London, Jul 2017
Escape From The Room is based in the suburban wilderness of Sutton, which although certainly inside the M25 is quite a trek from central London by public transport (though a lot more convenient for any South Londoners with a car). Not only is it off the beaten track, it is built and run out of a residential house.
There’s something a little surreal about knocking on a house door and being welcomed and briefed in a living room, before being led upstairs to the bedroom that houses the game. However, the game story tells of an apparently normal bedroom haunted by the ghost of an elderly woman who died there mad and alone, and the unexpectedly residential setting suddenly gives it more authenticity than any converted office space could manage.
This is a paranormal theme, and while it may succeed in making you jump, it isn’t designed to terrify. The tone steers a course between creepy, sad and playfully scary, and while there’s a clear story being told, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The game is designed and built by a single enthusiast, and this shows through with a handmade ingenuity to the design. Children’s toys and the furniture of the room are used as the basis of much of the content, supplemented by some more obviously ‘escape room style’ puzzles. It’s heavily padlock based, though rarely with any confusion over which code should be used on which lock.
Hints are provided, unusually, via iMessage on an iPad; that’s not as out of place as it might sound, since players are supposed to be there as paranormal investigators, and the clues are framed as communications from your boss.
When booking this game, you have a choice between the normal 60 minute version and a longer 90 minute one, and while playing you find a couple of larger puzzles clearly marked ‘bonus’. The normal game culminates in unlocking a door that allows you out of the room. With the 90 minute game you can then continue with the bonus content (which consists of not just the two puzzles but also some further pieces that they lead on to), with the aim and reward being to discover the full backstory behind the haunted room. Experienced teams may be able to complete the longer version in around an hour, and I’d suggest going for the extended version unless you’re particularly trying to economise (although if you hate logic-based puzzles that might also be a reason to stick with the shorter game).
I felt this game was particularly well judged in the level of guidance it gives you: for example, there’s one point where players might get confused by trying one thing before another, and there’s a clue object to find at the right moment that guides them to start at the right point. Similarly, a different puzzle relies on the players remembering something they encountered early on but may have forgotten, and a subtle prompt is provided to remind them. It all helps keeps the players’ time focused on the actual content of the game, not frustratingly stuck due to unnecessary mistakes.
The game also builds on the solid design with an occasional bit of humour and some inventive ideas. The result more than justifies the trek out from central London.
Full disclosure: we were invited to play this game for free for review purposes.