Basingstoke, Dec 2018
Christmas travelling provided a handy excuse for a return visit to Exciting Escapes’ Basingstoke branch, and the two rooms there that I hadn’t previously played. The first was their 1960s game, which follows the company’s convention of basing each room in a different decade. The theming extended to the background music, and after playing I had 60s hits going round my head for the rest of the day.
The other linking theme of Exciting Escapes’ rooms is spies and espionage. In this one you’re searching a movie cinema believed to be the headquarters for foreign agents planning to assassinate a visiting ambassador. Your job is to not only get out, but also to find the intended time of the assassination and the assassin’s codename. (You might in fact find a way to escape before you have those pieces of information, in which case I believe they tell you to keep looking until you’ve found them.)
It may be a small cinema, but it’s a credible one, built with the same attention to detail applied to following the sixties period theming. Puzzles are presented in a less naturalistic way, using the cinema paraphernalia as raw material without trying to maintain any kind of illusion that you’re doing something other than solving puzzles. Most of the puzzles resolve to a three or four padlock code, but there’s never any doubt where to use a given code – because each padlock is labelled with an icon linking it to one of the puzzles.
This approach has a downside. The very clear signposting moves players’ focus away from the story and onto the puzzles, in a way that detracts from immersion, and experienced players may find it heavy-handed like training wheels on a bicycle. The lock icons indicate what puzzles exist and are thereby a big clue for what to focus on. However, this system is far better than having to try each code in every matching lock until you find the right one, and the clarity of structure makes for a smooth game, free from many of the small frustrations that can interfere with a good escape room experience.
That padlock system is common to most of Exciting Escapes’ games. What’s distinctive about Murder at the Movies is the quite physical style of game, which combines several more abstract puzzles with others based on use of different senses, physical manipulation and search. My biggest gripe about it was a puzzle that appeared to rely on blatant outside knowledge, which seemed a bit obscure particularly for younger teams or overseas players; that was one of a couple of places where players could potentially get stuck in this game and need to be rescued by the gamemaster.
That aside, it struck me as a good choice for beginner teams – easy to get to grips with, and a great variety in the style of tasks involved. It was a bit on the easy side for our group, and probably for most other enthusiast teams too, but uncomplicated fun to rattle through.