Z-list celebrity – A grand day out @ Escapologic, Nottingham

This review of Escapologic is based on a visit from August 2016.

escapologic

The dream team

Hello everyone! Remember me? If you’re reading this it’s highly likely that you do, or at least you never got round to unfollowing me. Either way it’s okay. You may recall I used to post quite regularly here about various fun things from the real world. But then the real world struck back and made me do unfun things, and I haven’t felt like blogging. However, that has changed today, and rather than bore you with a ‘where I’ve been’ post I’m going to dive straight into a review. And a very special review at that.

Back when I used to blog regularly, and podcast, and attend unconferences I accidentally become (relatively) well known in the UK Escape Room Enthusiasts community. My ‘fame’ from this extended to having my voice recognised once (at an escape room, of course) and being invited to a special day down in Nottingham. And if I never get anything from it again, all the hours in front of a keyboard would still be worth it just for this.

Escapologic has been open in Nottingham since April 2015, and has hardly had a bad word spoken about it on TripAdvisor. But the owner, Simon, wanted to know how his room stacked up against rooms from across the country, so invited an ‘all-star team’ of experienced escapers and reviewers to play all five (five!) of his games in one sitting. Joining me for this ultimate challenge would be Exit Games Scotland‘s Jackie, my regular team-mate Richard2, Brit of an Escape Habit‘s Amy and her fiance Ian.

I arrived by train and it was about a 10 minute walk from the station. There’s a small amount of on street parking directly outside, but this requires a parking permit between 08:00-20:00 (aka the time you’re likely to be there), so pay and display will likely be required which isn’t too far away. I’d deliberately avoided reading too much about the rooms in advance but I had glanced at the website and picked up a distinctly ominous tone. That was mirrored in the reception area on arrival. It was quite dark and stark; deliberately rather than by laziness. Given the right props I would have accepted it as an abandoned factory, an old asylum or many other classic horror settings. But as an employee emerged from a cupboard – a brilliant pastiche of the escape room cliche – I realised there was a light-heartedness here to save it from being too threatening. The team assembled and chatted a while before heading to our first room.

Con-Trap-Tion

Strange machinery breathes in the stillness of the laboratory. Bubbles rise in a mysterious green liquid. Cogs tick. Gears clank. And in the air, the unmistakeable sound of fear…

As your breathing stills, and your pulse slows to normal, you take a look around. What happened here? It looks like the previous occupant of the room has left in a big hurry. But why? Your eyes grow used to the dusty light, and you begin to make out the discarded pieces of arcane mechanisms. There has to be a pattern, a code, something to show you the way out.

Contraption was both ours and the site’s first room, and I think I’m pretty safe in saying played a big part in the design of the overall facility. That industrial, almost steampunk styling continued and developed in the room; Jigsaw’s workshop from Saw II was definitely in my mind, not least because there was something big and oddly shaped under a sheet… Luckily the only game to play was solving the quirky puzzles in order to escape. There were a lot of ideas here I hadn’t seen before, combining both physical and mental challenges, and the best hint system I’ve ever seen! I’ve asked before why rooms don’t include hint/communication systems within the theme of the room, but that’s definitely not something you’d ask here. It’s both beautifully thematic and employs a unique approach to being helpful without being obvious. And it wasn’t just this room; this design consideration continued throughout the day. Bravo!

We escaped with about five minutes remaining and took a couple of clues. I really like it when a room has features I haven’t seen before and this one managed it in spades. A massive thumbs up to start the day.

Crypt-ic

The door creaks closed. In the pale light of your lantern, abandoned skeletons cast terrifying shadows on the walls. Frantically, you open your dusty satchel, praying for answers. Could this be all that remains of legendary explorer Crispin Sheppard, who mysteriously vanished all those years ago?

Rumours of an ancient curse shroud the stones of this pitch-black tomb. You’re sure this is where the treasure is buried. But now you’re all alone in the dark-and in the cold air of the crypt, something primeval is stirring…

After a room that looked like the rest of the site came one that definitely didn’t. Cryptic is, unsurprisingly, set in a crypt. And a lot of thought and effort has gone into making this feel tomb-like, with oddly shaped spaces and walls that feel like they’ve not been touched for a long time. There’s no clock or conventional hint system, which creates a feeling of isolation, not to mention spookiness. Also a lot of thought has gone into what you would find in a crypt. There are no padlocks or conveniently scrawled numbers on the walls (okay, there are numbers in one bit); instead there are a lot more hidden objects and strange artifacts to do ‘something’ with…

I got a real Indiana Jones/Lara Croft vibe from this room, which is entirely appropriate. But in keeping with that, I felt like I’d been more of an ‘adventure’ than the usual more cerebral challenge. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in fact it would probably appeal to many, but something to be aware of. Oh, and it takes place in the pitch dark as well, with just a couple of lanterns to light the way, so that’s something else to bear in mind.

E.P.I. Centre

Buildings are collapsing. Fires are raging. People are screaming. And you’re trapped inside the Edward Palatine Institute, watching it all happen on your screen. With just one hour to save billions of pounds worth of chemical research, every decision you make is critical.

Epicentre is your chance to answer the question that nags at the back of the mind during every disaster movie. If the world ended, how would you react?

As a vital part of the Institute’s disaster cleanup crew, you’ll have to walk a tightrope between weighing the consequences of your decisions, and making them fast enough to survive. As the crisis deepens outside the installation’s walls, and anarchy begins to rule the streets, terrifying updates flash through the news channels. There isn’t much time left, and your luck is running out…

You know you’re having a strange day when the least frightening thing you have to do is escape from a collapsing building during an earthquake! I’m not aware of any other earthquake (or any other natural disaster for that matter) -themed room in the country so was excited to see what it entailed. A cynic might expect it to be an excuse for the room to be a mess, but they avoid that by adding in the subplot about chemical research being recovered. They also avoid any feeling of cheapness by having the earthquake continue and the situation deteriorate around you!

The effects were excellent but apart from that the first part of the room was perhaps the most predictable we played all day. If you’re looking for some familiar escape room cliches then you won’t be disappointed. And that’s perhaps a surprisingly important point as not everyone wants something ‘different’. As we moved into the latter part of the room, and the familiar science-theming, I thought that might continue but was pleasantly surprised. All of the team reached the same conclusion “that was just like being on The Crystal Maze!” which is about as high praise as you can get from a group of escapers. And if you don’t leave this room with a smile on your face I’m not sure escaping is for you.

Howitz

A tragic loss. A happy family destroyed. A desperate man, irresistibly drawn to dark forces. As the door slams shut behind you, you’re trapped in the world of Eli Howitz, an enigmatic figure whose gut-wrenching story pervades every millimetre of the room.

Just what happened in Eli’s toy shop? You’ve heard the rumours. You know the horror stories off by heart. But how much truth is there in the police report? Can there really be ritualistic carvings on the walls? They say there were glowing symbols, and toys that whirred, clicked, and span on their own…

If you don’t know what to expect from this game from reading that description don’t worry. I’ve played the game and I’m still not sure. This isn’t your standard ‘find your way to the exit’ nor even ‘complete this clearly defined objective’. You’re some sort of investigator; cast yourself as a journalist, detective, or nosy kid; and you’re sticking your nose into something weird. I can’t give too much away but suffice to say I spent as much time confused about what the heck was going on as I did about trying to solve any puzzles.

I think this room could be a real polariser. If you dig a slightly unsettling tone and slow-burning atmosphere then this could be the game for you. However I felt like I was spending a lot of time not learning or doing much. Then later in the game, where the pace does pick up, you’re forced to work in a very small space which essentially turns it into a two person game. All this combined into something I’m glad I experienced but not sure I enjoyed. Though a big shout is required to the second best hint system I’ve ever seen!

13utcher

Anna and Max have the kind of relationship everyone pretends to find annoying. But really, their friends are just a little bit jealous. Because you can see how much these two people are meant to be together. They just-fit.

Anna is daring and inquisitive, Max is sensible. She encourages him to try new things. He stops her from doing stupid stuff.

Usually.

But not today.

Maybe it’s the sunshine. Maybe it’s the wine. Because today, when Anna finds a randomly-unlocked shutter on a random side street, Max isn’t quick enough to persuade her not to go inside. His mind is on the picnic they’ve just had, the kisses they’ve shared. So what if Anna is intent on seeking out some new dark and gloomy pace to scare him with. It’s just Anna being Anna, right? This is why he loves her.

It’s just an adventure. A dare. It’ll be OK.

And then the shutter bangs down, and everything is very far from OK.

I’ve played games with serial killer themes before but they’re usually just an excuse to do a few puzzles in the dark. I’ve also played the ‘fun and frights’ of Bad Clown, which I built up to be scary in my head, but was nothing like that in reality. Butcher isn’t like that. Butcher is terrifying.

As with all the games I’d played that day, a lot of thought had gone into fully embracing the premise. It has a real horror movie feel. And if like me you’ve often rolled your eyes while watching them and asked “why would someone do that?” this game sheds a little light on it by playing with all your expectations. Visually it’s a treat (for those with strong constitutions), there are puzzles to solve as well, and definite, genuine scares. No matter how many times I reminded myself this was just a game I still found myself edging away from the door especially when… [and then the phone goes dead].

As an immersive, interactive experience this is incredibly good. Is it an escape game? I’m not sure. Is it something I want to do again? Not right now. Is it something I’m glad I’ve done? Absolutely.

 

And that was that. Five rooms, five very varied experiences, five escapes. Massive thanks to Simon (and Jackie) for the invite. So back to the original question, how do Escapologic’s rooms stack up against the rest of the country? From my experience, very favourably indeed. Each of them demonstrates a tremendous amount of consideration for their theme, right down to the hint systems and types of challenge awaiting you. Each of them also presents a different challenge, so you could play all five and have no real answer to “what’s an escape room?” And for the most part they provide unique experiences I’m not aware of anywhere in the 60+ games I’ve played. I’d recommend any of the rooms to any one. New players may not realise how good each is but experienced escapers should head there for a real treat.

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