Oakham, Jul 2019
Newly opened in Oakham, One Way Out’s first game had only been running a couple of weeks when I tried it, earlier than I’d usually visit a new game. While the name Gas Alert might suggest something industrial maybe set in a factory, it is instead set in an academic laboratory with a setting that instantly reminded me of school chemistry lessons.
Many escape room themes have you heroically saving the day, but in this one you’re extricating yourselves from a mess entirely of your own creation – after breaking into a laboratory and spilling something you shouldn’t have, you’ve accidentally poisoned yourselves and need to whip up an antidote before you keel over. This isn’t a simple excuse for some puzzles in a laboratory – the game went the extra mile to set the scene at the beginning, and then developed the setting’s story further in the background as the game continued.
At several points we opened one thing or another to find a message addressing us as players. This fourth-wall breaking quirk might reduce immersion for some, but I very much enjoyed the light humour these messages added in.
However, what’s really distinctive about Gas Alert! is the amount of Actual Science it involves. Although a great many escape rooms use some kind of laboratory setting, for most that’s window dressing. In contrast, this is a game designed and built by a former school science teacher, and it shows – you can expect to get hands-on with actual chemicals, and although that’s around the level of a GCSE science experiment it’s still a novel and cool addition to the game that provides quite a few memorable puzzles.
I found our host rather quick to offer hints. I’m sure I could have asked her to let us tackle things for a bit longer before helping, but there’s the risk of refusing help then finding out it was badly needed. In fact, I think without hints we’d have gone quite some way over time. The puzzles all made sense, but the room structure is both busy and open, and my impression is that we would have followed plenty of false trails without the gamemaster’s frequent nudges. Which suggests the nudges were well-judged; but still, I’d have preferred more in-game signposting and fewer interventions.
However, that’s also the kind of thing that will undoubtedly get smoother as the venue settles in and continues to fine-tune the game. And although Gas Alert! is not perfectly polished, it’s also effervescing with energy and ideas. It feels like an ‘indie’ creation, where the base decor is pretty plain but then elevated by a variety of effects and decorations, and where you should find plenty that’s fresh and original even if you’ve played a good number of games already.