Outside the room
I was very sad to see Escape Land close down towards the end of last year, so it was with great excitement that I found out it had re-opened. That hiatus had given them the chance to move to Oxford Street, tweak (not to mention rename) Age of Steampunk and add a second game. Their existing room had been delightfully quirky, so I was keen to find out whether they could retain that charm and impress me with a new set of puzzles. A quick visit to their website later, I’d booked a couple of teams in and, after a brief email exchange, they’d agreed to move the two games to run in parallel. Perfect!
The location itself is right on Oxford Street, although it would be easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Through a door between shops, down some stairs and there you are in the waiting room. In huge contrast with their previous location, there’s plenty of space here, with a ceiling three or four metres high, an unbelievably big map that stretches all the way to the roof and a good amount of sofa space which fitted all eight players while we made last-minute use of the facilities. At first glance I thought they were in the middle of designing a third room, but then I realised the huge half-finished woodwork in the waiting area was a model of one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s designs, and other smaller pieces dotted the space. Yep – from first impressions it looked like they’d retained that quirky charm.
I think the host was the same one we had on our previous visit eighteen months earlier, and in the intervening period he’s become slightly more confident and clearer, but his nervousness still let him down. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I could do better, and he obviously cared, but it really would improve the experience if he were that bit more imposing.
We didn’t get an introduction at all; we were just told it was based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and that we should pay attention throughout the game to what we learned. Perhaps the host was thrown by having two teams playing simultaneously but, looking back, I don’t think there really is a story here – it’s just a loosely themed game.
Inside the room
Inside the room, I was initially a bit disappointed. It was a small space and there didn’t seem to be much in the way of puzzles for us to get our teeth into. We’d quickly completed the search and found relatively little, and what we had found either didn’t make sense or could be used in lots of different ways. I like the start of an escape room to give you plenty to work with, because that means you don’t hit an impasse while you’re still trying to find your feet, but this game wasn’t so kind. It also turned out that in our ransacking of the room we’d made one of the puzzles harder to solve but, fortunately, we realised that was a possibility and quickly got ourselves back on track.
And, from there on in, we were flowing nicely. As with their other room, they had some delightfully quirky puzzles, several of which were new to me. It’s clear whoever designs their games isn’t just playing other rooms and stealing the ideas but is instead coming up with stuff for themselves. The puzzles themselves generally made use of the Leonardo theme, although they didn’t advance the story in any great way.
The highlights were probably the physical puzzles, especially the couple of them that encouraged at least two players to take part. It’s worth mentioning, however, that we almost went disastrously wrong with one of them by getting a key stuck half way through our solution. Fortunately, a significant amount of banging and rubbing finally dislodged it and allowed us to carry on our merry way, but it was a frustrating obstruction in the game and more or less down to poor construction. Homemade is charming, but sometimes it can mean that it’s not quite as smooth.
There were enough puzzles in the room, but I never felt overwhelmed, and the game flow was broadly linear. I can’t vouch for how good the clue system was, but it would have made use of the walkie talkies. It’s fortunate that we didn’t need to use them, though, because we hadn’t been shown how…
We escaped in about 38 minutes, around four minutes ahead of the previous record and without needing a clue along the way.
As with their existing room, this was charmingly quirky. Several of the puzzles were novel and most were a fair bit of fun, but on two separate occasions we almost painted ourselves into a corner: once by moving things in the room and once because of a physical puzzle that wasn’t perfectly made. I don’t think either of those should occur in an escape room. The biggest issue with this room, though, is the host – his lack of confidence makes the intro and wrap-up a little awkward. Had we been unhappy at the end, I think he’d have struggled to deal with it and, as it was, he missed out on an opportunity to hype up our escape. Maybe I’m less British than I thought!
We ate over in Soho Joe’s, a kind of cocktail and pizza place. The pizza was perfectly good, although not out of this world, and the ambiance is probably something you’ll either love or loathe. High tables, bar stools, a busy floor and plenty of background noise wasn’t really what I was looking for on a quiet night out, but on another day it might have fitted the bill well.
Detailed Room Ratings
With an escape room closing, what do you think of the prospect of showing the public how it’s done? There are really no video walkthroughs of escape rooms, for obvious reasons. But if a room is closing, and they don’t plan to re-use any of the puzzles, is there any harm in doing a video walkthrough and posting it online? As an escape room nerd, I’d watch it. I suspect thousands of others would as well. Thoughts?
The problem is, there’s always a chance they’ll reopen the room. I’ve seen rooms close then re-open. I’ve seen rooms being cycled out then re-open in a new franchise venue. What’s in it for the owners? I’d love to see them do it, but I think the best bet is to get a walkthrough for an amateur escape room.
I’d definitely watch though! It would be interesting – you could have “pause now to decide what you think needs to be done next”. I wonder if you could link them together and effectively make an online escape room out of a real world one, with youtube videos of the room allowing you to search interesting parts.