London, May 2017
Escape Rooms are one of London’s more longer-established escape venues. They have a good reputation and have just opened a second location in Angel with two new rooms, so it seemed like a good time to finally pay them a visit.
The plot of Room 33 is that you are 17th Century Chinese guards, and having carelessly allowed a priceless vase to be stolen, you have mysteriously been allowed to travel through time to the present-day British Museum, where you must steal the vase back. While that’s one of the more bizarre premises I’ve seen, I guess it allows them to theme the game with a combination of Oriental props and modern electronics. It doesn’t look a whole lot like a room at the British Museum, but never mind, perhaps it’s a storeroom not one of the public galleries.
Be aware that the game involves a small amount of physical activity, though to a degree that should be absolutely fine for most players – of our team of three, one was wearing a suit and one was mid-term pregnant, and it wasn’t an issue.
The skill-based task at the beginning was a highlight in fact, giving the game a nice ‘wow’ start. I’ve seen similar tasks in other games and this was a particularly good implementation, being hard enough to complete perfectly without being impossible, and with the time penalty for making a mistake being painful but reasonable. However, I think they missed a trick by putting it at the start not at the end: the impact would be that much greater if it were an unexpected hazard on the final exit run. Also, time penalties for mistakes at the start of the game means teams could have their experience cut short – though if a team loses a huge amount of time at the beginning, I imagine they’re still allowed to play for the full hour on the clock, despite technically being over time.
The main section of the game is a somewhat non-linear collection of clever, custom puzzles, with a mixture of numerical padlocks and hidden maglock mechanisms. It’s not particularly story-driven, but it is well-themed. It’s a popular room that’s been in operation for quite some time, so as you’d expect there was some wear and tear on the components, and one mechanism had a known fault – though we’d never have noticed that if the operator hadn’t told us about it after the game.
My personal experience was that game felt a little stop-start, for reasons that were hard to pin down. I think it’s because several of the puzzles had a ‘either you see it or you don’t’ quality to them. Similar to the puzzle boxes that most people reading this site will have seen in one room or another, if you see the trick to it it’s easy, and until you do it’s a dead-end. In addition, since you have clues for various unrelated puzzles at once, and there’s not always much to tie a puzzle to the clue items required for it, much of the difficulty of this room came from working out where to focus and what to use with what.
We escaped with a little over 11 minutes left and officially with zero hints, though in practice the operator gave quite a lot of unofficial small prompts to look at one item or another, or in one case to look at the other side of something we’d left face-down. The help was probably needed, and he said afterwards that he’d been helping less than normal, but I’d still have preferred him to be a bit slower to jump in. Zero input until you ask for a hint is definitely something you can request before the game, though.
It’s a satisfactory game that contains plenty of interesting puzzle ideas, custom mechanisms and quality decor; plus a fun start that’ll be a ‘wow’ moment for some teams. When it opened it was likely among London’s top games, but the standard of comparison for escape rooms gets more demanding by the year, and it’s now in the middle of the pack. It’s still one I’d more than happily encourage people to play, though.
A couple of the puzzles had design faults in them (one of which the operator had to come into the room to check). [Edit: This was something we were trying incorrectly, and the operator was checking there wasn’t a problem; there wasn’t, we were just trying it in not quite the right way.]
There was a nice variety of puzzles, but a rather disjointed feel to the room; with multiple identical numerical padlocks, it was unclear which puzzle solved which lock (a weakness I always find frustrating). The room redeems itself through the excellent first task, good use of electronics, and reasonably strong theming as well as an attentive operator. Overall a reasonable room but nothing spectacular.