Stepping up – The Secret Lab @ The Escape Room Manchester

I have no idea why I was so red.

I have no idea why I was so red.

It’s fair to say that in the past I’ve been conflicted about The Escape Room Manchester. I like the facility, I like the people, but I’ve found the games a little, erm, brief for my taste.

I’m pleased to announce that has now changed as The Secret Lab is a very worthy foe. I’ve mentioned before about how nobody had escaped The Secret Lab when we last visited, but we chose to bide our time and build up to it. Since then some teams had escaped, including an audacious 43 minute run topping the leaderboard, but it still came with a fearsome reputation:

You are a news reporter assigned to cover a suspicious incident at a local estate. You find police officers already on the scene in response to blood curling screams from one of the rooms. You soon learn that medical technicians in the building have been infected by something sinister. As a number of technicians were viciously attacked, they try to escape with your news crew, only to find that MI6 have quarantined the entire estate. Internet, televisions and mobile access have been cut-off and officials are not relaying any information to those locked inside. You discover that something terrible has happened and the authorities are trying to conceal the truth. You have sixty minutes to find your way out and escape from the premises.

Now, I don’t actually like this briefing. It kinda defeats the purpose of it being a secret lab. The verbal introduction we were given by our host was much better as it was more vague and intriguing. I fed this back after the game so maybe it will change in the future.

The reason I’d like it to change, and one of the reasons this room is so tough, is that on entry you’ve got pretty much nothing to go off. You’ve been sent to investigate ‘something going on’ but you don’t know what or where. This is such a refreshing change from “here’s a puzzle which will lead you to the next bit”.

With so little to go off it was a genuine, and enjoyable, challenge to our escaping skills. A number of (now) ridiculous ideas were suggested and contemplated for a moment before being dismissed. What we thought was a lead turned out to be nothing more than a coincidence. Oh boy it was hard. It was hard, but it was fair, and more importantly it was fun.

A short while later we made a break through. But it wasn’t the floodgates opening, it was just a little bit more to work with, and we had to think how that affected everything we’d looked at so far. We spotted something, something that would be an answer elsewhere (or even in Escape Room’s easier rooms) but here it was just a starting point to a bigger puzzle. It required a full team effort to gradually break things down. As 30 minutes ticked over on the timer, and we reached a milestone, I bravely suggested we were about 50% through the room, and expected a tight finish. It turned out I was 50% right.

We were roughly half way through the story. The tone of the game changes but the difficulty of the puzzles in front of us was still really high. But the solving by my team-mates (I’ll go into that in more detail in a separate post later) absolutely blew my mind. Puzzling of the highest order. 10 minutes later we were back in the reception area talking to our gamemaster and the manager, Chris. He wasn’t sure how we’d done it. I wasn’t sure how we’d done it. But we’d set a new record time of 40 minutes.

Normally I’d be a little upset about beating a room so quickly, but I didn’t feel cheated because it was only over so quick by forcing the best out of us. I was more proud to be a (small) part of it.

So the difficulty is high, the enjoyability is good, as you’d expect from Escape Room the decoration and styling is of the highest quality, and you get all the bells and whistles of their facility and service. This is right up there as one of my favourite rooms. Plus they were very receptive to our suggestions of how the intro and story-telling element could be made even better, so it could be further improved in the future. But don’t wait, anyone looking for a challenge should book in now.

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