Outside the room
It’s always exciting when a new escape room arrives in London, but I was particularly looking forward to Omescape‘s arrival since it’s a franchise and the rooms would therefore already be tried and tested. And not just any franchise – this is one that has had significant success in the US and Canada. Sadly, their most popular room hasn’t made it across (Kingdom of Cats), but the company had a good enough reputation for me not to worry too much.
Initial impressions were good – easy-to-use website, pain-free booking process and a reasonably convenient location in Kings Cross (interestingly, just around the corner from clueQuest – could this be a new northern escape room hub?). Inside there was a large waiting area with a huge, almost-too-brightly-lit Omescape logo to greet you as soon as you crossed the threshold. We met our quiet but friendly host who gave us a quick introduction and, before we knew it, we were entering the room.
The Joker was the star of the circus, until he started to experience psychological problems. He locked himself away in a custom-built asylum, where a private doctor treated him. Away from the public eye, his asylum allowed his insanity to grow until he broke down, and then people started to disappear from the local community. Your mission is to break into the Joker’s Asylum using the doctor’s notes and rescue the victims.
Inside the room
Warning: in the next paragraph (and throughout the rest of this post) I’m going to tell you about a part of the game that might be considered a spoiler. You’ll find out about it before you enter the room, and I don’t think telling you about it in advance will affect the game, so I deem it acceptable. However for those of you who absolutely don’t want to know anything before you arrive at the venue, I’ve put spoiler protection around it – click on “Spoiler!” to make it appear.
When you enter the room, you quickly realise that this is going to be a more complicated game than most. There’s a lot of information to take in, and it’s not at all obvious how you’re going to deal with it. As each player searches the environment, they discover different things, so communication between the players becomes absolutely key, to a level which no other escape room I’ve played has achieved. It’s great to see a game that really puts communication into the limelight. These are, at the end of the day, team games, and communication is probably the most important part of teamwork, so it deserves its time in the centre.
First impressions were good. There were plenty of potential clues to greet us, and relatively little that looked like red herrings. There were no gimmes in this room, though: you’d have to work for every puzzle and, in some cases, work damn hard. Several of the clues were delivered on laminated paper, which was a bit of a shame, and on occasion they were pretty wordy, which I always think interrupts the flow of the room. In effect it’s a bit like giving you red herrings – you have to wade through information deciding whether any of it is useful. Aside from those laminated sheets, though, it was a nicely decorated and constructed set, with one particular puzzle mechanic a real highlight. The puzzles fitted beautifully with the theme, generally making sense in the context of the room and adding tidbits of story as you went along. I left the room feeling sorrier for the Joker than when I arrived, which I think is a sign that the story isn’t just an excuse for the room but is woven into its fabric. To cap it off, the finale puzzle pulls elements from across the game together with a slightly but not too contrived solution.
We didn’t get out within the sixty minutes, but were given an extra five minutes on the clock, of which we used half to complete the game. Along the way, we got a few clues, although we were definitely left to struggle for longer than would be usual in a room – I’m not sure if that was because it was a difficult room, a deliberate choice of OMEscape/this franchise or because the host chose not to give us clues unless we desperately needed them or asked.
This is, without a doubt, one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written. The game left me genuinely unhappy – not at failing (that would be mere disappointment) but at how the team dynamics had played out. I remember once having a conversation with Mrs Logic about her feeling she’d let me down when we played as a pair and I failed my first escape room. I said to her at the time that you win as a team and you fail as a team – individuals don’t count. It didn’t feel like that at the end of Joker’s Asylum. This game messes with you, as befits its eponymous antihero, and I suspect will cause strain in even the tightest knit of teams.
There are two big negatives in this game, both of which involve spoilers. Sorry to those of you skipping these sections!
One of those negatives is fixable, and I think, talking to the owner afterwards, that they’ll work on it to make a significant improvement if other players feel the same way. The other is trickier, but I think will become less relevant if they resolve the first problem.
On the plus side, I like the set, I like the story, all the puzzles made sense and I loved that the puzzles were less numerous but required us to talk a lot more – it’s a team game after all, so anything which brings you together is great. I even loved the tension that the game introduced in the team, even if it ended up making the game less enjoyable for me.
I came away from this game excited about Omescape and playing their next game but, in all honesty, disappointed in this experience, so I have to put a big caveat on playing this room: I’d only recommend it to players who want a good challenge, and I’d recommend you approach it with a group where everyone knows each other.
It was an early booking, and we were short of time, so we dropped by 5 Guys for a quick burger and fries. I’d never been before and made the rookie error of chatting in the queue rather than reading the menu, and ended up declining the (free) extra toppings – not realising that they consider things like lettuce and tomato toppings. On the plus side, I ordered the large fries, which were great and enough to feed all four of us at the table.
Detailed Room Ratings