Preston, Apr 2018
With four branches in the UK and many more overseas, Escape Room is one of the larger escape game franchises. I’d previously played a few of their games in Estonia, and while passing through Preston tried out their Gallery game. This is an art heist theme – at least, I think it is, since if I followed the briefing correctly, the target object was available right at the start and then played no part in the actual game. Perhaps the intention is that you’re trying to escape from the art gallery’s security system after you’ve triggered it.
An art gallery setting lends itself to quite minimalist decor. That’s true here, with a game space that felt quite bare, but it looked good with dramatic after-hours lighting. The flip side of that is the first of my several gripes with the game: it’s dark, not pitch black but dingy to the point where lack of light seriously interferes with solving puzzles. It might have been an oversight that we weren’t given torches; the staff were prompt enough to provide us with one when, fifteen minutes into the game, we used the clue system to ask for one. But it seems like they normally expect players to use the torches on their mobile phones. That’s unusual but fair enough if they cover that in the briefing I guess (and if they also provide alternative torches for players without phones).
My second gripe was that I really disliked two of the puzzles. It’s not that they were ambiguous or flawed in any of the usual ways – they were just a drag to do, and easy to make a mistake on. Two tedious puzzles in a room might not sound like much, but this is a completely linear game consisting of seven puzzles. And of the others, one leaned a little too much on outside knowledge (though I think players have a decent chance of working it out anyway from guesswork and deduction).
But my biggest dislike was the hint system, which worked by the players pressing a switch to call a gamemaster into the room. The room has cameras but no audio, and the gamemaster has little way to follow how the players are doing except from the most obvious signs.
This didn’t actually impact on our game much, since we used the hint system only twice: once to ask for a torch, and once for an early puzzle which we’d solved but where we couldn’t find a padlock with which to use the resulting code (one of our more glorious search fails). Nonetheless, there was a sense of being unattended that made it feel like a low rent experience, despite the game’s various nice effects and bits of technology.
That wasn’t a matter of a member of staff doing their job badly; the staff we saw were all perfectly friendly and professional, and both times we used the hint button the gamemaster was swift to jump in. Rather, that impression is baked into a system where players are left to get on with the room essentially on their own, and where if they want assistance they’ll need to first explain where they’re up to.
Having aired that list of grievances, I should add a few words in the game’s defence. As well its effective visuals, the puzzles worked well, despite my criticisms above. There’s a charm to a game built with a smaller number of difficult puzzles, which you tackle one after another; especially when those puzzles initially seem baffling but yield to persistence, which was the case with the best sections of Gallery. The final puzzle in particular struck me as clever and satisfying. And more generally, there’s a limit to how much I can complain about a set of puzzles when we managed to solve them all: having solved them demonstrates that they’re both reasonably fair and fairly reasonable.
Which is to say, I wouldn’t encourage enthusiasts to play Gallery, and after playing it we decided not to try to follow it up with a different game at the venue; but if you do give it a go and your expectations are set appropriately, you may still find a decently enjoyable escape game here.
A heist is a common escape room theme and what distinguishes one from another are the room décor, quality of puzzles and, often taken for granted, a vigilant GM. Having played a game at The Escape Room franchise elsewhere, I was prepared for a pleasant but mediocre experience with “Gallery” and to sum it up, it was not ground breaking.
Personally, I like to know if the GM can hear what’s going on in the room based on hiccups with past experiences. At Escape Room Preston, the hint system irked me a tad knowing the GM had no audio feedback from players, and the fact that he/she would have to physically enter the room if players hit the hint button by the entrance. The deal breaker for me was that having solved two puzzles 15 minutes in whilst fumbling in the dimly-lit gallery, we had to actively seek out the GM and asked if the heist was supposed to be carried out under such low lighting (given no “experienced criminal specialists” would break into a gallery without tools much less a torch). Only then were we informed that use of flashlight function on our mobile devises was permitted and he subsequently went to procure a torchlight for us (definitely a “roll eye” moment). This key piece of information should be briefed at the onset and could have shaved off a couple of minutes from the timer.
The room was very linear and for our 2-player team, it might have been more time efficient if we had a bigger group for a couple of puzzles but otherwise, additional players may feel redundant. With the exception of the last puzzle which my teammate thought was “cunning” in a good way, the rest ranged from uninspiring to frustrating.
What did surprise me was that when we did escape from the room, I had to poke my head out left and right seeking a GM, eventually walking towards the front desk before a GM came running in our direction exclaiming that it was his first encounter where no hint was required for the exit puzzle.