[Note: Since I visited this room early on, the owners have made the puzzles significantly less obscure – my guess is that this would now rate around the four star mark although, without visiting, I can’t say for sure. From talking to fellow enthusiasts who’ve played since, including some who rate fairly consistently with me, experiences have been very positive.]
Outside the room
It was over a year ago that I first heard about Archimedes Inspiration and, in the meantime, they seem to have fought all manners of trials and tribulations to get their escape room up and running. Sensibly, in my opinion, they changed from an initial aim of opening four rooms straight away to staggering their openings. This means that, at the time of writing, they’ve got just the single game, Leo’s Path. Their location in Bermondsey is a literal stone’s throw away from another escape company, Lock’d, making it perfect for a double evening of escaping it that’s what floats your boat.
It wasn’t a great omen when we struggled to get inside the building. There are two ways into the Biscuit Factory, one of which leads you right up to their main entrance, the other of which deposits you closer to the side door to the building with a convenient entryphone. Which won’t connect you to them. Here’s a hint: If you can’t see their sign, then you’ve not found the right door!
Once inside, we were greeted by a pair of wonderfully warm and welcoming hosts. Kou and Yan may have fought hard to get to where they are, but their enthusiasm for the venture is still clear and they’re keen to talk about their rooms, escape rooms in general and, of course, technology. I say “of course” because one thing you’ll find when you descend into their space is that they do love their technology. Whether it’s a piano that shows you what keys to press, a sit-on segway-esque device or just a remote control coffee machine, you can be sure that there will be something in the room to keep you entertained while you’re waiting. At the moment that’s great, but I’ll be curious to see how they cope as their other rooms open up – it’s a largeish waiting area, but it’s going to get cosy when there are four groups waiting.
Leo and Erika are close siblings living on a remote island. Eager to explore the world and find adventure, Leo sets off by boat, leaving Erika behind, but promising he will come back. Erika waits for his return, but he never appears and eventually she passes away. Her soul haunts the island, waiting for Leo. Your mission is to find Leo and grant Erika her peace.
Inside the room
As soon as you walk through the door, you know you’re somewhere special. Few places contain a set with this sort of quality, and it was clear that a lot of effort had gone into producing it. Time and time again during the experience, that feeling of quality was brought back to me. Everything in this room is made with care.
Not only did it look nice but it was robust. Yes, this room is relatively new, but it felt solid. It’s a room that relies on (relatively hidden) technology, so it’s absolutely critical that it’s well made. Technology is a great way to make things work smoothly but, if anything goes wrong, it grates. Nothing felt even close to breaking down here, which was in marked contrast to my general experiences of technology in escape rooms.
The room, indeed the game, evokes a sense of calmness, almost of zen. In fact, someone (thanks Dan!) remarked to me that this was a contemplative room rather than a frantic one, and they got that spot on. I think everything about this room is meant to give you a sense of peace – the beauty of the set, the calmness in the soundtrack, the story and even the puzzles themselves. This isn’t the sort of game where you dive from puzzle to puzzle to puzzle. They tell you at the beginning that it’s primarily a linear game. It’s designed specifically for you to play as a team. I’ve complained before about games that are linear, but this game made me realise that linearity isn’t a fundamental problem. The knowledge that there was only one puzzle to work on at a time stopped us frantically searching round the room and allowed us to concentrate on the task in hand and communicate with our team mates. Give people puzzles that they can discuss, tell them that the game is going to be linear in advance and, actually, it’s very enjoyable.
Or at least it would have been very enjoyable but for one fairly significant problem: several of the puzzles in the game were insanely hard and had solutions that I felt unsatisfied with even after we’d been told how they were meant to be solved. I’ve played many games with puzzles that required a leap of logic and, while they were frustrating, they didn’t grate as much as here. I’m not sure if that’s because it was in such contrast to the set or whether it was because the linearity meant we felt like we’d been unfairly trapped, unable to progress. Either way, the result was that about half the time that we solved a puzzle in the room, we got absolutely no thrill – just a sense of relief that we could move on to something new.
The upshot of the difficulty of the puzzles was that we had to make a lot of use of the clue system. AI Escape use an entirely different system from other places. In effect, they give you a WhatsApp-like application to communicate with them. It sounds like a great idea, because you can send pictures, text and audio, but in practice we found it frustrating because it was similar to a two-way walkie-talkie.
In spite of being a couple of months into their opening, they’re still making changes to the game to try to get the balance right. In particular, they’d tweaked the ending to the game in a way which left me feeling disappointed. It’s hard to explain that without giving away part of the plot but, broadly speaking, there was a side quest to complete which, if you failed, could mean your last act in the game was failure even if you had still escaped successfully. I’ve seen a similar idea work well elsewhere, but it just didn’t fit this room.
We escaped in around 36 minutes but just failed the side quest – we were probably within a couple of seconds of total success. Note that, if you played before us, they used to give substantial hints on at least three puzzles, which would explain the relatively short escape time. They’ve also introduced a change to the end scenario which I won’t go into here – drop me an email if you want to know more.
I came out of this room feeling quite frustrated but, since then, my opinion has mellowed somewhat. You could think of this as a connoisseur’s game, one that I think will grow on you over time and leave you with some fond memories. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to beginners, and I would caution more experienced players to go in with their eyes open. Expect the puzzles to be tough and obscure and you’ll find that every single one of them is gettable. Just.
This is one of those games where I’d heartily encourage readers to get commenting below. With most rooms, I have a pretty clear picture of what I think about them, but this had so many contrasts that I’m really not sure how to rate it. I’d love to hear your opinions.
We headed off to Poppy Hana afterwards. Great food and friendly staff.
Detailed Room Ratings
I played this in the first couple of weeks of it opening (a friend found an opening-week Groupon), and I felt broadly the same. At the time no one had escaped within the hour and we also missed it by a couple of minutes, so it’s no surprise that I thought it was too hard back then 😉 Presumably the room has been tweaked since we played it, which might affect how accurate my comments below are.
One puzzle in particular caused us most of our problems. Puzzles with numbers in (even if they don’t involve maths) are tricky because there are so many ways that numbers can be combined. It’s not enough for the correct answer just to make sense when it’s explained, there need to be hints to put you clearly on the right path in the first place.
The hint system was unusual, and it broke the immersion of the room in a way that often doesn’t matter, but felt more jarring in a room that was designed around solitude and being disconnected. It also felt slow, seeing “… is typing” while the time is running down and you’re waiting for a hint, can feel very frustrating in the moment. Still, it’s good to see a room that’s trying something in a different way to other local rooms and it bodes well to see what kind of innovation they’ve got lined up for their next rooms.
These comments are probably more critical than the room deserves though, I came out of it with a good experience, and Kou and Yan are great hosts, who top and tail the experience really enthusiastically.