Nottingham, Oct 2017
A bank heist is one of the classic escape room themes, and Heistakes is Escapologic’s take on the genre. The venue aims for immersion and realism, and they start that off with something impressive and highly theme-appropriate, that I haven’t seen used in any other UK escape room.
The plot is that you are ‘team B’, attempting to complete the heist that a prior ‘team A’ failed, with help from a ‘team C’ of hackers who provide computer-based support, hacking into the bank’s systems and communicating with you through their computer terminals. This idea is a stroke of genius, forming the basis of some of the game’s more memorable puzzles and simultaneously providing a hint system that fits perfectly into the setting. Messages from the off-site hacker team are sometimes helpful and sometimes just entertainingly snarky, providing clues in a way that increases immersion instead of breaking it.
The puzzle style is naturalistic throughout, though with a few tongue-in-cheek jokes sprinkled in, and some very cool pieces of equipment. Much of the game felt a bit empty, with surprisingly few items to investigate and experiment with, though a clean sterile appearance is suitable for a bank vault; and I enjoyed having a very well-lit space to play in.
There were a number of small issues with the game that both our teams noticed, such as a dead LED, but which bothered the first team much more than the second. I suspect the difference was mainly because the first team’s game had had an early glitch with something not opening when it should have, with the result that their confidence in the room had been shaken causing them to view the rest with a more critical eye. Or perhaps it was due to the swift and skilful way the second team’s GM dealt with the bust LED, preventing it impacting on our experience.
For me the game had one glaring weakness, with a skill-based task that should have been a fantastic highlight. It looked very impressive, fitted the theme and story perfectly, and was the sort of physical, co-operative task that I normally love. What put me off it was a combination of fiddly unresponsive controls and the sheer size of the task. With a shorter task the wonky controls would have been tolerable; with buttery smooth controls the size of the task would have been manageable; but in combination it became a tedious frustrating chore. What makes it more painful is that only three people can work on it at once, so any additional players are stuck watching for the duration. The host said typical solving times for this step varied from as low as three minutes to as much as half an hour; we were closer to the latter than the former, but had we been twice as fast I’d still have felt it had considerably outstayed its welcome.
That’s a shame, since it leaves us judging the game rather more harshly than it otherwise deserves. It has a number of really top-notch ideas and components coupled with an admirable dedication to immersion, story and realism that I notice much more in retrospect than I was able to appreciate at the game’s end. We appear to have not always had the best of luck with our visits to Escapologic, and as with a couple of our other reviews of their games I’m rating it based on what I believe is the underlying strength of the game rather than how smoothly (or otherwise) our experience went.