason I’d definitely recommend picking the extreme version over the normal one. Without the added content it would be a rather hit-and-miss serial killer escape room; with the whole package, it’s a fun, memorably unique experience.