Haverhill, Apr 2019
My escape room addiction has led me to all sorts of curious suburbs, back streets and industrial parks in search of venues. D S Escape Rooms were one of the harder companies to find, buried inside a sprawling business centre with corridors painted in the sort of colours you expect to find in a public institution. Apparently they’re not (currently) allowed to put signs outside, though as long as you’re looking for the building rather than an escape room sign it’s not too hard.
Elude seems to be a family-run, home-designed escape room, and the game area suggests a fairly limited budget. However, it’s not the size of your budget but how you use it, and I really liked the way they’d used some quite simple touches, particularly with the lighting, to create an attractive and atmospheric space.
The setup is a standard serial killer premise where you’re imprisoned by a maniac who just so happens to enjoy setting puzzles for his victims. They’ve avoided the clichéd blood spatter plus body parts decor in favour of something closer to a toolshed, though don’t imagine too realistic a toolshed – this is the sort of escape room that decorates the walls with letters and numbers as part of its puzzles.
One puzzle stood out as ambiguous, and I think would actually have been clearer had there been fewer clue items for it – the extra information suggested incorrect approaches instead of helping. Another was very much a ‘you see it or you don’t’ – naturally we didn’t. But otherwise I had few gripes about the puzzles, and rather pro-active hinting from our gamemaster ensured that any sticking points were only temporary barriers; though that did also undermine any sense of impeding danger from our fictional captor.
While mostly very reliant on padlocks, the puzzles included several nice ideas executed well; as with the decor, it felt like they’d taken fairly modest resources and used them to good effect. Three things dented my enjoyment a little. One was the way some padlock codes were simply printed on stickers as search targets – there’s little satisfaction in using a code that you’ve just found as-is, and it’d be much better to find physical keys instead of printed codes.
The other criticisms was the need to try each code in each lock until we found the right one; and a particularly flagrant intentional red herring that appeared to result in a variety of possible codes. Naturally, the former point made the latter one significantly worse.
Those were a shame, but didn’t stop me from warming to the game; as a design it had rough patches but also character. Our group of four was definitely too big for its linear structure, and enthusiasts should probably play it as a pair; though it would also make a decent introduction to escape rooms for beginner teams.