Outside the room
Nottingham had been on my radar for a very long time as a place reputed to have plenty of top-quality games. Of the four companies in the city, Escapologic seemed to be the leader – getting rave reviews from every enthusiast that visited – and recent comments had suggested that their newest game (Curio) was something particularly special. So it was that, after a lot of toing and froing, we hatched a plan to go to Nottingham for a weekend and visit all twelve of the escape rooms in the city.
Unusually, Escapologic is a split site with a couple of rooms (13utcher and Curio) across the road and the other four in the main building alongside the reception. One of the things I really liked about the location is that it always seemed to be full of people – with six games running simultaneously, that was hardly surprising – and those people always seemed to be having a good time.
It’s particularly worth highlighting the staff here, because they made a noticeable difference to the experience. To start with, they also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves: they were constantly chatting to each other and the guests and giving the impression that this was a fun place to be. When it was time for the briefing, it became clear that they also knew how to give a good intro – time and time again throughout this weekend, they delivered the stories confidently, concisely and with more than a little humour.
Buildings are collapsing. Fires are raging. People are screaming. And you’re trapped inside the Edward Palatine Institute, watching it all happen on your screen. With just one hour to save billions of pounds worth of chemical research, every decision you make is critical. As a vital part of the Institute’s disaster cleanup crew, you’ll have to walk a tightrope between weighing the consequences of your decisions, and making them fast enough to survive. As the crisis deepens outside the installation’s walls, and anarchy begins to rule the streets, terrifying updates flash through the news channels. There isn’t much time left, and your luck is running out…
Inside the room
Note: this review contains points that a few people might be considered spoilers. They’re important in the context of the review and there’s nothing given away that I didn’t learn before entering the room but, if you’re particularly keen on not learning anything till you turn up on site, then just look at the star rating and skip the rest of this review. Otherwise, read on…
Before you enter this game, you need to make a decision. One of the team has to go into isolation – separated from the rest of the group. Some teams might ask for volunteers, others might use a rock-paper-scissors knockout. My team just all pointed at me. No hesitation. It’s great to be popular.
And so I found myself led into the game to start entirely on my own. I’m not a fan of split games or, more accurately, I’m not a fan of any split games that I’ve played. Usually they end up in one of two situations: the puzzle to reunite you comes very quickly or it comes too late. In the former case, the initial split is somewhat pointless. In the latter, the teams get frustrated, especially if one person is left isolated for a long period of time.
Interestingly (and this was explained to me during the briefing so I don’t consider it a spoiler), this game has a slight twist on the usual format. There are two ways in which the isolated player can make progress: one set of puzzles allows the two teams to be reunited while the other allows the isolated player to continue on in the game. The upshot of that is that I felt a lot less frustrated – while failing to make progress on one puzzle trail is not uncommon, failing on two different trails is far harder. I think that emphasises that there isn’t a fundamental problem in separating the teams: the problem is in the progress. If either side of the game stops making progress, the split ceases to be fun and just gets in the way.
Fortunately for me, I kept making progress throughout this game. Unfortunately for my team mates, that wasn’t towards us being reunited, which meant that I got to explore onwards significantly while they got to experience frustration. Indeed, by the time my team joined up with me again, relatively late in the game, I’d solved several puzzles that they would either never see or where I’d just tell them exactly what they needed to do. That was a major problem because they spent only a couple of minutes in what was the real focal point of the game.
And what a focal point! This game has a real industrial feel to it. A big, chunky set with some very physical interactions, plenty of heavy-duty props (albeit some of which are just red herrings) and, in the middle of it all, the final goal of your mission. If they’d opted for a tame science laboratory, then I don’t think it would have tied in well with the natural disaster theme but, by choosing something big and solid, they could show a scene of devastation while still having the props intact. Yes, devastation: the set really looks like there’s been a natural disaster and, on top of that, there are plenty of special effects to fully immerse you in the experience.
As for puzzles, there were sufficient in this game to keep you occupied without being overwhelmed, and in general they had solid solutions. Of all the puzzles we came across, only one seemed questionable to me: one where the instructions we were given left us thinking we’d found the correct answer when we hadn’t. That would have been fine on its own but it was only one in a sequence of puzzles, so we ended up burning a lot of time thinking it was on the final puzzle in the chain that we’d made a mistake. The other, slightly annoying thing with the puzzles was that there were plenty of red herrings around the game, so at times it felt like you were close to solving something only to find out you’d been barking up entirely the wrong tree.
The finale to this game is beautifully comical and, while it might frustrate some people, it was the perfect antidote for me to the relative seriousness of what had gone before. Remember – it ain’t over till the fat lady sings!
I didn’t keep track of time very well over the weekend, but I believe we finished in around 45 minutes having taken three clues. Note that there’s no clock in the room, and that uncertainty made this escape more stressful than average. Whether you like that or loathe it is probably a personal decision.
I really enjoyed this game but I was very lucky with how it panned out. Had I been on the other side of the divide, I suspect it would have been a lot more frustrating. This is the sort of game where experiences will vary significantly but, overall, I still think it’s a great game and worthy of a visit.
I’d recommend heading along with a team of four people (regardless of experience levels) and choose who to go into isolation carefully.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.