As a Lancastrian (let’s not bring Greater Manchester into this) I’m contractually obliged to hate Yorkshire. But in reality I don’t mind it at all (some parts are actually quite nice). If for nothing else, it gave substance for one of my all-time favourite comedy sketches:
This last weekend saw a reunion of sorts with my Red Bull Mind Gamers team-mates, with 3/4s of the gang joining up with Alex and Monique from The Panic Room to go on a Yorkshire (primarily Leeds) escape binge.
With so many rooms to cover I’m going to cut the small talk:
Our first stop was Escape Reality, part of a worldwide franchise which apparently also has sites in Cardiff, Leicester, Coventry and Glasgow. This is a recently opened facility, which benefits from a huge space, connected to a laser-quest game. They already have seven games, all of which (or at least the five we played) are reasonably big spaces of their own, plus a large reception area, and a so-far-undeveloped area at the back. I assume corporate bookings will be high on their priority list as they’ve certainly got the space to accommodate a big group.
Before speaking about the individual games I’ve first got to mention the most ‘controversial’ part of the franchise; the clue system. While you do have a GM who inducts you into the room, from there it’s intended that you self-serve your game. You’re provided with an iPad that both counts down your time and can be used to scan various QR codes around the room. When scanning a code you’re given the choice of an extremely vague ‘hint’, which deducts 60 seconds from your time remaining, or a very on the nose ‘clue’ (essentially the answer) which costs you three minutes.
I’m not a fan of having to ‘pay’ for help in this way, particularly as it often counts as a double penalty; you’ve been stuck for a while to want assistance, and then your time goes down further to receive it. Plus what I usually look for in GM intervention, regardless of what you call it, is something in between ‘no help whatsoever’ and the answer. But the absolute worst bit is that these QR codes are numbered, sequentially, essentially steering you from one puzzle to the next. From what I’ve read on Facebook groups and on other review sites, NOBODY is a fan of this system. However it appears to be a central part of the chain’s operating model so I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. Anyway, with that big caveat covered, onto the rooms.
I’m not really sure of the story here. I can only assume the apocalypse has happened and wiped out everything apart from maths puzzles. The decoration is nothing other than black (or really, really dark grey) plus a few corpses which I guess are supposed to give it a shock factor. It didn’t put us off though and we sailed through in 19 minutes. Nothing to recommend here unless you’re looking for a gentle warm up.
Down the Rabbit Hole
How far down the hole do you dare go? For some I bet not very far at all. This game starts in a small room with nothing in it except a single puzzle. And that single puzzle was probably the most obtuse we faced all day. We wrestled with it for 10 minutes and were on the verge of giving up when we finally cracked it. From there the rest of the room was okay but the only other memorable part was some completely out of context dismembered limbs (if that’s a key part of the book/film I’m missing please let me know in the comments). No, I wasn’t really ‘down’ with this game at all.
Oh, Machina you tease. I almost loved this game. I liked the theme (though I am something of a sucker for sci-fi), I liked the design, and I liked some of the efforts they’d gone to in the room. But it just needed a bit more effort, or thought, or something, to finish it off. Unfortunately that something just wasn’t there. Still, a marked improvement on the first two offerings.
The Iron Kingdom
No copyright infringements here. You’re just playing a Game to try and secure the Throne for your house. And that throne very well could be made Of iron. Anyway, the styling and puzzle-theming here make another significant step up. Unfortunately the penultimate showpiece puzzle here didn’t work, so had to be fixed while we waited, but that wasn’t enough to spoil my enjoyment of this game. Winter is coming, so book in soon (and the award for most-forced line goes to…).
When we arranged our trip nobody had made it out of this room and we were scared it might be cursed (with some logic leaps). Since then two groups had escaped, including one who played it a second time to make sure, to give us some hope, but it still has an incredibly low success rate.
Thankfully I think that’s just because this room has a lot to do and some of it is quite hard. On a couple of occasions the team was forced to come together and discuss a puzzle, which doesn’t happen often with an experienced group, but is one of my favourite things in escaping. Maybe it was that, or maybe it was one of our team needlessly defying the laws of physics near the end, but I really enjoyed this room. Definitely my pick of the Escape Reality offerings.
Parapark is another recent opening in Leeds, this time much closer to the city centre (meaning we had to pay for multi-storey parking). They just have one room for now, with another in development. The same can be said for the rest of the site as there was a definite air of ‘unfinished’ despite being open long enough to fill the walls with people’s escape times.
The Ninth Gateway
Parapark promote themselves as “the original room escape game”, tracing their roots back to some of the earliest games in Budapest from 2011. I could have very easily believed this room was built in 2011, never mind designed then. It was dirty, and basic, and generally just not good. We progressed to the final puzzle within 14 minutes before bashing our heads against the wall for 15 minutes, and being told we didn’t get a hint because we’d flown through so fast. Eventually we discovered we had to break one of the golden rules of escaping to get out. Perhaps that rule didn’t exist in 2011? Anyway, times have moved on and so should you.
Look Key Escape
One more car ride for the day and we were off to the student district for Look Key Escape. This time we were able to find free street parking (but this was time dependant, so don’t bank on it). From the outside the building looks quite small and unimpressive, but inside it was pleasant enough with two rooms on offer and more in the pipeline.
Escape From Wonderland
I’d never played an Alice in Wonderland-themed room before, yet this was my second of the day. But after being disappointed by the first (seriously, dismembered limbs?) this was a much more pleasant affair. The room was beautifully decorated and had a lot of content which really created a feeling of ‘wonder’.
It was also the first non-linear design we’d encountered on the day which made a nice change, as we all went in different directions, looking to explore as much as we could. The puzzles weren’t groundbreaking but they were nicely constructed and brought about a couple of lovely moments. In fact ‘lovely’ would be a nice way to describe this room overall.
A more stark change in both tone and presentation you couldn’t hope to find. No loveliness here; instead a quite dreary looking hotel room where you need to find evidence of a serial killer. The puzzling here isn’t quite as fun or original. You can tell that this was the site’s first game as a kind of ‘safe bet’ before spreading their wings in Wonderland. Having said that you can see touches of the flair that will come later, making it a not terrible way to kill some time.
I believe the intention is to retire Murder Motel soon and bring in something new. I’m really keen to see the next stage in the evolution.
After that it was a well-earned feed and sleep*, getting ready for day two…
*Unless you have a hotel room above a wedding. Too soon?