Plymouth, Jun 2017
The Clink comes with a warning on the website that it’s the venue’s hardest room and that teams should play one or two others before attempting it. The description also explains how the team will be separated into four separate jail cells, then partially reunited into two groups, and finally as a single group again.
I’d had hopes from the address being ‘The Old Morgue’ that this game might use a historic and atmospheric location, but sadly not – the space looks more like generic converted commercial space than the other I played here.
Exactly as advertised, it begins with a split team and a communication task. This is cunningly designed to be fiddly and time-consuming; the intention is that all players are involved in it, though in practice teams may short-cut that a little. Any players with colour-blindness or hearing problems should declare those to the operator before being assigned to a cell!
After escaping from the initial cell, I found two areas separated by a barred gate. This clearly fitted the game’s description, so I was surprised to find the gate’s padlock already open. Confused, I used the telephone hint system to check with the operator whether it had been left open by accident, but he said it was as intended.
Clarifying afterwards, the original design of the game had this gate locked shut. Too many teams were failing the game, so they now leave it unlocked. This doesn’t skip any puzzles, but it makes the central puzzle of this second stage a good deal easier to solve by allowing all players to see all the information, where originally it would have had to be passed by verbal description once again.
The game then has a third and final stage which uses a more traditional design, with non-linear puzzles each of which opens one of a set of numerical locks.
While it’s good that the venue is experimenting with different styles of game, I didn’t find The Clink a very successful experiment. It’s designed and advertised as a game based on communication, but the communication puzzles that make up the first and second sections of the game are essentially six variations on the same puzzle. All instances have a shared design weakness that provides a quicker route to solving them, which avoids the need for communication or for involving the rest of the team – though when we realised that, it was a welcome alternative to laboriously solving the last such puzzle in the intended way.
The unexpectedly open gate in the second stage was also something I welcomed: the communication puzzles are designed to take protracted effort, and had pretty much outstayed their welcome by this point. We had the minimum team size of four, and even so not everyone was really needed for the first stage; with eight players, it’s almost inevitable that some of the team will end up sidelined and bored for a large portion of this game.
Although the alternative would likely have been a worse experience, the open gate was also confusing and rendered the central section of the game a bit incoherent.
The final section added variety to the puzzles thus far, though had flaws of its own: a clue in a location that struck me as unfair; a fun use of technology that was compromised by being too fiddly; and the remaining puzzles all just quite bland.
Finally, this game also showed traces of past teams, in this case where players had written on the cell walls while solving the first stage of the game. There was no spoiler information, but quite a lot of the scrawls could count as red herrings. Since I also found that, when phoning for a hint, the operator would take a little while to answer, and would then need to be told where we were up to, that left me with an impression of lack of care. I don’t at all mean that the operators are cynically neglectful – they seemed like nice people who love what they do and are trying hard to provide a good experience to their customers – rather, that the level of diligence and rigour that goes into running these games could be tightened up.
Despite all my criticisms above, I should be clear that the group I went with, for whom it was their third escape game, found it unobjectionable fun and had a good time playing it. Teams who haven’t played many games elsewhere may come out entirely content… but more experienced teams will likely be left dissatisfied.