Please note this review was based on a visit in November 2014.
Buoyed by a record breaking performance in Madchester I was keen to play again as soon as possible. But with Team Watch unavailable for an inexplicably long time a new group was needed. Step forward The Animals! I’d like to introduce you to some of the foremost thinkers and escape game experts in the country. Unfortunately I don’t know any of them so instead it’s two blokes I used to work with and a guy who lives down the street from one of them. Two of the team live in Liverpool so Clue HQ in Warrington seemed like an ideal meeting place. Feeling that 5/5 difficulty was still too easy I booked The Dungeon of Doom for mid-November.
In another case of ‘information coming to light after the booking has been made’, this post on Exit Games suggested that Dungeon of Doom is the toughest game in the country. Again, this is not the way to inspire confidence in your teammates.
As I arrived at Clue HQ (parking right outside; one of the benefits of Warrington over a big city location) I could hear numbers being read out. My initial reaction was to start scribbling them down and to be massively impressed by the amount of immersion. Turns out that there’s a bingo hall across the street that really needs to work on its sound-proofing.
Inside there was a nice reception area where we were warmly greeted. We were then led down the corridor to our briefing room. And I do mean a briefing room; not the game room or the reception area. It was decorated in keeping with the upcoming dungeon theme and really helped set the mood. And our hostess, whilst still being friendly, obviously had a specific briefing to give, covering the health and safety and house rules and also introducing the game; more than just what was written on the website:
Your friend has been sentenced (wrongly) to death. It’s up to you and your team to break in, break them out and then all get out together before the guard patrols the area again.
Additional information: 1 person is chosen at the start of the game to be ‘locked up’. This person will need to crawl (5 meters) at the start of the game. This person is still an integral part of the game.
Wheelchair accessible except for ‘locked up’ area.
We then drew lots for who would be the one in solitary confinement. This presented us with our first problem. Only I had played an escape game before, so either I’d be fighting for myself waiting for a bunch of newbies to break me out, or I’d be in the escape team unsure of what help we were getting from the inside. I’m not sure which would have been better but I drew part of the escape team and Paul was banished to the cell, while we were led to Just Visiting.
Inside, the clock temporarily transformed into a video and we were given further information. As that finished the timer started and, well, it became immediately obvious that this was nothing like Madchester. There were certainly things in the room but nothing that was obviously ‘the answer’. What wasn’t in the room was Paul. Hopefully you can work out what should come next quicker than we did.
Eventually, via some onscreen hints, we got down to some excellent puzzling. One of the hallmarks of this game (and, as I was later to find, Clue HQ in general) is the wealth of tasks that involved physically doing something rather than just working out a number and entering it into a lock. I’m a big fan of this as it plants you firmly in the realm of ‘real life escape’ rather than what could be a computer game with real padlocks.
We got a few more hints as the game went on but only when appropriate, which was a credit to our hostess, whose name I think was Nat (apologies if not). Ultimately our slow start cost us and we ran out of time with what was ostensibly only a couple of puzzles to go. Frustrating.
Frustrating but an immensely enjoyable game. The set design and theming was extremely well done. The puzzles were challenging but logical. The hint flow nudged us forward when required but didn’t make it easy.
It certainly isn’t easy. The stats on the website suggest a 5% success rate. But that’s 5% of those who take up the challenge; many more I’m sure are put off by its reputation (judging by the number of attempts compared to their other room). This is a massive shame as the room deserves more visitors. I wouldn’t recommend it to first time escapers, as it may be too tough for them, but everyone who has played before should make a visit and take the challenge.