Southampton, Aug 2017
When reviewing games I rarely say much about the venue outside the game itself. A polished intro or an enthusiastic welcome from the host can get the experience off to a good start, but for me at least is rarely a large factor in how I feel about a game afterwards. Houdini Escapes put so much effort into their hosting that it would be a crime not to mention it. Not only is their reception very nicely decorated with a first-rate selection of free drinks on offer, the briefing then takes place in a small private cinema with popcorn and Skittles laid on, and following the game they had an unusually high quality memento for successful escapees.
Once prepped we were led into our cell for the start of the game, which looked both satisfyingly authentic and also quite distinct from the various other prison escape games I’ve played. In another twist, the goal is not to escape but to find evidence to clear the name of a condemned friend – though you’ll need to first get out of your own cell to do so.
Discovering meaningful graffiti on cell walls is a bit of a trope of prison games, but Alcatraz manages many much more imaginative puzzle ideas. They’re often puzzles for the sake of puzzles, sometimes leading to padlocks that don’t particularly make sense in the narrative environment, but they’re varied and reasonably challenging, and follow the theme well.
Some of the components and the build seemed quite worn, which was certainly appropriate for Alcatraz prison but could do with a little freshening up before much longer; I did however notice and appreciate what I think was a deliberate thread of references to the concept of religion and judgement, which was exactly the right tone for the setting.
The game includes a beautiful prop which is absolutely the highlight of the decor, and the centre of a series of puzzles. That was all excellent, but the way it concluded was anticlimactic, and in fact left us wondering if the mechanism had failed since we weren’t sure what it had triggered. It seemed like some adjustments there could both avoid unnecessary confusion and also make a much more dramatic moment of it, with perhaps a few special effects.
Those are minor objections though. It’s an atmospheric game full of good ideas leading up to a satisfying finish, and it’s well worth visiting.