Cliffhanger Rooms: Bank Vault Heist

Bank Vault

Outside the room

When Cliffhanger Rooms opened up in Newby Bridge in Cumbria, it was interesting only in an academic sense. I was unlikely to head up that way in the near future, so I added it to my mental map of UK escape games and otherwise paid little attention to it. A couple of months later, when I was planning a trip up to the North West, one of my regular team mates mentioned she was staying up in Coniston and, after looking at the map, we decided that it was just on the bounds of reasonableness for each of us to reach. Game on!

We arrived at the venue and were greeted by our game host, who chatted to us briefly before showing us to the room. We’d have up to five clues available to escape, which we’d be able to request by pressing a button in the room.

Background

You’re members of a successful crime syndicate and are about to pull off a bank heist. You’ve got one hour while the security systems are disabled to break into the vault and grab the loot. Specifically, you’re after $30,000 dollars (in three $10k bundles), two necklaces and a gold bar.  Make sure you’re out before the time runs out or you’ll be heading to jail.

Inside the room

The game starts in a bank office, so it’s not particularly exciting from a decoration point of view. However, that does improve as the game progresses and you enter the vault and, while it’s inevitably nothing like a bank vault in a film, it’s certainly enough to make you feel like you’re entering the stronghold.

The three of us circled the room finding various parts of puzzles but not making huge amounts of progress. For me, it felt like an incredibly steep learning curve for new players – I’d imagine a fair number of novices burn a clue without solving anything at all, which is a shame – I think every room should have a nice easy puzzle to start with so that no one feels entirely stupid in the room. We managed to avoid taking a clue before solving any puzzles, but it was touch and go for a while.

In general I felt the puzzles were weak. They used parts of the theme, but rarely did they make sense in the room. I think there’s a lot of scope in a bank heist game to have each of the safety deposit boxes locked by a combination code and require players to investigate the boxes’ owners to find out what their code might be.  That’s by the by, though, because the parts I found weak were more the process of the puzzles themselves. Two or three of them we found tedious, working out what we had to do relatively quickly and then spending a while handle-turning until we found the right answer. This is where my inner diva comes out – as a novice I think it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. As a more experienced player, I’ve experienced that kind of thing too often so I just want to have the part of the process that I think is most fun. Unfair? Maybe, but it is how I feel.

There was one particular puzzle strand that we didn’t like where we’re still not sure if that was our fault or the puzzle’s. Firstly, a clue pointed us in the right direction and left Mrs Logic following a really dull process that turned out to be unnecessary when we got a later clue. Of course, she had no way of knowing she wasn’t doing the correct thing. Meanwhile, I solved a puzzle that gave us some clues for a second puzzle that would ultimately give us the information to bypass the work she was doing. I immediately saw a solution for those clues that gave us something interesting but that meant we hadn’t used a particular prop which was clearly related, which confused the hell out of us and convinced us that we must be doing something utterly wrong.  We eventually asked for a clue, worked out what we were meant to be doing and then finally realised that Mrs Logic had already got the answer we had been working out. She’d assumed that she hadn’t because that would mean she needed to brute-force a combination from a list of possibilities. Perhaps that’s realistic but then, later on, there was a puzzle you weren’t meant to brute-force because you were given all the information necessary. How are you meant to know which puzzles to brute-force and which to leave until you get the final piece of info? Does it even matter? These are meant to be “real life” escape games, so perhaps we should treat them as such (in which case, why not let us use Google?).

Speaking of using Google, there was one puzzle in this room which assumed some outside knowledge (and another where outside knowledge was a massive shortcut). I’m fine with outside knowledge being useful but I don’t like puzzles where it’s required. In this case, it was reasonably common knowledge – I’d guess around half the population would know it and, if you didn’t, you could always brute-force the padlock, but it would have been easy to have a clue somewhere in the room that gave you the outside knowledge required and thus made the puzzle entirely soluble.

Towards the end of the game, things became pretty frantic as we started to run out of time and found ourselves well short of our target. It turned out that this game (in a somewhat realistic touch) doesn’t give you any of the loot till quite late on. While that’s in keeping with reality, I think it would be way more fun if we started to get hold of some of the winnings earlier, as that would give you a tangible sense of progress. We want the game to last as close to the hour as possible so the we can get maximum enjoyment but, without some sense of progress, there’s a risk you’ll burn clues to get quick answers because you assume that you won’t get out otherwise.

Warning: clicking on this block will show some text that might be considered a spoiler. I don't think it is but it's your call.

Result

We escaped with all six items of loot, burning two clues in about 54 minutes.

Verdict –

Overall the game was fun, and I think beginners (who have to be the target audience) will find the game enjoyable, but I came out disappointed. For me, there were three main elements that let this game down. First and foremost, several of the puzzles were tedious. I enjoy the magic of working out how to solve a puzzle much more than the moment it’s actually finished. Turning the handle to convert the conceptual solution to an actual solution just doesn’t generate the same sense of satisfaction. Unless the task is truly interesting, I think you need to keep the process to a minimum. Secondly, there were leaps of logic that I wasn’t amazingly comfortable with – maybe if you squinted you could see a reason for doing the things, but it didn’t make sense to me – you just had to try out random stuff and hope. Third was the lack of sense of progress. One of the best things about bank heist games is the ability to let you leave with a proportion of the loot and for you to feel how successful you’re being as you go along. They missed a huge opportunity here. Looking around the leaderboard, there were three results – failed, got all the loot and got all but one of the prizes. How much better would it be if failing was almost impossible but teams would regularly escape with just one or two items of loot?

I think there’s scope here for improving this game significantly with relatively little effort – I’d love to see them replace a couple of the less exciting puzzles and then add some more options for accessing some of the safety deposit boxes.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

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