Outside the room
It’s been a long time since I’ve headed into the centre of Manchester, and I didn’t really know what to expect. What I certainly didn’t expect to be paying nine pounds for two hours of parking. I thought things were meant to be cheap up North!?! In fairness, Breakout Manchester is located right in the absolute centre of the city, tucked in just behind Albert Square, so it’s not entirely surprising that it’s expensive to park nearby.
Breakout Manchester, in contrast to its Liverpudlian cousin, is located a floor above street level and, in a significant improvement, as well as having a few chairs, has some comfy sofas, which gave the waiting area a slightly less stark feeling. We were a little bit early this time, so I nipped to the toilets which massively let the venue down. In their defence, they claim to be under renovation, but seriously – an escape setup with five rooms has to have better facilities than are available here. Hopefully that sign was genuine, and they are soon to be improved, but I wasn’t convinced.
Back in the waiting area, I watched the TV screen which gave details of the rooms, including their success rates. Last week I’d have been quite dismissive of their claim to only get 40% out of the Virus room, which we’d chosen, but having failed at one with 70% success rate, I was feeling a little more charitable…. At least we weren’t in the 10% room… One nice touch they have here, is that all the rooms lead off of the waiting area, with the names clearly marked on them, and in the case of the John Monroe room, “Crime scene: do not cross” tape stuck across. It’s a minor detail, but there’s something fun about feeling you’re in the heart of the action, and watching the teams enter their rooms.
A deadly virus has broken out and is running unchecked across the world. Civilisation as we know it has broken down and the remaining population is struggling to survive. A group of scientists has locked themselves away in their lab in a last ditch attempt to develop an antivirus. The news is that they discovered the cure, but just as they made their final breakthrough, they were infected by the virus, and their knowledge has now been lost. You’ve been sent into their lab in the hope you can uncover their work and retrieve the antivirus.
Inside the room
Briefing over, we were thrown into the room, and almost immediately I started feeling overwhelmed. Most of the escape rooms I’ve been to are very much catering to the first time escaper, so they break you in gently. This had lots of stuff to investigate right from the first second.
We circled the room in opposite directions, shouting out what we were finding, arguing over whether “3 digit code” meant you’d found a combination lock or an actual code and generally getting stuck in. All too often though, it felt like they were throwing in red herrings, or making us perform tedious searches that didn’t throw anything up. I guess this is a matter of personal taste, but I really don’t like red herrings. It’s a fine balance – what constitutes a prop to set the scene and what constitutes a red herring? The room was full of props that I was more than happy with, but there were too many which might, or might not, be useful.
The low point on that front was a red herring which I suspect was either a puzzle in the original test setup that was removed to reduce difficulty, or a puzzle that in some way broke and they decided to remove. Either that or it was a very deliberate red herring that took you well off the beaten track and pointed very directly at some sort of combination. We wasted at least five minutes discussing how it might be used, and every single time we got stuck we ended up coming back to it. When we finally exited the room and found that it was pointless it was incredibly frustrating.
On the subject of broken puzzles, there was a second puzzle which I suspect had been removed from the room due to a component being broken. In the process, they’d left behind a piece of equipment that led you very much in one direction, and what I assume was the replacement puzzle left you feeling that they might as well just have written a code on a piece of card and hidden it in the room somewhere. Now, it’s possible that the equipment had broken the day before and this was an emergency replacement, but I don’t think that was the case.
Even when the puzzles were working, there were some which required leaps that I just don’t think were reasonable. I’ve said before – I like puzzles which seem obvious after you know the solution. If, on being told the solution, you think “I’d never have got that in a million years”, the designers have failed. Want to make a room difficult? Don’t put in one puzzle with a 5% success rate, and all the rest 99%, put in twenty puzzles with a 90% success rate. The particular worst perpetrator used a puzzle mechanic that I’d seen at my previous breakout room (in a much fairer context), so perhaps this is a theme that Breakout have throughout their rooms, and which more experienced players would guess. It did make me ponder how much escape room operations look at puzzles that continually frustrate players and fix them.
Sorry – this is becoming a bit of an essay on broken puzzles. Two more and then I’ll stop – I promise. First off, if you’re going to use colours in your puzzles, then please, please, please make sure that they’re easily distinguishable, and ideally use a white light, not a yellow one. Secondly, make sure that it’s not possible to circumvent a series of puzzles, particularly if it allows you to skip to the end. I was quite frustrated by the time we reached the twenty minutes to go mark, and decided I’d use something in a way that it clearly wasn’t intended, to see if I could shortcut the game. It turned out I could, and so could have escaped immediately bypassing at least four puzzles steps. Fortunately (?) I didn’t realise a key piece of information, so ended up working through the puzzles in order anyway.
Well done on getting this far! I feel I should offer some balance (if only because Mrs Logic didn’t seem to have half as bad a time as I did). The majority of the puzzles were solvable without hints, there was a half way decent range and there was one puzzle that I thought was pretty original (OK – I’d seen something similar, but not in an escape room).
We got out with five minutes remaining. It felt a somewhat hollow victory though, because we’d had a lot of clues. Well, certainly more than five, which felt like a lot.
Of the four rooms I did over the weekend, this was my least favourite by quite a long way – in spite of failing to get out of another. I’ve done a couple of bad rooms in my time, but it’s always felt like it was down to a lack of effort on the designer. This felt like they’d gone to a fair amount effort, but it just hadn’t worked out.
This is the first ever room where I seriously considered walking out. Twenty minutes in, I was totally frustrated – I’d done a lot of searching, for very little return, there were a lot of different clues that didn’t make much sense to me, and I’d just been given a clue to a puzzle that felt entirely unsolvable without that hint. Perhaps on a different day or with a bigger team, I’d have taken it in my stride, but I just didn’t enjoy the early experience and that put me in a bad mood which spoiled the remaining 40 minutes. I think the host must have sensed it, because for once I wasn’t asked if I enjoyed the room… in fact, the post-game experience consisted of him basically saying “Congrats on getting out. Thanks for coming. Goodbye.”
I wouldn’t recommend this game at all unless you’re looking to complete the Manchester set. Hopefully they’ll rip it out and create a better replacement.
After being horrified by the price of parking (it’s not London you know!), we headed out to the Trafford Centre and ate at Zizzi. The calzone, like the escape room, wasn’t half as good as yesterday’s.
Don’t take my word for it…
Other reviews for this room – let me know if you know of others:
Detailed Room Ratings