I‘ve officially been bitten by the escape room bug. After completing my first one in January while visiting Tim, Jake and Joel in Bristol, I’ve since gone on to attempt three more around the south of the UK. This won’t come as much of a surprise given that I’m a big fan of adventure games.
I’ve not been successful in getting out of every one in under an hour, but they’ve all been fun – in different ways and to varying degrees. There are definitely some elements help make a room stand out from all the others available and their owners need to consider several elements for a great experience: the background story, setting, props and how challenging the puzzles are. Here’s a round-up of the escape rooms I’ve attempted so far and whether they receive the Later Levels’ seal of approval.
Bristol: Parallax by Locked In A Room
The best thing about this one was the story: the time-travelling super genius Professor Pottenger has been kidnapped by unknown assailants and it’s up to your team to enter their hideout and unravel this peculiar mystery! The other rooms I’ve done have all provided walkie-talkies for communication with your monitor but this one used a screen that could display messages. Simply wave your arms around when you get stuck and a nice cryptic clue will appear to guide you in the right direction.
On the other hand though, the setting was a little lacking. More items were needed for the place to feel like a real living room (although I understand this could have caused some difficulty for the team moving around). But there was a nice backdrop for the photograph at the end and I can’t fault the staff at all because they were very friendly. This is one to check out if you’re in Bristol, and we’re going back for Locked In A Room’s Jungle experience with the GeekOut South-West guys in August.
London: Biohazard Laboratory by Omescape
When I found out we’d be doing this as part of a team-building exercise in March, I wasn’t happy at all. Omescape pitches its escape rooms on their website as being quite ‘sinister’ and the thought of trapped in a small, dark room with colleagues for an hour didn’t fill me with joy because I can get claustrophobic! Saying that though, it was nowhere near as scary as it was made out to be; there was only one scream from me and that was when something happened to cause an unexpected loud noise.
However, I can’t recommend it. A word to sum up the experience was ‘lazy’: everything was run down and paper items that were too faded to read properly hadn’t been reprinted. The plug socket among the shower-room mosaic tiles in the section which was meant to be a ‘sewer’ totally ruined the effect. The staff didn’t open up on time, weren’t attentive, clearly weren’t watching us while we were inside and didn’t even forward the team photograph at the end. Avoid this one and save your money for another event.
Essex: Pirate Plunder by Escape Live
My other-half and I have birthdays in April so I booked this as I thought it would be a nice child-friendly event for the family. My stepson and mother-in-law had never done an escape room before and therefore entered with some trepidation, but both left saying how much great it was. The staff were awesome, particularly the guy that monitored us; he took the time to speak to Ethan and explain what would happen as he was a little nervous about the whole thing (because Pete had jokingly told him the room would fill with water).
There are so many good things I can say about this one. The setting was brilliant and felt full of life; the backstory was interesting enough to keep the stepkid engrossed for an hour; and the puzzles fitted in well with both of those elements. The star of the show however was Tarquin. This ‘parrot’ kept us company in the room during our hour and would occasionally throw out little hints or tell us when we were heading in the wrong direction, to which we all shouted out ‘Thanks Tarquin!’. I’d highly recommend booking if you’re in the area.
Essex: Dr Wilson’s Office by Escape Live
We’d all enjoyed the Pirate Plunder experience so much that my other-half and I went back for one of Escape Live’s other rooms for a date night the following month – and we weren’t disappointed. What made it different from all the others I’ve tried so far is that we were actually locked in. At no time did we feel worried about this however; an emergency key was within reach on the wall by the door and we were constantly monitored through cameras.
On that note, a big shout-out to games-master Kane! The way he delivered rhyming clues when we needed them was awesome and he was happy to chat to us about the room afterwards. The puzzles in this one was definitely harder than our previous visit, and the clock displayed on a screen with its constant ticking during the last 20-minutes added to the pressure. It’s clear the room isn’t a new as Pirate Plunder, but there were plenty of props to make it feel like a real detective’s office from the 1920s.
Essex: Overthrone by Escape Basildon
Father’s Day and my own dad’s birthday were on the same day this year, so what better way to celebrate it than with a family attempt at an escape room. This was the biggest team we’ve tried one in so far and, even though there was more than enough space for seven of us in Escape Basildon’s Overthrone experience, so many people made it more difficult. It was hard to keep track of who was looking at which clue when so I’d recommend going with a smaller group if you can!
Unfortunately we didn’t make it out of this one within the hour time-limit, but our game master kindly let us continue for another few minutes until we’d solved the few puzzles. This room obviously isn’t as new as some of the others we’ve tried as it’s taken a bit of a beating in certain areas; and some of the items within it, such as plastic shields and vinyl decals on the walls let it down a bit. It was good for a family afternoon and we enjoyed the theme but sadly it doesn’t make it into the top three.
So the winner at the moment is Pirate Plunder by Escape Live. But with Jungle by Locked In A Room scheduled for August, will it remain that way? If there are any escape rooms you’d like to recommend, please do leave the details in the comments below!
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.