Leicestershire, Nov 2016
We signed up to a weekend 10am slot at this escape room venue in the heart of Leicestershire, mainly as it was en route to visiting family, but also because they proudly mentioned how couples were very welcome at the venue.
Based at the Twin Lakes site, which is ostensibly an Alton Towers type affair aimed at younger children, the site was large and parking was ample.
We arrived a little early for the 10am slot, as the instructions requested but the separate outbuilding hosting their two (soon to be 3) rooms was closed until 10 on the dot. There are no toilets in the venue, so make sure you go before you go, so to speak.
On entering, a pretty well-decorated and lavish reception area greeted us, as well as large TV screens showing the leaderboard for the rooms there, and one at another local venue they run. The building was absolutely freezing. It hadn’t been heated overnight and we were first in. Mrs Chris could barely feel her fingers and had to wear an outside coat throughout. I didn’t bring a coat, given the indoor nature of the venue, but I was also extremely cold. Whilst I appreciate it was a cold morning, surely heating the building would be a good idea? It’s unwelcoming at best.
As mentioned, the website was clear that the room was suitable for 2 people, yet given the sheer volume of stuff in the room(s) – that really does not seem to be the case.
What’s frustrating is that I later realised that their Facebook page claims the room is suitable for 3-8 people, contrary to their own website. This aligns better with the volume of things to solve and making it a better prospect for a large team.
After the briefest of introductions from the gamesmaster, we were placed straight into the room, initially in a tighter space which represented the exterior of the bank were meant to be heisting. Eight people in here would be unpleasant, so larger groups should bear that in mind.
Whilst very nicely styled, there was little logic to the final lock to break into the room proper – requiring a clue after significant searching through what was quite literally rubbish in a dustbin using a torch and the floor.
It was unfortunately a sign of what’s was in store for the remainder of our time. A somewhat run-of-the-mill room filled with period (read: “Car Boot Sale”) furniture one might expect to find in a 1970s Bank Managers’ office awaited us, again, at this stage there was not much to create tension or intrigue. A series of wooden objects were there to be repeatedly discovered, as well as a fairly interesting electrical device based puzzle that allowed us to make further progress. Somehow (no idea how) we finished that, and got into yet another room.
I always enjoy escape rooms with different zones, rooms and areas to open up. It makes the experience feel more realistic, and the excitement of opening up a new section never fails to give you the thrill of going into a room for the first time. This room has plenty of space and new areas to explore, more than any other room I’d done previously – bonus marks there.
There was a lot to be done in the main section of the room – some fairly routine puzzles around money, banknotes and a magnetic maze puzzle seemed to be progressing pretty well.
The peace and quiet of puzzle breaking was broken by something we were warned of ahead of entering the room. There’s times in the game where we needed to hide, to avoid detection. I absolutely loved this gameplay device, and it’s not used often enough.
It seemed like we were doing fairly well, but I had started to wonder if things were going as smoothly as I had thought by this stage.
By that stage, we had requested clues on a number of occasions, yet these were only given in around half thee occasions we asked. The requests fell on deaf ears – with no feedback as to why we could not have a clue. Up front, we were told we could ask at any time. We rarely ask for many clues unless we are completely stuck, so my assumption at this stage was that we were ahead of time, and clues would allow us to get out too quickly.
On the topic of clues – when doing rooms as a pair, especially for rooms designed for up to 8 people, it’s really important that the gamesmaster acts like the third player, helping the pair to get there, or thereabouts. Every great experience we’ve had playing as 2, has always had lots of fun engagement from the host throughout.
The lack of engagement hit a new low when the torch batteries ran out during the game, making it much harder to see in the darker areas – I asked three times for a working torch, but nothing! I’m not convinced the host was paying attention throughout.
Some of the puzzles were convoluted, and overly complex, requiring some leaps of logic and guesswork. A puzzle on the theme of countries of the world was a particular lowlight, but the prize for the worst surely goes to a count-the-objects-in-a-picture puzzle involving mutated currency logos which was impenetrably difficult and prone to miscounts.
The culmination of this lack of involvement from the gamesmaster was when we realised the final door wasn’t actually the final door, but another room altogether, packed with lots of new, exciting looking puzzles. We were not even remotely close to the finish. The lack of assistance when requested (or when it was clear we were well behind) meant that we only got to see the final room for less than 2 minutes. It turned out we had missed a hidden item at the start of the game, which meant we weren’t even close to solving the puzzles inside the final room. The host showed us at the end where it was – completely OTT and I passed on feedback that a kinder hiding place for a small team would make a lot of sense.
It clearly looked like a really interesting puzzle set, but we were just hopelessly behind. This made for a terrible experience, because the entire point of the room was to steal the diamond, but we hardly saw it.
When you compare this to the passionate, careful hosting seen in other rooms, it just leaves something of a sour taste.
We left pretty dejected, and unlikely to return. I attempted some dialogue with the management team afterwards, but they were not interested in feedback. Totally at odds with every other experience I’ve had at escape rooms, which almost always results in a passionate excited conversation about the room, and escape rooms in general. This is, I suspect, the problem with large commercial entities adding them to their site as a “me too”.
In summary, for larger teams, there’s certainly more chance to progress, but the fundamentals of enjoyment are unlikely to change if the lack of staff engagement remains.