Outside the room
It’s almost a year since I first visited Hidden Rooms, just after their initial opening. In that time, they’ve had an almost constant Groupon offer and the stories I kept hearing coming back were that the rooms were OK but the customer service was poor and some of the puzzles were broken. I was keen to head down to Finsbury Park and find out for myself how the land lay, so the opening of the Invisible Space was the perfect opportunity.
As “luck” would have it, a friend had booked to go down soon after it opened, but they turned him away because the room was broken and couldn’t be fixed quickly enough. His teammate was sufficiently frustrated that they’d decided not to return, in spite of the promise of a free game, so for once I joined someone else’s team to attempt an escape. 70 rooms into my escaping career and I think this was the first time the tables have been turned!
We rocked up to the room with ten minutes to spare and introduced ourselves. Organisation was pretty shambolic – the room hadn’t been reset and they had no idea that the game was meant to be free. Fortunately, my friend had the email on his phone for the host to read and he headed off to get the room ready. Twenty minutes and a worrying amount of banging later, he returned ready to usher us into the room.
There’s no story. You’re in a room, you need to make it bigger in order to escape.
Inside the room
We’d had the first puzzle somewhat telegraphed by the instructions (we’d later realise that was because, if you do it wrong, you can “break” the room), so we were quickly on our way. It was a reasonably straightforward concept but, when we thought we’d followed the instructions, we couldn’t see how to proceed. After a minute or two of looking round the room, we decided that something must have gone wrong and called for help. “Push harder” came the reply, and indeed we were, once again, being too careful with the set. I think that’s something that’s likely to bite them, because there are several other parts of the game that are going to get broken if people take a more robust attitude to moving things.
There was a very homemade, mechanical theme to the puzzles that I thought showed some innovative thinking. Unfortunately, the homemade part was very rough, and I swapped between feeling I was likely to break something and that I had to push ridiculously hard to make things move like they were meant to. Sometimes I felt both. In fact, at the end of the game, when we asked how a puzzle was meant to be solved, one of the hosts came down and really struggled to get it to work at all.
Yes – how it was meant to be solved. There were at least two puzzles where we hacked the solution. This wasn’t brute forcing like you might with a combination lock. On one occasion it seemed like it might be the right thing to do, and we couldn’t see anything else. On another, what we thought we were meant to do didn’t work because we’d missed a clue, so we tried to work out how the mechanism functioned and, in the process, “unlocked” the next stage.
The final puzzle was a little disappointing, although by far the most robust of the ones we played. The first part was solved by my teammate in the time it took for me to see it, and the remainder was almost as quick to solve.
We got out in under 13 minutes. Yes. Thirteen minutes. There’s not much I can say about that. I’ve spent more time in some rooms without solving a single puzzle. Yes, it was the record, but it was by no means a significant outlier from what I’ve heard.
It was very fortunate that someone had told me that this room was going to be quick, because I would have been pretty frustrated, if not angry, at getting out in 12 minutes and something. We’d joked in the waiting room that we could be in the room less time than we were waiting, but I was shocked that it actually came to pass.
The thing is, there’s actually some interesting stuff in here. There are a couple of nice mechanical puzzles and a clue that’s given in a really novel way, but… the game’s so poorly constructed that you constantly worry about the room breaking, several of the puzzles can be “hacked” by accident rather than solved the way they were intended, and there just aren’t enough puzzles to occupy anyone for vaguely close to an hour without spending most of that time totally stuck.
If we’d paid for this escape room, I’d feel like I deserved my money back. As it is, I’m very grateful that I got to go for free, that I got warned in advance and that I only ended up wasting a couple of hours of my life for this brief experience. In case it’s not obvious, I’m recommending you don’t play this game unless they do a total revamp.
This was a late evening, in and out, escape room, and no time for dinner. OK, there was probably time. Hell, we could have taken dinner into the room and had it there…
Detailed Room Ratings
One thing worth noting, loathe as I am to defend a bad room, but it’s only £30 total for three players. That’s between half and a third of the cost of most London rooms. It does make me wonder if it was designed as a 30 minute experience and something changed along the way. Suddenly it doesn’t seem quite so bad.
Without wishing to give too much away, it’s also a significantly smaller space than any other room I’ve played – I’m not sure how you factor that in. We discussed your exact point (or rather, we discussed whether making it a half hour room might be a good option). I think it’s probably the right approach but even so, they’d have to massively improve the robustness and smoothness of the mechanisms to make it reasonable. At £30 for three people for half an hour, I think it would be good value if the game was solid but it’s hard to set the difficulty level well for such a short timeframe – newcomers take a while to get into what’s expected of them, while enthusiasts set off fast. There’s also much less scope for letting people take their time to think through a puzzle on those timescales, so you’d likely feel rushed whenever you got stuck.
Nearly 2 months have passed and I’m still cross about that room! Grr. Perhaps we should have asked for our money back…
I know exactly what you mean. I’m torn – if I see a bad film or a bad play then I wouldn’t ask for my money back. This is different though. It’s like you went to a play, then found out that none of the actors knew their lines and half an hour in they ended the show…