Outside the room
A day after playing the Missing Child, we were back at Atherton Escape Rooms for a second helping. We had a bit more time to chat with them this time, so it was interesting to hear their plans. They’ve still got plenty of space so, after finishing refurbishing their fourth room (after only seven weeks?!), they’re going to be opening up two new rooms. Longer term, they were talking about recycling one room each month, which seemed a little frequent to me but might be the right decision in a small town like Atherton. The other interesting thing is that the vast majority of the unit they’ve rented still won’t be used, so there’s scope for them to add more rooms should Atherton take off. That seems unlikely, but it’s interesting to hypothesise what else they might add to their venue.
There are plenty of things in the same building already, including an indoor rifle range and indoor paintball centre. I can’t help but feel this feels like it’s asking to be a stag and hen do venue. I’m not sure it’s quite got the nightlife, but I can well imagine it being the base for the daytime activities, then jumping on a train into the centre of Manchester for the night time. Time will tell!
We decided that we fancied a challenge this time round, so we’d opted for the Train Waiting room – which no one had ever escaped from until two weeks before our visit. Nothing like a bit of pressure!
You’re in the waiting room at a train station and the last train will depart in an hour but, when you check the door, you find it mysteriously locked.
Inside the room
Again, they’d pulled together some nice props for the room that gave a decent rendition of a train waiting room, and (perhaps because it was only seven weeks old), the room was in good condition. We set straight to work solving the puzzles. I want to use the word “again” a lot in this review, and that’s because, while the puzzles were different to the previous room, it’s a pretty standard formula they use here. That’s not meant to be critical: just that, once you’ve played one room, I get the feeling you’ll have very similar experiences at the others. Don’t expect them to throw in anything amazingly high-tech or surprising puzzles – these are pretty standard fare which make decent use of the props you might expect to find in the room.
Probably the most interesting thing is the difficulty level of this room. It’s rated as high, which you have to remember should be taken in the context of only allowing three hints in the room. We definitely found it harder than your average room and, if you’ve got any sense, you’ll keep track of which potential codes you find and what padlocks/puzzles you still need to solve, to ensure you don’t miss any connections (no pun intended!). The difficulty wasn’t purely down to the puzzles being hard, though. I felt several of the puzzles were deliberately unhelpful and wouldn’t realistically be solved. Two required a painstaking search, where we’d searched the particular areas where we found the clues twice and hadn’t seen them.
The other unfair puzzle was one of my least favourite of all time. Slight spoiler: it involved a three-tries-and-locked-out safe. I’m not a big fan of those because it really interrupts the game play, BUT I don’t think they’re absolutely terrible. What is terrible, though, is when there’s no indication in the room as to what you’re meant to use. What’s that I hear you say “It’s a finale puzzle, so just use your final code”. Oh, but this room has red herrings (several of which are very deliberate) so, if you tried all the potential codes, you’d probably take at least twenty minutes waiting for the safe to reset each time. In the end we burned two of our three clues asking for help on this puzzle and spent probably twenty minutes trying to get past it. When we eventually got the answer, it was unsatisfying for two more reasons that I won’t mention here because it would involve a significant spoiler. Bottom line: Owners shouldn’t put in any “locks” that can be locked out for five minutes unless it’s abundantly clear which puzzle relates to them. Actually, that’s not a bad rule of thumb for locks and puzzles generally – even if there’s no lock-out!
The clue giving system is worth mentioning, since we got to see more of it this time. Assuming you’re happy with the three-clue limit, then I think you’ll like what they do. When you ask for a clue they quickly give you a very cryptic message on the screen. In general, that was enough to point us in the right direction but, in the case that it wasn’t, they then enhanced the clue after a short pause without “charging” us for a second request. Each time they made it a little easier, although on one occasion we used another clue request to speed things up. It was clear they were paying careful attention to what we were doing, because they always gave us the right next clue.
So, in spite of three puzzles that we thought were pretty much impossible, and burning two of our three clues on one of them, we managed to escape with 90 seconds remaining. Fortunately, we managed to entirely bypass one of those puzzles by some creative work by yours truly (in my defence, I thought that was what they wanted us to do!).
They told us that it had taken five weeks for the first team to escape from this room and, frankly, I’m not surprised. I always feel a bit of a sore loser when I complain about the puzzles where we need clues, but this feels legitimate. To my mind, the last puzzle in this room was unacceptable and, disappointingly, when I told them I didn’t like it, they seemed unable to accept its obvious flaws. Without that, I think the room would be acceptable – just about solvable without clues, and realistically solvable with two.
It was a disappointing end to a basic room and that was a bit of a killer. I enjoyed much of the room, but there was nothing exciting, nothing really surprising and what would have been the fun part (the difficulty) was let down by the issues above. In all honesty, I can’t really recommend this room, except for experienced escapers who want to challenge themselves and are prepared to put up with a tenuous finale puzzle.
We didn’t eat in Atherton this time round (although I’d recommend the restaurant we ate in on our previous visit!). To make up for that omission, I’ll mention The Snug, a fantastically quirky cafe just behind the main street with friendly staff, a great array of home-made bakery and eclectic decor. Well worth a visit if you’ve got some time to kill before your game or for some post-game analysis.
Detailed Room Ratings