Adrenaline Escape (Wigan): The Vault, Nebula and Kidnapped

[Note that these reviews are from plays in late summer]

Adrenaline Escape is a family-run business in the heart of Wigan which delivers a series of fun games. We played a couple of their experiences – Labyrinth and Laboratory – before the pandemic and enjoyed them enough to sign up for another series of visits on a trip a few months ago, playing The Vault, Nebula and Kidnapped.

The Vault [3.5 stars]

We accidentally booked this game on the day it opened to the public. I’d generally try to avoid that, but we were in the area and it was available, so we thought we’d give it a go and hadn’t realised just how recently it had opened. It’s a strange game because (as we found out later) it’s been built with the knowledge that it won’t be running in situ for very long.

A consequence of this is that it’s quite minimalist but, for me, that worked out very well. Having said that, I was a little surprised when we first walked in because, in view of the title, I was expecting to be met with a bank-themed experience, and that most definitely wasn’t the case.

In fact, the game starts slightly earlier than that, with the first thing you have to do being breaking into the space. I usually love that way of starting the experience, but here it didn’t feel like it added to the immersion, instead just becoming the first puzzle to get past.

Once into the game proper, though, I really enjoyed myself. It’s not clear where to start, so you have to explore and see what may or may not be solvable. As the game progresses, you start to get a feel for what you’re trying to do. That both built our confidence up and gave us a sense of progress in the experience.

In some sense, it’s a game of two halves with a very different setup in each part. I didn’t get on quite as well with the second half of the game. The puzzles were fine, but one wasn’t yet working properly (it was opening day after all!), and another used a lockout safe. The problem was that it wasn’t at all clear *which* puzzle used that lockout safe, so it was easy to waste a “life” inputting entirely the wrong code. I’m not a big fan of lockout safes at the best of times but, if you’re going to use, it has to be abundantly clear which code should be entered in it.

The goal of this game is to collect together three elements. I always find those games a little nerve-wracking – will I remember the three elements by the end? Worry not, though: if you get to the end, you’ll definitely have found everything you need and be ready to rush out having saved the world.

Nebula [3.5 stars]

I’d guess Nebula is the flagship game for Adrenaline. It’s clear that they’ve put a lot of effort into creating the experience, both in terms of ramping up their programming skills and in building a pretty-looking set.

In my experience, space station games usually throw you into a room full of buttons, with you having to work out where to begin. That’s definitely not the experience here, although you still have to work out where to begin. If that disappoints you, worry not: you’ll get access to the more conventional space station experience at some point.

That led to a slow start for us, although the puzzles were all solid. The slow start was entirely on us: if anything, I’d argue that they’d over-signposted some of their puzzles because they were finding that teams were really struggling. I get why they’d do that, but it left at least one of their puzzles feeling weak when, at its core, it’s got the potential to be a lot of fun.

I was a little disappointed not to have more high-tech puzzles in the experience. There were some, but not as many as I’d expect in that environment. Space stations are an excuse to use tech and, while I don’t think you should put in tech for tech’s sake, the lack of more of it felt out of place.

The experience involves a reasonable amount of exploring as you move back and forth through your ship. This isn’t the kind of game where you read or see a story delivered directly to you, but the journey you take goes some way towards addressing that by helping you feel it instead.

The game finishes up with a fun end sequence that delivers a sense of closure to the experience.

Kidnapped [3.5 stars]

Kidnapped is probably up there with Nebula in terms of visual presentation. While it may not jump out at first glance, it continues to deliver interesting and varied decoration throughout the game. Of course, the theme of the game means that’s not what I’d call pretty, but it certainly helps set the tone for the experience.

There’s a nice ramp-up to the difficulty here, with you solving a series of puzzles in a relatively confined space, something that would work well for beginners. As the game progresses, there’s more to explore, and the well signposted puzzles mean you’re likely to make decent progress throughout.

There were a couple of places where I felt let down by the game. At a key moment, you need to make a decision about whether or not to continue (there’s an extended segment for teams that are doing well). There was a lot of uncertainty for me at that point (although Mrs Logic was, correctly, quite clear we should continue). The annoying thing was that I think there are a few different options that they could easily implement to make it clear what to do at that point. The other annoyance is that it’s easy for one player, particularly in a team of two, to get into a situation where they’re unable to do anything for an extended period. It’s a design choice that can pay off for some teams and backfire for others. In my case, it made me feel flat just as we were approaching the crescendo of the game. Not a big deal, but enough to take the shine off an otherwise solid game.

All five games at Adrenaline are solid but not spectacular. I don’t think there’s a clear game that I’d push you towards over the rest. If you like exploratory puzzles or sci-fi, then probably Nebula. If you like creepy games, then definitely Kidnapped. If you like well-structured puzzles, then The Vault. Whichever one you visit, though, there’s good GMing and fun experiences to be had.

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