Barcelona – Such a beautiful horizon

Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe sing Barcelona
They’re not the only ones singing about Barcelona

I’m not saying it’s a long time since I’ve posted here, but the interface has completely changed and I’ve no idea what I’m doing. Hey ho, let’s go.

You may recall that I don’t do long form reviews any more (yes, yes, I don’t do anything any more), but when you’ve played 41 escape rooms in a city that people may be interested in, then you’ve got to write something. And that something is going to be pretty long. So let me cut right to the chase:

BARCELONA IS THE BEST AND YOU SHOULD ALL GO THERE RIGHT NOW.

What? You’re still here? Okay I’ll give you more detail. I’ll start with brief thoughts on all 41 rooms played, sorted alphabetically by site. I’ll also summarise some general pointers, and pick out the very best as recommendations at the end. Feel free to skip around as you wish. I’m not your supervisor.

Reviews

Abduction (Badalona, 30 minutes NE of Barcelona)

Abduction take quite an unusual approach to the way their games are marketed. They have three games, and promote them almost as separate companies/places, as Abduction, Abduction 2 and Abduction 3. Abduction (1) is in a building of its own, so is perhaps fairly represented as a separate entity, but 2 and 3 share the same site which is a little weird. Anyway, as long as you google the full name you should be fine.

1. The Fall of the Regime (La Caida del Regimen) – 6/10

A solid room with a couple of nice moments but not particularly beautiful or memorable.

3. The Exam – 10/10

This is possibly a room where the less you know the better it is, so just go and play it right now (but check if it’s available in English; it was temporarily done for us, and we were told a permanent solution was in the works).

If you want to know more read the next paragraph.

The ‘plot’ is Cube meets Saw. Your abilities are being tested for reasons that aren’t clear. And you’re also being manipulated in order to test different abilities. As a fan of both those films, this game has done the best job of capturing the helpless, ominous feeling, and I liked it a lot.

Addams House

Addams House have gone all in on theming their entire site around the Addam’s Family. Whether they intend to do any more rooms is unknown. However I did note that there was an Addams Family theatre show being advertised around town, so maybe it’s a big thing in Spain?

Fortune of the Addams – 6/10

This game isn’t currently available in English, we played with Spanish friends who translated for us.

My main memory of this game is ‘frantic’. With six of us playing you had to be on your toes to stay involved otherwise you’d miss what was happening. There were some novel touches, including one of the standouts of the whole trip, but difficult to fully appreciate with the language barrier.

Barcelocked

Arguably the best site name in the city, but unfortunately not the game to live up to it.

Orwell’s Secret Office – 4/10

This is a huge space with a couple of cute puzzles but it isn’t beautiful and a lot of things you’ll have seen before.

Bizarre

With so many horror and/or adventure themed rooms in the city, Bizarre offer something different (or do they, dum dum duuuuuuuuuuum). They also offer exclusive golden badges if you get out of a room with no clues, which I’m now the proud owner of (for Circus).

Circus – 7/10

This one has the better smells (yes smells) and slightly better puzzles…

Toys – 6/10

…whereas this one has the better decoration and plot.

Both solid but not outstanding games

Chicken Banana

Chicken Banana, despite it’s unfamiliar name, is very similar to ‘middle of the road’ companies you might come across in the UK.

Mafia – 3/10

Arguably the weakest room we played on the whole trip. It had one cool feature that made no sense in the context of the room, and the rest was very forgettable.

Prison – 6/10

The title doesn’t do this room justice. This isn’t a typical prison break. This is a prison in a dystopian future where emotion has been outlawed (Equilibrium for film fans). There are some fairly strong puzzles here set in an interesting space.

Just don’t play it when you really should be somewhere else (this isn’t cryptic, we were very late for our next game!).

Psychiatry – 5/10

Another solid room that did more with its theme than you usually get with the ‘asylum’ genre, but not one to go out of your way for.

Cronologic

Information you don’t need: Cronologic’s first game was originally where The Journey Continues currently is. Then they built The Creation as a kind of prequel. They then replaced their first game with The Journey Continues which is a kind of new timeline. Confused? Good. Time travel is hard.

Information you need: These games aren’t currently available in English. We played with a translator in the room with us, which I’m not really a fan of (with no complaints about our translator, Victor, he was great!).

The Creation – 8/10

There’s a lot to like about this game. The set is absolutely beautiful, and the game has you doing some pretty unusual things. My issue with it is that the whole thing felt incredibly linear and that only one or two people could do anything at once (possibly heightened by the language barrier). But I think in a smaller group (and with a full translation) it would be a blast.

The Journey Continues (El Viaje Continua) – 7/10

An interesting take on the time travel genre where you have to use your time machine for more than just getting there and back, as well as learning new information about the period you visit.

Post escape photo from The Creation at Cronologic Barcelona
Health and safety is everyone’s responsibility, apart from Dave

Cinema Escape

Down an unassuming street, with an unassuming entrance, you’ll find Cinema Escape. Don’t be fooled by appearances, this place knows what they’re doing. In a really nice idea (though I’m sure it gets less nice every time), before you play you sit in a cinema and see trailers for the games that you’re not playing.

Barun Dum – 9/10

At the start of this game there is a weak puzzle, which I can only guess was simplified because it was taking teams too long. That is the only weakness in the game. For those unfamiliar with the name, this is a Lord of the Rings game, and captures the feeling of that world brilliantly, without resorting to clunky references to Frodo and co. This is your own adventure in that world, and it’s very good.

Codik (Sant Joan de Vilatorrada, 60 mins NW of Barcelona)

Codik is a pretty long way outside of the city but came strongly recommended by locals, plus there are other recommended games nearby.

The Project – 6/10

Of all the games that were strongly recommended to us this is the one that fell flattest for me. The first half of the game is extremely standard fare. The second half is… different, but still didn’t do much for me. However we were playing a toned down version so perhaps the scary version is better.

Cubick (Mataro, 40 minutes NE of Barcelona)

Another site outside the city, but Mataro is definitely one of the suburbs you’ll want to visit. Cubick has two of the highest rated games in the World according to the Top Escape Rooms project, so we were very excited to try them.

The Interview (Entrevista) – 7/10

Another game where it may be better to not know anything about it, but I’m sure you’re going to carry on reading anyway.

Just in case you don’t want to, here’s another line break.

It doesn’t take long for you to find out this isn’t a normal interview. In fact, it’s much more like a normal serial killer room. You wake up imprisoned in an asylum and you need to get out of there. But this is not “the killer has conveniently gone for a 60 minutes walk”, the killer is watching you on the cameras, and is testing your worthiness. And boy are you tested. There’s one point in this game I felt like I was on SAS: Who Dares Wins. A good experience but not one I’d want to replay.

The Kidnapping (El Secuestro) – 8/10

A much more straightforward setup this time; a young girl, Maria, has been kidnapped and you have to find her. You’re looking through a deserted, dingy factory/warehouse, and the look and feel of it is absolutely perfect. As you get closer to Maria the atmosphere really ramps up, and I was 100% bought in.

Most people rate The Interview as the best of the two, but I preferred The Kidnapping.

Dia-D

Do you think you could be a soldier? Do you have what it takes to risk it all for your country? Don’t worry, once you’ve had your pre-game briefing, you’ll be chomping at the bit to charge into battle.

D-Day – 7/10

Dia-D/D-Day means the same thing, so you know what you’re getting yourself into here, though you’ll be surprised how you go about it. After the incredible pre-game briefing the start of the game is at a more gentle pace. You actually have to make your way to the frontlines before you can do your duty. The pacing of the game is excellent as you build up to probably my favourite moment of the whole trip. It’s not all at that level but overall is certainly a fun time.

Escape Barcelona

…managed to have one of the most ambitious, immersive and novel games I’ve ever played, and one of most old-fashioned, dated rooms. See if you can work out which is which.

Alien: Origin – 9/10

Before you blast off in this game you’re assigned into two teams; Engineering and Security. You’re then given wrist bands that control which parts of the ship you can access. You’ve guessed haven’t you? This is the good one (and yes I know the score in the header was a clue).

I absolutely loved about 80% of this game, but, sadly, I felt it really tailed off towards the end, costing it a perfect score. Still an absolute must play though.

Jurassic Land – 4/10

When you first enter this game you’re in the Jurassic Land Gift Shop. Because that’s exactly what I’m expecting in a dinosaur game. There were a couple of nice puzzles later on but the main memory is just one of disappointment.

Escapem (Sabadell, 40 minutes N of Barcelona)

Escape M? Escap’ ’em? Who knows? Who cares?

Below Zero – 8/10

“Ideal for those people looking for a room with some differentiating and original” says their (Google-translated) website. You start the game by getting in a helicopter. Yes, I did just say that. If that’s all you did then I would say they accomplished their mission, but this game is much more than that. The game had some of my favourite puzzles and tasks in the whole trip, and is definitely something different.

Fear Escape

Fear Escape’s entrance makes you force your way through heavy plastic sheeting, warning you not to enter the quarantined area, but makes for some great photo opportunities.

Zombie Outbreak – 9/10

How many zombie games have you played? Lots, right? How many of them have made reference to Resident Evil? Probably a few. How many of them have made you say “OMG, I actually feel like I’m in Resident Evil!”? If the answer is none then you haven’t played Zombie Outbreak.

Post escape photo from Zombie Outbreak at Fear Escape Barcelona
Don’t try and wear a lab coat over the top of your hoodie, kids

Futura (Pineda de Mar, 60 minutes NE of Barcelona

One of the longest journeys we took on the trip, but mark it down as sight-seeing and you’ll be happy.

Futura – 7/10

If there were prizes for most beautiful room, Futura would be a shoe-in. It’s based on the underwater world of Rapture from the videogame BioShock, and captures it incredibly. However the puzzles are a touch on the easy side and if you don’t get stuck on something obvious (like we did, twice) you might be able to get through this world without having chance to have a good look at it.

Golden Pop

The “pop” in question is popcorn. Golden Pop styles itself as a cinema, and offers its games as interactive movies. You start your experience sat on fold-down chairs watching a film, and just as you get to the edge of your seat with excitement, the screen moves out of the way and you literally climb into the action and takeover. This is how all briefings should be.

Catacombs (Catacumbas) – 10/10**

The Top Escape Rooms Project rate this as the best game in Spain, and the 11th best room in the world. I can agree with the first part, and can only salivate about the 10 higher-rated if they are indeed better. This is the best escape room I’ve ever played. The story is thrilling. The set is beautiful. The puzzles are satisfying. The effects are incredible. I genuinely can’t fault it. Perhaps the perfect game.

**In absolutely heartbreaking news, as of 19th May 2019, I’ve been reliably informed that many parts of this game have now been removed or extensively reworked (due to the departure of “technical expertise” that made them possible). It is also no longer being offered for play in English. At this moment I cannot recommend playing this game.

InMortal

Please note that InMortal Room and Inmortum Room Escape are separate entities. We didn’t get chance to play the latter, but we heard good things. We also heard good things about the former, and did get chance to play it.

The Diamond of Souls (El Diamante de Almas) – 7/10

You don’t start this experience in an escape room. You are welcomed to an exhibition of Alon Furst’s finest jewelry, by his memorable assistant. While you’re wined and dined strange things start to happen. I can’t say too much, but suffice to say we played in ‘mystery (tame) mode’ and were absolutely terrified. So, yeah, good luck.

La Clau (Manresa, 60 minutes NW of Barcelona)

Scary rooms are a big thing in Spain. La Clau is regarded as one of the scariest. When you get creeped out stood in the lobby you can see why.

Until Dawn – 7/10

Funny (and I use the term quite wrongly) that this and InMortal, above, should end up next to each other alphabetically. Again we played in ‘mystery mode’. Again we were terrified. Some of the ‘effects’ here were breathtakingly good. But this one leaned a touch toward the ‘scare attraction that had puzzles’ for me rather than ‘just’ a scary escape room. But if that’s your bag then I think you’d probably love it.

Lock Clock

Lock Clock is another site that I wouldn’t be surprised to find in the UK. It’s perfectly fine and you can have a good time there. But there are many, many better options not far away.

After-Party – 4/10

As “you’ve woken up with a hangover and can’t remember what happened” games go, this is one of the better ones. But that’s faint praise indeed, as this genre is usually terrible. Great soundtrack though.

Aztec Treasure – 4/10

This is the room we escaped from in eight minutes. As such it will always have a special place in my heart. Difficult to really gauge a room when you spend so little time in it, but I think it would probably be fine for a new group. It was the logic of it that allowed us to go so fast.

Mission Gaudi – 5/10

It’s a nice looking room and one of very few to tap into the local area as inspiration. Again, it’s nice and logical and fair. Our fast time here, in their ‘medium difficulty’ room, was what encouraged us to go so fast in Aztec Treasure.

Maximum Escape

…has eight games on one site, which is pretty rare. And if there were prizes for ‘most good games in one building’ and/or ‘most varied games in one building’ then it would win hands down. If you want to play a lot of good games but without moving anywhere (I don’t know, maybe some of you do) then this is the place to go.

Damn Fame! – 4/10

Alphabetical convention says this should come first, but I’m not sure where to begin. This is a very surreal experience. You’re in the mind of an artist but all the colours have been stolen. Or something? I’ve no idea. And the puzzles were similarly bizarre. Memorable but purely for the weirdness.

Darkness – 5/10

This alphabet thing is a conspiracy. Darkness is another incredibly bizarre experience to describe. The short story is that you’re in darkness. And there aren’t enough torches. In fact, there are no torches. The whole thing takes place in the pitch black. I’m not usually bothered by darkness or claustrophobia or anything like that, but there is something very weird about having your eyes open and being able to see nothing.

Once (if) you’ve adjusted, you have to make your way through a fairy tale forest full of oddities that you have to see feel to believe. And if all that isn’t strange enough, it’s also incredibly physically demanding. “Everyone comes out of this game covered in sweat” they warned us. They were right.

I’m not sure this even counts as an escape room, but was a fun thing to try.

Dungeon – 6/10

Okay, back to something that’s identifiable as an escape room. And a really solid if unspectacular one. Decent puzzles and dexterity tasks but nothing that really stood out for me.

Gangsters – 6/10

…And this was very similar except you were a prohibition time gangster. There were a couple of memorable moments in this one, but there were also a couple of weaker bits.

Prisoners of Alkaban – 6/10

No, autocorrect, I do not mean Azkaban, as that would be IP infringement.

You take on the role of Larry Porter and friends as you try and escape unfair arrest in a magical prison. As with Gangsters, there are a few really nice effects here but also a couple of flat bits. Though saying that, this could probably be an outstanding game in a different city.

Sherlock Holmes vs. The Devil of London – 6/10

Just when you thought I hadn’t mentioned a scary room for a while, we have to go and face The Devil. In keeping with the title (and the cliche), this is a game of two halves. At first you have a pretty standard Sherlock story, trying to find The Devil. Then you have to go and face them. Unsurprisingly, that’s where stuff gets weird. Brace yourself.

Ulysses Spaceship – 9/10

Okay, let’s get the bad news out of the way. The start of this game is really boring. You’re stuck on a spaceship and the only thing to entertain you is the type of puzzle that you’ll have seen many times before.

Then the good news: The rest of this game is fantastic. This was the third game we played on the trip and the first time (but certainly not the last) I had to pause and say “wow, this is incredible”. So get through the first bit and enjoy.

Vault 27 (Refuge 27) – 8/10

Another contender for the most beautiful game award, and a definite winner of ‘most beautiful bit that you only spend 30 seconds in’ (which is the same comment other enthusiasts made as soon as we mentioned the room).

Early in this room I thought I was going to love it. There are a lot of very interesting ideas that I’ve not seen elsewhere. Unfortunately those ideas sometimes don’t go anywhere, which leaves you a bit dissatisfied on the puzzle side. But there’s definitely enough here to make it rate highly overall.

Open Mind Room Escape

I’m specifically calling it Open Mind Room Escape, as “Open Mind Barcelona” is something else entirely. The site is in an area called Cornella de Llobregat which is either just in or just out of Barcelona depending on your definition.

SWAT – 9/10

SWAT is such an appropriate name for this room as it’s an all-out, action-packed offence on the senses. It covers a huge space and re-invents itself a number of times throughout the experience. Its puzzles aren’t its strongest feature, which is why it misses out on a 10, but it makes up for it on ‘things you don’t expect in escape rooms’.

Post escape photo from SWAT at Open Mind Barcelona
Coming soon to Netflix: SWAT² – Swats in the classrom, SWAT on the streets.

Tactic

While waiting in the lobby here we bumped into another team from England. We asked them if they were escape room tourists and doing a number of rooms. They looked at each other, laughed and then sneered “just this one”. They chose poorly (but they deserved it).

Chernobyl – 5/10

This was the first of Tactic’s rooms that we played and it was fine. The last puzzle was even quite nice…

Epidemic Z – 2/10

…whereas all I can remember about this one was looking for some tiny wires in the dark…

Paranormal House – 4/10

…and this one was a bog standard haunted house game.

The Resistance

Not just an album by Muse but also an escape room in Barcelona. Both are quite sci-fi-ish. Coincidence? Probably.

Alien Shuttle – 7/10

Aka “Alien not origin”. This is a very nice looking game with solid puzzles. In most cities in the world this would be a stand-out alien game, but unfortunately here it’s up against “Alien is origin”. Still, there’s a good time to be had here, and the post-escape photo props are outstanding.

Unreal Escape

…is the same creative minds as Open Mind, which I predicted from their similar window displays. Oh yeah, Columbo’s got nothing on me.

The Mine (La Mina) – 8/10

Described by the owner of another mine-based escape room as “the game I wish we could have made”, this is a very feature-rich room, with lots of great mechanisms, set pieces and puzzles. And any game that evokes the Fun House theme is fine with me.

One extra point: You may get dirty playing this game, so don’t wear your best clothes.*

Post escape photo from The Mine at Unreal Escape Barcelona
Mine – rock. Rocking – Mining. Get it? No, me neither.

General points

Okay, we made it; 41 reviews in a single article. But before you rush off to book your flights/games, please consider these, what the Spanish might call ‘generalismos’. These, of course, don’t apply to every room, but happened enough on the trip for it to be worth mentioning:

  • A word we used a lot in describing the games is ‘experiential’. There is a lot more emphasis on aesthetics, narrative and immersion than in a typical game here in the UK. Sometimes that means you do a lot of hands on tasks, and less ‘stop and think about it’ puzzles. But that’s not to say games are easy or completely non-puzzly at all.
  • As part of that experiential, uhm, experience, a lot of places start as soon as you walk in the door, with an in-character GM or sometimes just audio/written instructions to put your stuff in a locker and take a seat. As such, you should turn up at the time it says on your booking confirmation rather than expecting to sit in the reception area.
  • Further to that; toilets can be weird! In many games the toilet is actually accessible from the game so that you don’t have to leave should it be required. The restriction is of course that you need to get to that part of the room first!
  • While 60 minutes is still the norm duration-wise there are a lot of exceptions. We played multiple 70, 80 and 90 minutes games. And with that emphasis on experience again, very few of them can be blitzed through quickly, so be cautious of how tightly you pack your schedule if bingeing.
  • The Spanish seem to like their scary games, and I’m told they can be very scary indeed if that’s how you like it. Alternatively many of them offer ‘mystery mode’ where the scares are toned down or even removed altogether. Let the owners know so that you can have a game that you will enjoy.
  • Speaking of Spanish (see what I did there), not all the games are available in English. I’ve tried to note where I know it isn’t but certainly check before booking. Having said that we told owners that we would be sending lots of UK enthusiasts over (who probably wouldn’t speak Spanish) so suggested it be something they look into if possible.
  • Finally, while this is a ‘guide to Barcelona’, as noted, some of these games are in the surrounding areas rather than the city itself. You will almost certainly need to rent a car to reach some of them. So check a map before booking.

Top recommendations

This post just crossed the 4000 word mark. A busy person like you doesn’t have time to read all that (but thank you if you did). So here, just for you, is my verdict on the best games in Barcelona:

1. Catacombs – Golden Pop***
2. The Exam – Abduction
3. SWAT – Open Mind
4. Alien: Origin – Escape Barcelona
5. Ulysses Spaceship – Maximum Escape
6. Zombie Outbreak – Fear Escape
7. Barun Dum – Cinema Escape
8. Below Zero – Escapem
9. The Mine – Unreal Escape
10. Vault 27 – Maximum Escape
11. The Creation – Cronologic
12. The Kidnapping – Cubick

***Please see the comments on Golden Pop above

Post escape photo from Catacombs at Golden Pop Barcelona
Combined, the people in this photo have played over two trillion escape rooms

And that’s it. This Barcelona trip has been a real game changer (hey that’s card – niches within niches). My expectations of escape rooms have irreversibly increased. Owners of the UK – I’m afraid you need to pick your game(s) up. Owners and enthusiasts of Barcelona – Thank you. I’ll be back.

*In an earlier version of this article I said that certain elements of The Mine were unavailable if you played at night. This was a misunderstanding on my part and has been corrected

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