London, Apr 2019
Walking into the game that London Escaped bill as their hardest room, my first impression was entirely positive – a spacious room with both atmosphere and character. I mention that since pretty much all of my subsequent impressions of the game were much less favourable.
Even experienced players will sometimes just not get a puzzle, through no fault of the puzzle’s design; and one of the challenges of reviewing escape rooms is judging whether a puzzle is solid whether or not it made sense to you at the time. However, in the case of Vampire Slayer I don’t feel it’s a subjective judgement call, and as evidence I can point to the fact that in the pre-game briefing they give teams a printed walkthrough.
That’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight: it’s a sheet telling you what order to tackle the puzzles in, and roughly what you need to do for each. (That turned out to be misleading for one section, but I think by accident rather than design.) I suspect this was not originally part of the design, but is instead something the venue added in response to finding how few groups were completing the game.
The puzzle flaws were numerous but only a few were severe. The worst was one where we knew what to do and tried at length to get any kind of answer; after the game our gamemaster tried to demonstrate and couldn’t really make it work either. Another required a huge leap to guess what to do; with a third, the expected action didn’t trigger the mechanism, but we managed to do so by pressing nearby instead. Other steps were merely a bit arbitrary, or failed to feedback such that we kept trying to solve something we’d already completed. A rare non-electronic puzzle had promise, but had been reset in such a way that it could be trivially solved.
More than any of that, what really made it a painful experience was that the gamemaster stuck entirely to a narrow range of pre-recorded hint messages. My patience was entirely exhausted on receiving for the fifth time an identical hint message cheerfully suggesting we try the thing we’d been attempting for the last ten minutes. It seemed like they had exactly one hint message available per puzzle, and repeated them over and over whether or not they were in any way useful.
Later stages of the game were merely poor instead of terrible, and at a couple of points I even started to have fun again, briefly. The problems were all the more frustrating for seeing so much that could have been good, so badly squandered – visually the game looks great, and builds up to what could be a decent ending.
On the way out of the venue afterwards, I noticed a member of staff struggling with the lobby vending machine, which appeared to be suffering from a tech fault – which seemed a fitting coda to our visit.