London, Oct 2018
Escape rooms designed specifically for two are a rarity, but Lift of Doom is unusual in other ways. For a start, it’s only 17 minutes long (plus some time for an audio introduction). And where most venues frown upon players who’ve been drinking, this one is located in a Shoreditch cocktail bar. You can book the game on its own or as a package that includes a cocktail each, and it seems aimed not at escape room fans so much as couples who want an extra diversion when going out for a drink.
If you look at the website promo pic you may expect a claustrophobically small lift that would be a squeeze even for two. However, the game is actually several times that size: expect a large service elevator, with plenty of space for two or three people, even if still small by escape room standards.
This is a horror theme, which translates to flickering dim lights and edgy background audio, as well as a backstory that involved escaping from an asylum “before the crazies get you”, but no jump scares. At 17 minutes, it is of course a short game, but there are in fact only 3 or 4 puzzles in total, depending how you count. The low number of puzzles makes it extremely hard to talk about the game without straying into spoiler territory, but I’ll try to avoid specifics.
The single biggest problem with the game is that it uses colour-based puzzles under dim, tinted lighting that reduces everything to shades of monochrome. That would be a significant failing if it affected only one puzzle in an hour-long game, and since there are only three real puzzles here the effect is proportionately greater. I’m hopeful that they’ll address this problem, since it’s both glaring and easy to fix.
Electronic mechanisms are used not only for a majority of the content, but for the hint system as well. To receive a clue, you press the button and get a pre-recorded message for whichever step of the game you’ve reached. Pressing the button again repeats the same clue, which is useful if you’re struggling to understand hear it clearly; and since it’s delivered using a synthetic text-to-speech voice, you might well need it to be repeated. The problem with this highly automated approach is that if you’re stuck in a way that the preset clue doesn’t help with – for example, because a puzzle needs you to distinguish colours that you hadn’t even seen were there in the first place – then you’re at a dead end, left with little recourse other than waiting out the clock.
Those issues were made more acute by other problems, such as a variety of red herrings – mostly minor, but in one case very blatant. I could also grouse about how the puzzles had no obvious connection to the setting or to each other, but that rates a distant second behind the other issues.
Parts of the decor were genuinely cool – though I say that with exactly two things in mind. Neither made much sense in the setting, but one in particular was creative and clever, a lovely idea with charm and flair. And while I’m normally strict about not drinking before an escape game, in practice I enjoyed both the bar and the drink, and thought the underlying concept of combining a cocktail with a bit of escaping worked well.
With the various problems we saw I really can’t recommend Lift of Doom at the moment; but going forwards hopefully they’ll address the lighting problem at a minimum, which will instantly make it a more playable experience.