This is part of a series of articles on games in Edinburgh – click here for the introduction and links to all the other articles.
Located in Summerhall, Locked In Edinburgh is a great example of using your space to create a story. The building in which they’re housed is the old Edinburgh veterinary school from which they took influence for their first game. It also houses a distillery which they used as inspiration for game two. The Secret Lab brought them back to a medical subject but this time twisting the history of the site to come up with their own story about a secret research laboratory.
With towering, spacious rooms in a beautiful old building and some great hosts, these games already have plenty going for them before you’ve even entered the door. Their early offerings showed plenty of promise – rooms packed full of solid puzzles – but, when Secret Lab burst onto the scene, it was clear that they were a force to be reckoned with.
The Distillery (4 stars)
Where do I start? That was my first thought when I walked into the Distillery. Having never played one of their games before, I didn’t really know what style to expect, and I felt a bit like I had information overload. It’s not obvious what you should do first, and there’s plenty around the room to investigate. It doesn’t take long before you start to make some progress, though, and we were soon getting a feel for how the game was laid out.
As you progress through the experience, one of the things that struck me was how beautiful it was. There’s a lot in this game that’s beautifully laid out for no reason other than to look pretty. Other companies would just have removed much of that and made the room utilitarian, but here they have focused on creating a real space and yet still managed not to make it feel like it was full of red herrings.
There’s a reasonable amount of variety with the puzzles, but one of the central tasks was something that I really don’t enjoy seeing in an escape room. It felt more like admin than problem solving. Interestingly, when chatting to the owners afterwards, they told us that players who really struggle with the rest of the room gravitate towards this because it’s something they can easily get their heads round and take ownership of. Another reminder that what might annoy enthusiasts can work well for beginners.
Mostly, what the room did well was provide a constant supply of solid puzzles, rarely veering into the great or the terrible. Our complaints were fairly minor. For example, one puzzle felt like it suffered from a lack of lighting: we knew exactly what we were looking for and looked reasonably closely but still missed a critical piece of information. Another one had annoying locks that you had to use in an unnatural orientation (although this was highlighted clearly). On the plus side, the finale was a pretty cool ending which saw you rushing around the room in a bit of a panic. It could have been better executed, though – it relied on good colour vision and, if you made a mistake, it wasn’t clear how to proceed. During the walk-through afterwards, we found out that they’d deliberately simplified this part of the game based on previous feedback from groups, so making a mistake didn’t matter as much as we had thought.
The game kept us busy for pretty much the full hour, escaping with under a minute to go, having taken two clues (both search fails). There’s no clock in the room, which almost proved our downfall because we didn’t ask for clues until we were entirely stuck. We came within a whisker of failing a room where we only needed two clues. Would that have been fair? Is it our own fault for not asking for clues? I don’t know, but not having a clock makes it doubly difficult to know when to ask for help. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no noise to indicate you’ve received a clue – apparently we totally ignored one for ten minutes. To my mind that’s a mistake; it should be obvious if you’re being offered a clue, especially if the monitor isn’t visible from all parts of the space.
Dr C Lions – Animal Hospital (4 stars)
It’s great to go into a room where they’ve made use of the original fittings to help cement the storyline. Having an animal hospital story in a veterinary school is a definite plus to the game, but it did mean making use of the spaces you happened to have available. That left the game feeling incredibly lopsided for me. In particular, there’s a risk of going into a total panic because you feel you’re massively behind schedule when you access new spaces. That’s compounded by the fact that this game doesn’t give you an obvious sense of progress and, combined with the absence of any clock, that made the experience more stressful than it might otherwise have been. Whether that’s a positive or a negative I will leave to you…
Again, there was a central part to the game that felt more like admin than puzzling. In my opinion, this time round it really detracted from the game. In part, that was because it felt like it was just reusing something from their other game, but it was also because it didn’t feel logically as solid – we had to make assumptions that just didn’t feel watertight. We held off with those assumptions for a long time, but eventually it became clear we couldn’t find any other clues, so we took the plunge and it turned out that was the intention.
The output from that puzzle also felt like it broke the immersion a bit – they’d gone down the route of escape room logic by giving you a formula to calculate a code when they could have something that fitted better with the game. It’s a relatively minor quibble but, given the love and attention they’ve put into other aspects of the game, this felt oddly out of place. Generally, though, as with the previous room, the puzzles were logical and satisfying. One in particular stands out as being a cut above the average, with some cunning misdirection to make you feel like you’ve solved it only to realise that you’ve been naïve.
The ultimate goal is to investigate whether there are animals being held in the hospital against their will and, if so, release them. They achieved that in a fun, slightly kitsch way that worked well. One thing did get a bit in the way of an otherwise smooth finish to the game – the final padlock was incredibly stiff. It definitely felt like they should get better locks or change them more often. That’s particularly true when it’s pretty much the final lock in the game – the last thing you want is someone failing an escape room because of a hard to use lock!
Things went a little more straightforwardly this time round, and we escaped with eight minutes to spare having taken a single clue. There are plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied but nothing like as many as in the Distillery, so I’d recommend playing this game first.
Secret Lab (5 stars)
I’ve already written a dedicated review of the Secret Lab, so I’m not going to write any more here beyond saying that this is a simply stunning game that all enthusiasts should make an effort to visit.
That’s all on Locked In Edinburgh – want to read more about Edinburgh games? Click here to head back to the main Edinburgh page.