Weston-super-mare, Aug 2017
Lock and Code is currently Weston-super-mare’s only escape game venue, and it’s an enthusiast-run operation split across two locations. Their original location with their first two games is a little way out of town, and their third game is in a separate branch in the centre. The game descriptions on the website describe the games as episode 1, episode 2, and so on; there are one or two linking elements, but they’re best thought of as separate, stand-alone games.
We played the three games in order, and their first is a serial killer theme, with the familiar story of having been investigating a murder and finding yourselves caught and imprisoned. As with most games of this type, expect to start restrained and in the dark, and to rely on torches throughout.
Games set in the dark have a bad tendency to give teams fewer torches than there are players, and for torches to be unreliable or annoyingly dim. Either way the effect is for part of the team to be left at a disadvantage and struggling to contribute. I suspect it’s easy to underestimate how much of a pricey hassle it is to constantly resupply new batteries and ensure that everything’s working as it should be, but it makes a big difference to the players’ experience. With Last Victim we had enough torches for all players, which was good; though two were adequate, one was too dim to be much use, and one was refreshingly bright. We mostly managed not to fight over who got to use that one…
Getting out of our initial predicament was a bit of a bottleneck but still an excellent idea that got the game off to a good start. One additional wrinkle here delayed us in getting entirely free, with a puzzle that pushes the boundary between ‘novel’ and ‘unfair’. I think it manages to stay just on the right side of that line, though players who end up immobilised for longer because of it might disagree.
One puzzle stood out as unusual and ambitious. The nature of it was such that the team has one shot at getting it right, with plenty of opportunity to mess it up, though the fallback is to try each of a reasonably short list of possibilities (or, I guess, get a clue from the host). While that’s enough reason to count as a flawed puzzle, it was cool enough that we were happy enough to overlook both that and the slightly questionable health and safety aspect of it.
In other respects I mostly found it a decent but average escape room, made harder to enjoy by the unrelenting and unnecessary use of darkness. However, the designer’s creativity showed through in various small ways and particularly in one clever touch that referenced the game’s title. I also really appreciated how the big search task intentionally didn’t require us to find every part of it. In a completely dark space with a large number of quite well hidden small items, it would have been a frustrating pain to find them all; but since we only had to find enough it worked well.
Each of the three games we played at Lock and Code was better than the previous one. This first one was the weakest of the three, largely but not solely because of the frustrating lack of light. If you’re picking a single game to play, then this isn’t the one to go for, but if you have the option of playing all three, either because you live nearby or because you like your games in quantity, then there’s enough here that’s interesting and well-designed that it’s worth including this one too.