Secret Studio: Escape in Time!

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Outside the room

We visited Secret Studio during their preview period, where they offered a 50% discount in exchange for spending 10 minutes talking about the room afterwards. As the exitgames blog said at the time – they give you a discount for that?! I’d have happily spent half an hour talking to them…

We arrived at Museum Street a little early, and, as is the case with most (although not all) escape room venues, there was no real waiting area, so we headed off to the Camera cafe across the street. A half hour chat beforehand got us nicely in the mood – so much so that two of us who went to the toilet both thought it had escape room like qualities…

Coffee-ed up, we headed back across the road and down into the Secret Studio basement. It’s worth mentioning at this point, that Secret Studio’s designers have a slightly different background than the usual escape room companies. From what I can tell, and based on my experiences, most escape rooms are run by puzzle enthusiasts, but this comes from a media company. I was curious to see how that would play out – would the puzzles be simple but the experience amazing? Only time would tell.

Our host was obviously a bit new, and he lacked confidence in his intro, which was a particular let down given the theatrical nature of the experience, but it didn’t detract too much, and there were other aspects of the scene setting which worked really well, so all in all they passed the initial impressions test, and practice will undoubtedly make perfect. The briefing area was as small as any I remember, but with only three of us, it wasn’t a problem. Larger groups may find it a little crowded.

Background

You’re involved in a movie production where weird things have been happening. One of the crew members thought they’d got a handle on the problem, but last night they disappeared from the cutting room. Everyone’s convinced that it’s haunted or similar, but your team are going in to see if you can solve the mystery and bring back the crew member.

Inside the room

As soon as we got inside, we could see the production qualities were high – there was a distinct theme, a story-line that unfolded within the game, a moody atmosphere and the props were some of the most impressive I’ve seen.

We set to work searching the room, but before we’d even had a chance to search through all the props, the host came over the phone to give us help. I found it quite demoralising to be given clues when less than five minutes had passed, but to be honest, if we hadn’t been given the clue, fifteen minutes probably wouldn’t have helped. After that though, we moved along reasonably smoothly, although probably with more clues than in any other escape room I’ve visited (I’d say typically we get no more than three small clues).

I really enjoyed several of the puzzles in the room. Some because they were technologically impressive, one because it required multiple people to get involved and one because, well, it’s hard to say why without spoiling it. This isn’t a room which you’ll remember as a series of locks (in fact, I can’t remember more than a couple of keys or combinations along the way), although that’s not to say all the puzzles were exciting. There was one where I actually got bored solving it, and was just turning the handle to get to the end – in my view, it should be all about “seeing” the solution, and then you should should instantly get the answer. You should never have to perform a tedious task, or do difficult arithmetic.

Overall, I guess I felt that they set the puzzle standard too high. Or rather, there were some puzzles where there was no obvious way to solve them without a clue (or guesswork), and generally there were a few too many puzzles for the time available, so they had to keep you moving along rapidly.

Finally, one minor but very specific complaint – the host said we wouldn’t need to do the thorough searching that some other escape rooms required. That was generally true, except for one specific thing that was hidden in a place that was almost impossible to find unless you performed a painstaking search, which of course we didn’t given the guidance. One way or the other I expect they’ve fixed this problem by now though.

That said, this game, like all the best experiences, is one that improves with age. Once you get a chance to sit down and remember the experience, I think there are a lot of elements that you’ll recall fondly.

Result

The three of us got out with less than five minutes remaining. By the end my heart was racing, because they’d amped up the stress with music and generally it had felt like we’d rushed through the whole room very conscious that we were rapidly running out of time.

Verdict –

I’d put this just outside the top tier of escape rooms. It’s very close to being brilliant, but the puzzles left me just a little unsatisfied, and that’s one part of the room that has to be strong. Strangely though, I’d recommend as a room for first timers. If you don’t go into it with a certain expectation of the level of help you’ll need, I don’t think the number of clues would be a problem. It’s an incredibly well themed room, with a really moody backdrop at times, good puzzles and stand out props.

If you’re at all into escape rooms, then I’d definitely recommend going, since it’s so different to the standard fare.

Eating

Afterwards we had a fantastic couple of hours discussing the room in a Korean Restaurant, Naru. Good food (and my first introduction to kimchi!).

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

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