Outside the room
On a drive from Manchester to London, we decided we’d split the journey up by dropping in on Clockwork Escapes, just outside Wolverhampton. A few TripAdvisor reviews which looked positive and some email exchanges with the owner were all we had to go on, but it was enough to risk making a double booking for their games. We were lucky enough to be the only team playing in the first slot, so there was a parking space right in front of the venue but, if you’re equally lucky, be careful – the doors open outwards, so don’t park too close!
The owner, also our GM, greeted us in character and… what a character! It’s hard to convey the experience of meeting Professor Clockwork. Intense, overwhelming? He was this wonderfully caricatured character – the zany professor – and used his choice of words, his method of delivery and even the way he held himself to carry the experience. In contrast to the brightness of the professor, the waiting area was dark. Worryingly dark. If this was the lighting they deemed appropriate for hanging around, what would the room itself be like? What we could see filled us with hope, though: it’s a very nicely presented space and, combined with the professor’s costume, there were definite Steampunk vibes. Yes, I definitely had a good feeling about this!
One body. One killer. One hour to solve the case.
Alleyway will pit your team’s wits against a psychopath with a vendetta. Can you catch the killer and escape with your life?
Inside the room
Well, let’s step back a little before we enter the room because, just before you head inside, you get one hell of an introduction from a truly talented orator. I was utterly engaged by what he said and how he delivered it, and it really set the scene for the mystery ahead.
Sadly, entering the room was a massive disappointment. Everything up to this point had built us up for a fantastic experience, but inside was a let-down. The space you enter is a dark and dirty alley. In many games, I’d put this down to laziness, but here I think it’s a very deliberate decision – as I read in one of the descriptions, “This is no plasterboard-walled facsimile; the walls are brick, the smells is damp, the clock is ticking and the lights are out“. Yes, it was immersive but, for me, unpleasantly so. Perhaps the professor could have done more work to set our expectations?
Once you accepted that initial disappointment, it was actually very well themed. This really did feel like a Victorian alley late at night, and little touches like the news posters on the wall that talked about the murderer added to the larger-scale elements. The storyline was a little weaker, but there was certainly enough to keep me engaged. Mostly, though, it was about solving puzzles.
And that was where we had our second-let down. There’s not much variety in the way of puzzles here. They’re mainly observational, sometimes codes, sometimes patterns. Very little excited me, and there was some fairly difficult searching, made doubly so by the lack of light sources in the room. In terms of layout, as you might expect with an alleyway, it felt very linear. While there were usually two or three puzzles on offer, you were fairly gated at any one time. In truth, that was probably for the best or you’d likely have missed key clues and puzzles along the way.
During the game you build up information about the murderer, with your end goal being not only to escape the room but to identify the correct suspect. That’s where this game both excelled and bombed for me. I confess to having a certain dislike for murder mysteries, especially in escape rooms. Firstly, I always find that there’s a lack of proper evidence. Far too much is circumstantial, and that was absolutely the case here. Worse that that – some of the clues weren’t really clues at all but true escape room logic. The other problem is having to finish the game and then choose a suspect. I find that a total anticlimax – I want the quick hit of endorphins if I’m right. Locks and padlocks do that for me, but listening to someone tell me that I’m right or wrong doesn’t.
On the other hand, I really liked a very novel way of delivering some of that information to the players which, at times, was done incredibly subtly. I also loved that they gave you more information than you needed so, while there might have been some exceedingly dubious “circumstantial” evidence, there was enough of it overall to swing the balance across.
As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of this style of finish. I want my escapes to be thrilling experiences, and I find that having to rush out of the room but then give a GM your answer and wait to find out whether or not you were right is a real let down. Although the GM’s personality and acting did a lot to overcome this flaw, it ultimately still left me unsatisfied.
We escaped the room just before the time ran out but chose the wrong person as the murderer. Does that count as an escape? Not in my book.
Clues were offered if the GM felt they were necessary, but in general you were expected to call in on the walkie-talkie for help (with a restricted number of tries). We didn’t make significant use of this – maybe two or three clues?
From an amazing start when we arrived at the venue, things went downhill inside the game. Whether the interior of the room delights or repels is very much a matter for personal taste. For me, it wasn’t pleasant, but I could have got over that easily enough were it not for feeling that the puzzles were lacklustre and the end goal of solving the mystery felt it relied on a lot of tenuous connections. There’s a lot of raw potential here, but it failed to deliver in aggregate.
Playing this game as a pair is hard work – I’d recommend three or four, even for seasoned enthusiasts, although you may then find that there’s insufficient lighting. I wouldn’t want to take many more in – you’re likely to get in each other’s way a lot and, while there’s a certain amount of parallelisation, there’s usually not that much to be worked on at any one time.
Detailed Room Ratings