Dublin, Oct 2019
Escape Boats must have had an easier time than most escape room companies when thinking up a name for their business: they have an obvious distinguishing feature, with their games set inside a boat moored in Dublin’s Grand Canal. The boat hosts two games, each occupying half the vessel, and SOS is the first one they created.
Your mission is simply to escape, to make sure you do not go down with your ship. The challenge is that you’re locked in and need to repair some of the ship systems to release the exit path.
Straightaway you’re plunged into the drama – those who have problems with dry ice smoke effects should flag that up to the operators before the start of the game. But the special effects are all the more successful for the authentic setting, which gives them the kind of unmatched realism that could never be created in a room built in a normal location. The Zorg Ella (as the boat is named) is a floating antique, over a hundred years old, and the machinery and controls and narrow spaces on their own give the game more of a sense of immersion than most games can get anywhere close to.
Speaking of which, expect to wear a hard hat throughout to protect against coming a cropper on the low ceilings; also expect some physical clambering through narrow spaces. The hard hat became a lot less annoying when I remembered to tighten it properly!
It might have been easy to rely on the existing boat interiors for decor and atmosphere, but SOS also shines for the way it leads you through different environments, each with a distinct appearance and play style. The larger part of the game relies on a fairly traditional escape room style of puzzle, assembling numbers or letters as codes for padlocks; other sections use the boat controls for greater realism.
There’s a particular puzzle that is likely to be the highlight for most teams, and that is indeed what really lifts SOS to a different level – but for spoiler reasons, the less said about that the better. However, it’s a high quality game throughout, with well-designed puzzles on a linear path that increases in challenge as it goes on. Being both linear and logical, we found it relatively quick to play through, but looking back over it there was no shortage of content, with a pleasing variety of tasks that mixed logic-based puzzles with physical scrambling, electronic panels and manipulation of the ship’s equipment.
SOS is a smooth, entertaining game that takes the immersion provided by its unusual floating location and doubles down on it. Of Escape Boats’ two games, I’d actually put the more recent Convicts a little ahead of SOS in many respects – but even so, if you’re in Dublin with time for only one game, you should definitely make it SOS. I promise you’ll be talking about it for some time afterwards.