Bristol, Jun 2017
Puzzlair is split across two venues, and strictly speaking Prison Van isn’t in either of them – it’s played in an actual prison van parked outside their Barton Road. If that sounds cramped – well, it’s a pretty big van, and there were only three of us, and it was fine, but it’d get pretty cosy with a larger team.
As with many prison scenarios, the team starts split up, each in a separate cell within the van. First one player then another gets out into the main part of the van, with the final aim being to open the main van door and get outside.
The very first part of this game is superb, an outstanding and realistic use of the van environment. There are a couple of other later points that approach the same naturalistic style and clever lateral thinking. Sadly, the rest of the game is much more traditional escape room fare.
The low point is an extended UV search. This was worse for us than for many teams because we played on a hot, sunny day, and the hidden writing was so difficult to pick out that we missed it repeatedly before receiving a clue to point us to the right area. Actually, possibly worse was later, needing to be told that the codes we’d been trying had been correct after all, and the locks had simply been a bit stiff. Plus – did I mention it was a hot, sunny day? – the van interior was roasting. Since I suspect it also gets chilly in cold weather, you might want to pick your game slot with a careful eye on the weather forecast.
There is a danger of failing to find a critical item, or to solve one of the puzzles, in a way that leaves one of the players stuck in their cell for half the game. Many of the items can be passed under the cell doors, so a trapped player can be kept involved to some extent, but it’s a potentially frustrating situation to be in.
We did receive clues and small nudges at a fairly steady rate through the game, via a standard TV hint system. For us they came a bit too readily, though it was probably the right sort of frequency to keep a beginner team from getting frustrated. Enthusiasts should therefore consider asking the operator before the game to give hints less quickly than normal.
The basic premise of the game, with the use of a real prison van, is fantastic. The quality of the game content is variable, but the highlights are very good. The weaknesses, particularly the UV searching and the sticky padlocks, prevent me from feeling too enthusiastic about it, but play it with a smallish team and book an after dark slot and you’ll more likely than not come out happy.