Another risk of doing a review a long time after a visit is that things might have changed. That’s why I always start my reviews by saying when I visited (and I’m doing reviews for new escapes straight after visiting to ensure they’re relevant). The Logic Escapes Me is always on top of his reviews, so are usually published within a week of his visit. You can read his thoughts on Escape Room Preston here, here, here and here. Despite his timeliness someone (ostensibly) from Escape Room Preston chose to reply to those reviews and suggest that his observations were out-of-date as (some of) those issues had now been addressed. If I ever go back I’ll be able and happy to confirm (or deny) this, but all I can do for now is tell you about my visit to the Gallery from December 2015.
We arrived at Escape Room Preston after an enjoyable few hours at Dice & Donuts, Preston’s board game cafe, and a not so enjoyable wait to get off Preston’s terribly designed city centre car park. But this wasn’t a concern for the site as it’s five minutes north of the centre, in an old mill building with plenty of free parking. We went inside to the reception desk, “Hi, are you here to play Taken?” “No, we’re booked in for Gallery and Vampire Chronicles” (review coming soon). Confused look. “Okay please take a seat” which we did in their nicely furnished waiting area. A few minutes passed while we admired their graffiti-style decoration outside each room. I always like it when people go to the effort to decorate the whole facility rather than just the rooms. We were then joined, purely coincidentally, by a group that we had met earlier at Dice & Donuts who were there to play Taken. Their stay was only brief though as they were whisked away to use a very particular set of skills in their game. We continued to wait. A few more minutes passed before a different member of staff asked “Oh, are you not with the other group?”. Despite the fact that we quite clearly weren’t I simply reiterated that we were here for Gallery and Vampire Chronicles. A few more minutes, now 15 past our booked start time, we were introduced to our room:
A challenge has been sent out to international art thieves by the self-proclaimed “thief-proof” gallery. You are a Master Art-Thief, and you have assembled a crew of criminal specialists with years of experience to aid you in breaking into this gallery, and your aim is for their most prized possession; the priceless painting being exhibited there for a one-day event. Security in the gallery has been set to its maximum level for this particular event, and you have chosen the very same day to execute your plans. You and your team only have 60 minutes to infiltrate the gallery, bypass the high-tech security system, steal the priceless painting, and escape before you are caught within the act.
Being a veteran of Escape Room Manchester I had a pretty clear view of what to expect inside and there were no surprises here. The room was nicely presented. The puzzles were logical and on theme, but there wasn’t enough of them. And they had the universally hated ‘press the button and someone will come into the room to help you’ hint system.
After just 25 minutes we had made our way to the final room and the final puzzle. We racked our brain for 10 minutes but finally relented and pressed the hint button. A few minutes later our host entered the first room, strolled merrily through the lazer maze we’d carefully navigated on multiple occasions, and asked us where we were up to. After explaining which puzzle we were on and all the things we’d tried, which she wasn’t aware of as you’re not watched in the rooms, our ‘hint’ was exactly what we had to do. From there it took us a matter of seconds to work out the answer and open the exit, expecting to re-meet the host we’d just spoken to. But she wasn’t there. Nobody was. We curiously made our way back to reception to find both our host and the other member of staff talking on the phone! We plonked ourselves down in the waiting area and reflected on what had just happened:
First of all, this host coming into the room madness has got to stop. It ruins the immersion in any room for someone to magically appear, but even more ridiculous here when they have to break the rules of the game in order to do it. I’ve never met a single player who had a good word to say about it, and the alternative (a video screen or other communication method) is cheaply and readily available.
Secondly, escaping is not a cheap hobby. For the money I’m handing over I expect to be ‘hosted’. This includes paying attention to what I’m doing in the room, and meeting me at the exit. There are perhaps ways to make this more cost effective for operators, e.g. hosts doing promotion on social media while they’re not directly needed, but this should be droppable the moment that I, the paying customer, wants attention.
Thirdly, the final puzzle was actually very good and fair, just difficult. A good hint could have kept us working on it for a good chunk of the 30 minutes we had remaining. Basically telling us the answer both made us feel short changed on the duration of the room, and obviously disrupted the host’s ‘schedule’.
We escaped in what would have been a record 37 minutes. But this will never be recorded anywhere as our host had no idea. If we didn’t have another room booked we would have left without speaking to anybody. As it was we chatted amongst ourselves, concluding it was a reasonable room let down by how we’d been treated, and waited for part 2…