Please note this review is based on a visit in May 2015. I’m still playing catch up with my reviews.
What’s the definition of a tough act to follow; James Bond after Sean Connery? Man Utd Manager after Sir Alex Ferguson? Anyone attempting to sing a Queen song? In the world of escape games it’s probably whatever you play after Time Run. Yet here we were, just a few hours later, at Escape Rooms (not to be confused with the international brand Escape Room) London Bridge, to play their Room 33 game:
It is 1675, China. You are the guard of KangXi, emperor and great ruler of the mighty Qing Dynasty. In the great palace lies the most precious artefact of the kingdom, a blue-and-white porcelain vase. It is believed that the presence of it in the emperor’s chamber will enables the Qing dynasty to last forever. One night, whilst on your guard, the vase disappears. The emperor is furious and blames you for its loss. He has ordered your execution to be carried out in the coming days.
At midnight you are led by a mysterious person to a time machine and told to travel to Room 33 of the British Museum, year 2015. Somewhere in this room, the exact blue-and-white porcelain vase is displayed. You have only 60 minutes to find, steal and return the artefact to the emperor while the portal of the time machine is still open. Can you make it in time?
Well that’s an unusual take on the prison break theme, but I do love me some time travelling (even if it does overlook the issue of who stole the vase originally and what will come of having two of the vases at the same point in time, assuming we’re successful). But first back to the future present.
Escape Rooms London Bridge is unsurprisingly located near London Bridge, and even closer to The Shard. I’d never choose to drive in London, one reason being I wouldn’t know where to park, but you couldn’t get much easier for public transport. While on a back street it’s very easy to find and is welcoming from the outside. Inside you’re greeted by hundreds of photos of successful escapers. This is somewhat surprising as one of the reasons I was glad to fit the site in my trip is that it was once rated as providing one of the toughest challenges in the country, and I love a challenge. I guess they just must have had a lot of visitors.
After a welcome and briefing from our host we were led downstairs to the play area. Different to anywhere else I’ve played (as far as I remember), the host’s ‘control stations’ are desks right outside the room rather than hidden behind a PRIVATE door. Doesn’t really make much difference once you’re inside of course, but shows that a lot of the ‘secrecy’ championed by some operators is really just hot air.
Moving through the corridor we were soon into our room and the clock had started. As you’d expect it started at 60 minutes. What you wouldn’t expect is how quickly it went down. As you might expect breaking into the British Museum, you immediately encounter a lazer maze. And this is one that would cause Catherine Zeta-Jones problems, not just a couple of beams. What you wouldn’t expect is that each time you touch a beam you receive a time penalty. By the time three of us had crossed, about three minutes of lapsed time, the clock was down to 50. I really didn’t like this. Whether you like lazer mazes or not is one thing, but cutting down game time for failing an almost impossible task seems like a bit of a con. And if there was more of us in the group and/or we weren’t all so agile (I use the term loosely) I’d hate to think how much time we’d have for the actual escape. But let’s move on.
And into the room proper. Again challenging my expectations, this is a big room. Probably the biggest single space that I’ve encountered. There was certainly no risk of banging into each other as we started hunting around, but, despite there being quite a lot of things to explore and play with, it still felt a bit stark. So I’d suggest the normal ‘small’ room approach is actually better. Anyway, we took advantage of our wide open work area to get down to some puzzling.
At this point the toughness of its reputation became obvious. There are some puzzles where the method wasn’t opaque but solving was still difficult. There was at least one which came close to being unsolvable without a hint. But there was also some very good, fair challenges. Sometimes making excellent use of technology, but others beautifully low-fi.
We stole the vase and made our way through the time portal, which looked amazingly like a door to the corridor outside. We had about 10 minutes to spare, despite our earlier penalties. I’m not sure whether you’d class that as a 40- or 50-minute escape. Officially we took two hints, but that doesn’t include the answer to the final puzzle which the host essentially gave to us as we’d already opened the exit. We also found out that when we’d earlier asked “is this supposed to slide open?” it wasn’t, so we’d actually bypassed one of the toughest tasks by accident.
Overall I think that Room 33 at Escape Rooms London Bridge is worth playing for the experienced escaper who wants both a puzzling challenge and a challenge to their expectations. However I’m not sure I’d recommend it to a novice group or someone looking for a highly polished experience, as that’s not what this is, my fair lady.