London, Jul 2017
Inside Out Escape have been open since September 2016, but were booked solid for months due to a GroupOn offer, so it took a while before I found a chance to visit. They currently have two games and we started with CSI London, their more recent second game. The name suggests a certain famous group of TV detective shows, but there’s no particular tie-in that I could spot: it’s a generic crime scene investigation. The CSI team has gone missing following a robbery and your task is to identify the culprit and find the object that was stolen.
The setting lends itself to simple decorations, and the game uses a somewhat bare and generic office-style environment. Although while playing I largely treated the game as a sequence of puzzles, in retrospect they followed a narrative progression that was non-immersive but coherent: investigate and gather evidence until you identify the suspect, then raid the suspect’s apartment to discover details of the robbery and the stolen goods themselves. I suspect there was a small reset mistake in the game we played that meant we jumped straight to the end of one of the central puzzles, which is a shame since it was the one that acted as the centre point of the narrative. Even without that, the way the puzzles build a story is done in a sufficiently subtle way that I’d guess it passes most teams by.
In common with other games that use a present-day setting, it uses some pieces of modern technology. These are often problematic since it’s difficult to constrain them to only the game-relevant functionality, but we noticed no problems with that here. The rest had good variety which spanned from standard tropes to a couple of nicely original ideas, and from generic puzzles to ones that made very good use of the theme.
We spent comfortably over ten minutes wrestling with a particular tough puzzle, and had just reached the point of giving up and asking for a hint when someone had a flash of insight and spotted the solution. I’m pretty sure I could have stared at it for a full hour without figuring it out, but clearly it is solvable.
Many escape venues use warning stickers as a way to indicate electric cables and objects that are not part of the game. These are often a necessary evil, since excited players tend to demolish anything and everything they can, and there’s always someone who thinks the mysterious metal object clearly needs to be pushed into the electrical socket. Some companies manage to avoid them with skilful design, and it’s always impressive when they do, but I don’t particularly hold it against companies that do use warning stickers. That said, it seemed like the electrical plumbing of this game was more prominent then it should have been, with warning stickers used where it would have been possible to put a little more attention into hiding wires away.
Despite the stronger points of the game I find it hard to get particularly excited about it, which is probably mainly due to the plain decor, and perhaps also because the more interesting moments felt outnumbered by bread-and-butter escape room puzzles. It was a perfectly satisfactory game nonetheless, and had I been more conscious as I played of the story structure that linked the puzzles together, I’d likely have come out more impressed.