Extremescape: The Pirate Ship

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Outside the room

I first came across Extremescape back in August of last year and was immediately surprised by what they were doing. First, they’re in Disley, a village on the edge of the Peak District, not the traditional city/town home of existing escape games. Then they announced that their game was 90 minutes long, rather than the usual 60 and that it was suitable for 2-8 people.

That final bit really worried me – how could you have a room that would be entertaining for the full range? Surely either it would be too difficult for two or too easy for eight? Add to that the fact that it was about an hour away from me, and I’d put it quite a bit down my to do list.

I’m a mug for the personal touch though, so when the owners contacted me via Twitter, I took another look at my plans and saw a way to make it work. I usually avoid spoilers, but I’m allowed this one: I’m very glad I did.

I’d recommend a satnav to get here, but as you get to the last couple of turns, there are signs that guide you to the final destination – and what a destination. A quiet farm, set on the side of a hill, just next to the Golf Club, with plenty of parking; you’re already enjoying the experience by the time you’ve arrived at the front door. It’s run by a lovely couple, Graham and Jess, who are friendly from the moment you arrive, welcoming you to their game.

Background

This game opens with a bang. Aside from rooms where an actor gives the introduction, this is the best I’ve seen. You’re ushered into a separate area, the hosts retreat and the story setting begins…

A long time ago the pirate Zak Barrow captured a ship full of treasure. It disappeared and hasn’t been seen again since. Now’s your chance. You’ve got 90 minutes to find the treasure and make your escape.

Inside the room

As soon as the intro was over, we entered the room and were blown away. I was immediately torn between diving into the game and marvelling at the set design, a feeling that continued throughout – I lost count of the number of times I said “wow”. Most games throw in a handful of props to get across the essence of what the room’s about, but this was more like a film or theme park set. The whole thing was so beautifully crafted, that I’m still thinking about it a couple of days later.

We couldn’t marvel at the set forever though – we had some escaping to do! – so we jumped in and started looking at the puzzles and searching the room. This isn’t a racing game where you’re dashing round the room from code to code to code. It’s a thinking game, where discussing with your team mates is probably the best way to make progress.

The arrangement of the puzzles within the room was particularly nice – when you’ve got up to eight people playing, you want to spread them out, and Extremescape most definitely does that. The highlight of the puzzles for me however was the mechanics: yes, there were combinations and keys in this room, but lots of the puzzles involved much more interesting mechanisms. In some puzzles, this meant physically interacting with the room, while in others the room changed as a result of your success. “Wow” moments abounded.

One thing that surprised me was that there was relatively little searching, which was probably a good thing for us, because we failed pretty miserably at what searching there was. It’s not that they’d hidden things in obscure places, just that we were pretty incompetent. Experience helps with many things when escaping rooms, but it makes you a lazy searcher!

The clue system was particularly novel, in that they had two different mechanisms for giving out clues. It felt like they let you get on with the room, offering small nudges when you needed them, but you could specifically ask for clues if you wanted.

Many rooms I’ve played feel fragile and have tattered scraps of paper to give you clues, but that wasn’t the case here. I’ve always said that the tactile nature of this real life form of gaming is important, and there’s something disappointing when the room and props are rickety. There was a feeling of quality and solidity about everything in this game.

Result

We escaped the room with less than ten minutes remaining and having had a few clues along the way. I don’t think we covered ourselves in glory, but if there was a room worth spending the extra time in – this was it!

It’s clear that the owners want you to escape – the ninety minutes doesn’t appear to be a hard deadline judging by some of the escape times. They’re rightfully proud of their room and want you to experience the whole of it, so I suspect that players get the gentle help they need.

Verdict –

From the moment you arrive, to the moment you say goodbye, this is a fabulous experience. It has everything you want in an escape room – great customer service, a good intro, good puzzles, great mechanics and an absolutely amazing set. I didn’t think I’d ever mention another escape room in the same breath as Time Run, but this is right up there with a game created by theatre/film professionals that costs twice as much to play and lasts only 60 minutes.

I grew up in the North West, and I’ve always felt like I’d betrayed my roots by favouring London escape rooms. Extremescape has ended that – this is the room the North West deserves.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.

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