Outside the room
Having attended Hide and Shriek’s Dead Centre earlier in the year, I was excited to see what they could deliver with Alien Escape. They’d produced some impressive theatre that day, but how would they cope with creating puzzles and immersive sets? To add to that excitement was the knowledge that this would be the UK’s biggest escape room. We’d be going along with 8 people, the maximum that the room could take, which was unusual for us, but at least we were confident that there would be plenty of space!
The first challenge is getting into the building – at the time of night we were playing, most of the doors were locked, so we gave them a call and were directed up to the first floor, where we soon found the entrance. We were quickly shown to a theatre, where we received the introduction video – a professionally presented but humorous intro to the game which you watch in a fully kitted out theatre with space for probably forty or so people. Things were definitely looking good.
The game’s set on an abandoned moon base where you’ve just found out you’ve got 60 minutes’ worth of oxygen left. The goal is to get to the shuttle bay and launch yourself to Earth. The only problem is that the base is falling to pieces and much of it has been locked up by people who have long since made their own escapes to Earth. With just the help of a scientist, a strange AI and an Earth station that doesn’t really care, you’ve got to get off this hell hole. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, there might be an alien somewhere around…
Inside the room
OK. I’m impressed. As we walked into the starting point of the game, it was clear that they hadn’t just taken an office space and stuck a sign up to say “moon base”. They’d gone to a lot of effort to make it feel like the inside of a space station. It was utilitarian, with a decent-looking control desk and sufficient decoration to complete the immersion. If you looked closely, there were some rough edges – nooks and crannies might show that it was really just painted wood and not metallic plates – but you don’t need to look too carefully because it’s not that kind of game. Don’t expect to find hidden compartments or to need to feel into areas you can’t reach. Do the obvious thing and you’ll be OK – this is not one to over-complicate.
I may as well get the big problem with this room out of the way at the start. The traditional escape room aspects were poor. There was minimal searching, and what searching they did have wasn’t very interesting. The number of puzzles was disappointing too, with maybe six during the entire game. That’s an incredibly low return, even ignoring the fact that there were eight of us in the room, and what puzzles they did have weren’t particularly exciting. There were a grand total of two that I liked, and one of them (as far as any of us could tell) didn’t actually need to be solved. We never used the answer anywhere, and my guess is that it was for a part of the game that has either broken or proved not to be enjoyable. The other puzzle was beautifully designed and, while relatively simple, just fitted nicely with the overall game. That contrast was really shocking.
It’s not going very well, is it? Dull searching, lack of puzzles. Surely there’s something about this game that’s appealing? Well, yes, absolutely. As I said above, the set design started off really well and, while there were a few parts that were lacking, the overall effect was exactly what they were going for – an old moon base that had started to fall into disrepair. Good though it was, that wasn’t the highlight. Oh no, not by a long stretch.
What Hide and Shriek do incredibly well is put on immersive theatre. This was a game based around theatrics. I can’t tell you the details of what they did, because it would spoil the show, but I don’t think it would be unfair to refer to the game as choreographed rather than simply designed. They’d carefully constructed it so that you would interact with the alien in several different ways. Throughout the game, the tension slowly mounted until at the end we were crammed together, hearts beating fast, certain of our fates, paranoid about what was about to happen. I genuinely wish I could talk through the ending in detail because, when you analyse what they did, it was really very well put together to give you the best possible experience.
Sadly, the end of the game kind of fizzled out, as if they couldn’t quite work out where exactly it should finish. That was a shame after such an impressive build-up, but it didn’t detract massively from the experience.
I have no idea how long was left when we escaped. The finale was sufficiently engrossing that I no longer cared about the time. Indeed, this is one of those games where I don’t think the time really matters – it’s an experience, not a race, and the time you’re in the game probably reflects more on how much you enjoy the alien interaction than how good or bad you were at the puzzles.
The amount of effort put into the set here was stunning. The theatre was wonderful. The puzzles, on the other hand, were massively disappointing – far too few for an escape room and too many of them just weren’t fun. Some teams (novices who are in a state of fear) are likely to go very slowly through this game while others will ace it, and giving both teams a rewarding experience is a hard task. Unfortunately, it’s also one that is essential to success. If they choose to make another escape room (and I truly hope they do!), then I think they need to really focus on improving the puzzle experience and see if they can provide shortcuts for teams that are struggling.
If theatrics or sets are the bit that attract you to escape rooms or you like “scary” rooms, then I think this is worth going to and probably worth travelling for. If you’re the sort of person who’s capable of forgetting about the escape aspect of the game and think of it more as an experience, then definitely go. Otherwise, save your money and keep your fingers crossed that they create a new game which retains the fantastic set and theatre and adds in some great puzzles.
I’ve already mentioned the fantastic Mangetout in the other review, and our lunch was a picnic on the Western Esplanade, so I’ve not got anything else to add. Plenty of restaurants around here but worth making sure you book ahead!
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We were comped these tickets when we bought (full price) tickets to Dead Centre. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.