I’ve seen better vampires…
Outside the room
On a previous trip to Escape Room Preston we’d played a couple of their games and while we’d not been overwhelmed by them, we thought they were worthy of a second visit, so booked ourselves in for a double session as a romantic Valentine’s Day activity. First up: Vampire Chronicles. Nothing says romance like Vampires.
Last time round I’d been more than unimpressed by their facilities, complaining about the horrendous state of their toilets. Yes, it’s not the most exciting part of an escape room operation and generally I don’t bring it up in reviews, but if they want to attract people from outside Preston (we’d driven an hour to get there) then they need to do better. It’s been two months since then, so I assumed things would have improved, but, no, on our return we found that they now had no working toilets. That’s pretty bad, but fortunately they’d struck a deal with a garage next door to use theirs. Unfortunately the garage was closed, so back inside we went to tell them. “Oh, I didn’t know” was all we got. No apologies, no attempt to help us find somewhere else, just a blank face of “I don’t really give a shit” (no pun intended). Customer service is a major problem at Escape Room Preston, so every visit is a lottery – if things go right, then they get away with it, but when things go wrong they fail. Miserably.
Fortunately, for once we’d turned up twenty minutes early, so we had to time to make a quick exit to a local cafe and still be back just in time for our game…
[Note – according to the owner, the toilets have now been fixed]
It’s thousands of years in the future. Vampires have fought a war against humans and you’re the last remaining group. Captured, it’s up to you to escape and defeat them in a final battle.
Well, I think that was the story, but it wasn’t entirely clear. The host looked, well, embarrassed to be telling us the story. To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed to be listening to it, but I went with the flow and hoped it would get better.
Inside the room
This was, without a doubt, the single worst start to a game that I have ever had the misfortune to take part in. It wasn’t helped by the earlier problems, but even if that hadn’t been the case, I would have been utterly disappointed. Spoiler: this game starts in a room so dark that you’re barely able to see your own hand. I don’t mind a bit of moody lighting, and I expected nothing less from a Vampire theme, but I wasn’t expecting to spend the first ten minutes joylessly feeling my way around a room as my eyes slowly became accustomed to the gloom. To make matters more “fun” there was an exposed screw tip on one of the pieces of furniture, so as you flail around in the darkness, there was a decent chance you’d scratch yourself.
You know what’s a really good idea in an entirely dark room? Lots of red herrings. How can we make this worse? Hmmm, let me think for a moment. Let’s make it so that there’s only a single puzzle in the room, and not give you much clue about what that puzzle is. Yes – that seems like a great idea. Sigh.
Fifteen minutes into the room we asked for our first clue having made almost no progress (other than to utterly ransack the room). A minute later, our host arrived (yes, we’ll gloss over how that totally dispels the illusion of us being the last humans on earth since I’ve ranted about that in previous reviews) and gave us a very direct hint on how to continue. To be honest, it was a perfectly legitimate puzzle that on another day we might have solved, but the red herrings had made us feel like maybe we’d entirely missed the point.
And then the darkness lifted. Metaphorically. Once we’d got past that puzzle, things improved immensely and I was reminded of why I’d come back to Preston. They do a great line in decent puzzles that have sensible solutions. Yes, the props are likely to be a bit broken and the room is always in a shoddy state, but all the puzzles I’d come across had been solvable. Even better in this case, some of the puzzles were made much easier if there were two of you working together – something I always like to see in games. Yes, I was actually starting to enjoy this.
A few more puzzles in and it got even better, as there was something genuinely novel in the room. An idea that I’d never considered, but which is fantastic and more rooms should imitate. Like a fellow enthusiast said when we’d met up the day before, there’s something about this room that will make you chuckle long after you’ve left. Well done Escape Room!
And so we arrived at the final puzzle. In spite of our slow start, we’d raced through the rest of the game and still had well over twenty minutes to spare. No rush, we had time, so let’s settle down and enjoy it. We quickly worked out exactly what we were meant to do, but it required a certain amount of skill that we didn’t possess. Not particularly unfair skill, but skill none-the-less. We struggled and struggled with it, desperately keen to avoid a second clue, but it wasn’t to be.
Eventually we caved, and asked for help. We explained to the host what we thought we were meant to do and she confirmed we were right, but she couldn’t work out how to help us – instead just telling us to persevere. We did, and with two minutes remaining called her back in to make it clear that we’d really like a clue rather than just being told to “persevere”. This time she was marginally better, but she was still pretty much clueless. In fact, when I explained to her what I thought we were meant to do and how I would translate that into the escape code, it turned out that I’d hit on *exactly* the right code this time. How I’d missed it in my 78 previous attempts I’ll never know, but when I said the code she suggested I try it, and if it didn’t work then try similar ideas.
Fortunately I followed that advice and so we got out with just a few seconds remaining. Phew!
You’d think, with less than two minutes remaining and having heard me utter the correct escape code, that the host would wait outside the door for the game to be over, one way or the other, but no, in a replay of our previous visit to the Vampire room, we walked out to find ourselves alone. In fact, we were so frustrated with our experience that we almost walked out straight away, but we decided that was rude and so went to say goodbye.
For all that I’m frustrated by our personal experience, I think there’s a solid game in here – with the usual ten or so solvable puzzles that generally makes Escape Room Preston an OK place to while away an hour. The red herrings and the darkness were a total killjoy, but if they fixed that up, the room itself is pretty solid, and there are some real highlights in there. The thing I can’t get over is how bad their customer service is – I assume caused by minimal training, fewer hosts than games and not being very picky with recruitment. Oh, and sort out the toilets – it’s a total embarrassment.
The bottom line is that I’m left feeling that if this game was run by a different company, I’d be recommending it as a decent bit of fun now, but in all honesty, I can’t.
Detailed Room Ratings