London, May 2017
Having played quite a lot of games recently that aspire to be immersive and story-driven, Pharaoh’s Chamber was a contrast and a throw-back to an earlier style of escape room, where the puzzles are front and centre and the theme is really just window-dressing.
It consists of a good sized room (much more spacious and well-lit than an actual room in a pyramid, I’m glad to say). The room and components look good, with some wear and tear but nothing that impacted on the game. Some padlocks and electronics are anachronistic in the setting, but objecting to that seems to me to be missing the point: the game doesn’t attempt to make you feel as if you’re inside an ancient pyramid, it provides a nicely themed set of puzzle challenges. Each time you complete one of the main puzzles it lights a ‘flame’ (okay, a red glow appears on a section of the wall), which gives a great indication of progress and further emphasises the nature of this game as a series of individual puzzles.
The game was described up-front as non-linear. As with Room 33, that’s true enough I guess, though there’s actually plenty of linearity in the game structure – it’s normal to complete a puzzle and thereby unlock a new puzzle, or an item needed to complete something else.
We also received an up-front warning not to upset the arrangement of a particular group of items. That struck me as a potential big flaw in the game, because it’s horrible design to include a puzzle that players can render unsolvable by moving it around. However, once I understood how the items were to be used, it became clear that moving them wouldn’t have made it impossible to solve, just a fair bit harder. It’s still a bit clunky for the operator to have to give that warning, but other than that it seems a perfectly satisfactory setup.
Hints are provided by walkie talkie, which is rarely my favourite hint system but is less jarring than putting a big monitor in the middle of an Egyptian tomb. Escape Rooms save one area of their victory photo wall for teams who escaped without any clues, but they have a fairly lax definition of what constitutes a clue, and are happy to give teams plenty of small nudges for free. My experience of Room 33 was that those nudges were a little too forthcoming for my tastes, so this time I asked the operator to hold back a bit, which worked well.
Pharaoh’s Chamber opened three years ago, when escape rooms were hitting London for the first time, and at that time this would have been a highly impressive room with an unusually interesting set of puzzles and some cool high-tech theming. The standard for technology and decoration is far higher in 2017, so the decor looks a little artificial and perfunctory, though still nice enough; and a game that consists of one room full of puzzles struggles to stand out from the crowd. But they’re varied, clever puzzles with some sections tough enough to challenge most teams, overseen by an experienced, skilful team of operators.
First-time teams will enjoy it as much as ever, and experienced teams may find, as we did, that it’s refreshingly fun to play through a room that consists of a series of well-defined puzzle challenges. It felt a bit old school, but great fun nonetheless.