Outside the room
Back in October, Escape Entertainment appeared on the London scene, taking over the venue that used to house Escape Hunt. We’d visited in December and, while Prohibition Pandemonium was better than its predecessors, I still found it disappointing – not enough to keep ten people occupied, obtuse puzzles and uninspiring decor. With that, Bank Heist had fallen to the end of my visit list and would likely have languished there for several months. (Note: according to the manager, they’ve updated Prohibition Pandemonium since then; see the review for more details.)
Fortunately, Escape Entertainment got in touch to invite me down to play Bank Heist – seemingly they were confident I’d have a good experience, so I pulled together a team of five and headed back to George Yard for a fifth time.
Nothing’s changed about the interior of the place since my first visit – two big waiting areas (for before and after), nice toilets and generally the same great experience that it’s always provided. I was impressed by the quality of the intro though – that has definitely improved, and was both clear and fun. They’ve done away with individual briefings per team which, while losing the personal touch, does mean they can focus on delivering it to a high quality.
You’re breaking into a bank to steal the crown jewels (yes, I thought they were in the Tower of London too, but let’s roll with it). You’ve knocked out the guard and the security cameras and have about an hour before anyone notices. Break into the vault, retrieve the jewels and get out!
So far, so good, but it’s the games that have always let this venue down. What would we find?
Inside the room
The first impression was good – they’ve definitely invested in the decor. It was by no means perfect, but it was sufficient to maintain the illusion. It’s not a huge space for six people, but it was enough, and they’d provided us with enough puzzles to work in parallel.
Indeed, that was one of the highlights of this room for me – it never felt like anyone was hanging around (or doing a repeat search of the room because there was nothing better to do!). Well, except for once, where we’d missed a pretty obvious clue and thought we were blocked for a couple of minutes. Parallelisation is key to a good game – bottlenecks leave you feeling bored AND give you time to contemplate how badly designed the game is! None of that here.
As for the puzzles themselves, there was a decent variety which would keep most people, apart from keen searchers, happy. Yes, there were padlocks, but actually there were relatively few, it was always obvious which code tied to which padlock, and most of them were even consistent with the story, which is a rare achievement. Pleasingly, several of the puzzles were geared towards you working in groups – in some cases optionally and in at least one case it was required.
It wasn’t all great, though. The room was marginally easier than ideal, there was very little in the way of searching (which was good for me, but disappointing for our resident searcher) and there weren’t any “wow” or “Eureka!” moments in the puzzles to give you that big achievement buzz. That said, considering their main audience is probably going to be first-timers, I think those are reasonable decisions. Not every room can be designed for experienced escapers.
The only big negative to me was one specific part of the game which was very time consuming, was unrelated to the plot and occupied two of our players for almost ten minutes of the game. I didn’t see much of that puzzle, so I can’t say for sure, but I think I’d have been quite grumpy if I’d had significant involvement.
We got out without taking a clue in twenty-eight and a half minutes. Yes, we’re very experienced, and yes, we took five people in, but I don’t think a room should be solvable that fast. I generally expect to get out of a room in under 40 minutes these days, but under 30 and I think there’s something wrong. A couple more puzzles would be good here and, looking at TripAdvisor, I think others agree.
Overall, this was definitely a fun room. Admittedly, we’d gone in with low expectations, but the whole group came out with a smile on their face having enjoyed the experience. According to our chat with the manager afterwards (subsequently backed up by talking with a previous player), they’re constantly making tweaks to their game based on feedback, which bodes well. If it were me, I’d dumb down or remove the puzzle that sidelined two of our players for ten minutes, and add in a couple of other puzzles plus a little bit of searching to up the difficulty and extend the game.
That said, I’m happy to recommend this game to other players. It’s a fun game, perfect for novices, but still enjoyable for experienced players, and everything outside of the room is great. At last we have an escape room in the heart of the City that can both handle team-building trips and give players a decent introduction to the scene. Great news!
We headed to the Cross Keys after the game, a really nice pub a few steps away, serving a wide range of beers and with lots of little nooks and crannies for post-escape discussion. Thursday night was curry night, so what else were we going to have!?
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.