Please note this review relates to a visit on January 16th, the day after The Escape Room opened.
After visiting a couple of different operators, reading extensively on ExitGames and even giving some thought to opening an escape game business, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what to expect from an escape experience. Some of those assumptions were:
- The premises will be pretty small and/or out of the way
- The front of house will be limited in order to keep costs down and put the focus on the insides of the rooms
- Similarly there won’t be a lot of staff around; your game host could be the only one there at the time depending on how busy they are
The Escape Room Manchester opened in January and disproved those assumptions. It’s based in the upstairs of a night club (the night club which was once the real-life Fernando’s from Take Me Out, trivia fans), on a big site, near Manchester Cathedral. They have a reception area, bar and cloak room, all of which are manned. As we one of their first visitors (I’d tracked details of their opening on twitter) we received the warmest of welcomes. Everyone was lovely and eager to know how we’d heard about them, where we’d played before and what we were expecting. Clearly they’re operating on something of a different business model.
Also different for this visit were my team-mates. There’s nothing cryptic about our name in this guise. We are @EcclesLadies. There were six of us on this occasion which limited us to their two biggest rooms. And as the other five were all first-timers we steered clear of the 5/5 difficulty and opted for Slaughter House:
You wake up in the secure lair of a serial killer with a dead body lying in the room. Neither one of you know why you were abducted, but instructions have been left by the killer on a cassette tape to escape the room within sixty minutes or you will be trapped inside the room forever. You must follow various instructions if you wish to survive and win this deadly game. You are the chosen one who needs to overcome a series of demented traps to save yourself and the others or face the deadliest consequence. With only sixty minutes to spare, you must unravel the elaborate puzzle of the victim’s fate in the midst of mounting terror.
Obviously this is riffing on the movie Saw. Saw and its sequels, despite their gradual decline into turgidity, have a special place in my heart. After loving the first one my friends and I would visit the cinema en masse each Halloween to see what creative traps the unlucky had to try and escape from next. Similar to last week’s Theme Thursday suggestion, it’s a set-up that seems such an obvious fit for an escape game I’m surprised there aren’t more of them. Suffice to say my expectations were high.
Then I saw an elephant in the room. Or rather, I didn’t. It could be regarded a spoiler but I feel it needs to be said: Slaughter House takes place in complete darkness. You receive one torch for the group (which may have changed now following my feedback) but that still leaves some of you, quite literally, in the dark. The lighting effects in a room can really help set the mood, but I always think that the inability to see is a pretty cheap way to make things harder.
The lack of light wasn’t the only break from the norm. Rather than a video screen as a timer/messaging device, we have a clock that’s just a clock, and a ‘call for help’ button which invites your host in the room to provide you with a hint. Interesting.
With the aid of the torch we were able to find a few things, but not “a dead body lying in the room” nor “instructions… on a cassette tape”. Now I was just confused and fumbling around in the dark. I contemplated calling for help just so the host could remind me what the theme was.
The fact that the rest of the group were first time escapers worked in our favour. Their excitement to crack on outweighed my reservations, so onward we cracked. We didn’t actually escape the room. We spent the last eight minutes on a puzzle which was actually impossible as the play-testing had missed an error in the set-up (I guess a risk of being just the second team to take on the room, but still…), so we were awarded an honorary escape with a time of 52 minutes.
There were a couple of nice touches that took advantage of both the setting and the theme, but overall I felt the puzzle element was a little light. If it hadn’t been for the darkness I think we would have probably been out in 30 minutes or less. Regardless, I don’t think the room lives up to, or even matches, its intro.
As I’ve already alluded to, The Escape Room team were very keen to get our feedback afterwards and say they’ve already implemented a couple of our recommendations. And we received some free drinks to make up for the broken puzzle. Overall I really liked The Escape Room and I’m excited to see what else they offer, but I can’t really recommend Slaughter House. Game over.