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The great escape (room)

Escape Live, Pirate Plunder, escape room, pirates
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I’ve mentioned escape rooms a few times over the past couple of months.

Pete and I completed our first in January 2019 during a trip to Bristol to visit friends-of-the-blog Tim and Jake. We were well and truly bitten by the bug afterwards and went on to book another experience around the UK every month or so.

It’s not a surprise that I enjoy them so much, given how much I love the adventure genre when it comes to gaming. Visiting an escape room is almost like being dropped into your very own real-life video game. There’s always a backstory full of mystery and intrigue, an enemy of some sort to defeat, and plenty of puzzles standing in the way of your goal.

Although we haven’t been successful in getting out of every room in under an hour, they’ve all been fun in their own way. It’s worth being aware though that you can never quite tell what the quality of an experience is going to be like until you step into it. There are definitely some elements which can make it stand out from others, such as a good setting, interesting props and level of challenge.

The UK lockdowns unfortunately prevented us from going to any escape rooms for a few years. We’re looking forward to getting back to doing them again regularly; we visited our first since November 2019 in March and have got our eye on a new experience opening at a local venue soon. Here’s a round-up of the rooms we’ve attempted so far and whether they’re worth adding to your to-do list.

January 2019: Infinity in Brisol

Worth a visit: yes

It was the backstory which drew us to Locked In A Room’s experience: 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 find out what’s going on. It’s just a shame that the setting was a little lacking. More items were needed to really make the place feel like a living room, although this might have caused a few issues for larger teams when trying to move around. The staff were very friendly though and made it a great first escape room.

March 2019: Biohazard Lab in London

Worth a visit: no

I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one by Omescape at all. The only way I can sum up the experience is ‘lazy’: everything was run down and felt sticky and dirty. 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 the venue on time, weren’t attentive, clearly weren’t watching us while we were inside and didn’t email the team photograph as they promised to do. The only good thing about it was that I got to hang out with friend-of-the-blog Phil for an hour.

April 2019: Pirate Plunder in Essex

Worth a visit: definitely

This was the first time my stepson and mother-in-law joined us for an escape room and there are so many good things to say about it. The setting was brilliant and felt full of life; the backstory was interesting enough to keep the kid entertained and the puzzles fit in well with both of those elements. The star of the show was Tarquin. This ‘parrot’ kept us company in the room and would occasionally throw out little hints or stop for a chat. I’d highly recommend booking this one by Escape Live if you’re able to get to it.

May 2019: Dr Wilson’s Office in Essex

Worth a visit: yes, but this room no longer available

Pete and I were so impressed by the room opposite that we returned to the venue for another the following month. This one was different because we were actually locked in, but we didn’t feel worried about it whatsoever thanks to a nearby emergency key and camera monitoring. The puzzles here were harder than our previous visit and the clock displayed on a screen with constant ticking added to the pressure. It was thanks to clues from the awesome game master Kane that we managed to escape on time.

June 2019: Overthrone in Essex

Worth a visit: no

We booked this experience at Escape Basildon for my dad’s birthday and it was the biggest team we’d played with so far. The room was a good size so there was plenty of space to move around, even if it did get a little chaotic with six of us shouting at each other. It obviously wasn’t as new as some of the other venues we’d visited and had taken a bit of a beating in certain areas, with items such as the plastic shields and vinyl wall decals letting it down. It was ok for a family afternoon and we enjoyed the knight theme but there are better rooms out there.

August 2019: Parallax in Bristol

Worth a visit: yes

During another trip to see Tim and Jake, we decided to attempt the follow-up to Locked In A Room’s Infinity and set out to save the kidnapped Professor Pottenger once again. The room was rather bare like our previous visit at this venue, but we were glad about the additional space as we had a bigger team this time. The staff were as friendly as we remembered them to be and were so good at making my stepson feel comfortable. The only experience we haven’t completed here is Jungle, and so doubt we’ll be back to finish it off at some point.

November 2019: Star Quest in Essex

Worth a visit: yes

We’d had such a good experience with Escape Live previously that we jumped at the chance to try an escape room at their new venue. Advertised as being more ‘modern’ than other experiences, it focused on electronic and physical puzzles instead of combinations and padlocks. It was great being one of the first teams in the room; but the downside was that the staff were still smoothing out the teething problems and had to help when things didn’t go according to plan. I can’t fault them for their attentiveness though and would visit again.

March 2022: The Grail in Birmingham

Worth a visit: yes

After watching The Da Vinchi Code for the first time and then following it up by playing the PlayStation 2 game, Pete decided he’d like to try an escape room in a similar vein. We were hoping it was going to be good as it was our first experience in several years due to the COVID lockdowns. While it wasn’t our favourite room and looked a bit tired compared to some other venues, we enjoyed the use of physical puzzles and getting our hands on a cryptex for the final challenge. We manged to get out on time so Tom Hanks would have been proud.

There’s always a backstory full of mystery and intrigue, an enemy of some sort to defeat, and plenty of puzzles standing in the way of your goal.

Dr Wilson’s Office is no longer be available but Escape Live have replaced it with a sequel called The Magpie Mystery which opened this weekend. Players take on the role of reporters trying to track down a group of thieves and criminals who are wreaking havoc on the town, and your editor is convinced that the identity of their leader is hidden somewhere in – you guessed it – Dr Wilson’s office. We’ve booked ourselves a slot for the end of the month and are looking forward to trying another of their escape rooms.

We’re also considering Escape Hunt’s Escape from the Wild West in December, during a Christmas getaway with friends. Hopefully we’ll manage to get a few more in before then too. If there are any experiences you can recommend in the UK, please do get in touch and let us know.

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