Outside the room
Onwards, on our New Year’s Eve trip, to Southampton and Houdini’s Escape Room. When the venue had first opened, I’d assumed it would start off with a game inspired by Harry Houdini himself, but instead they’d opted for a prison break: Escape from Alcatraz. It’s located slightly out of the centre, which meant parking was reasonably straightforward, and there’s a nice big shopfront so you don’t need to look hard to find where you’re going.
Once inside, there was a well laid-out waiting room to greet us and an owner who was very happy to chat about escape games. After a few minutes discussing the industry, we headed into the briefing area, a small theatre out the back of the shop. It’s a surprisingly big space dedicated to the five or ten minutes given over to telling you about what’s about to happen but, when they have multiple rooms open in the future, the ability to cycle people through will be great.
For me, that intro/briefing outstayed its welcome – but, given we were in a room on our own, we could at least chat (without being rude to the games master) and it was creepily funny in places.
You have been convicted of multiple murders that you didn’t commit and have 1 hour to escape your cell in Alcatraz before you are executed.
Inside the room
I often comment on how escape rooms are in basements of buildings as if that’s a negative thing. Well, here it most definitely wasn’t. As we descended the stairs, the temperature dropped and there was just a little more sense of foreboding as we entered into the prison cell. It’s hard to imagine that they planned it out that way, but it worked well to set the atmosphere for a prison escape.
The theming was equally good. I thought it was pretty nicely themed at the time but, as I searched for images to use in this post, I came to appreciate their theming even more: several of the photos looked like they could have been taken from the game itself. It wasn’t the most comforting of environments, of course, but it was beautifully in keeping with the desolate prison theme you’d expect in Alcatraz.
We got down to business straightaway but really didn’t make much progress. This is a tough game to start with, and I’d worry about what beginners would think of it. There’s really not much progress to be made and, if you’re not used to this sort of game, then you’re probably going to need to be fed quite a few clues right from the start. In addition, there are a few red herrings early on that aren’t going to help.
If needed, clues are given by your host through the prison door. That could have worked amazingly well, but it wasn’t woven into the initial briefing and no attempt was made for the clue giver to pretend to be a next door prisoner or corrupt prison guard. It definitely broke the immersion for me and reminded me that this was just a game I was playing.
A similar lack of direction towards the middle of the game left us equally unsure of ourselves. We hesitated about what to do and wasted several minutes faffing backwards and forwards before being given a clue to help us along. Personally, it really felt like some additional hint should have been given either during the briefing or during the game, because we were genuinely unsure about how to proceed.
Most of the puzzles were fairly standard, but there were certainly plenty that brought a smile to my face. Along the way there were puzzles with fun mechanics and a few that involved some sort of physical interaction beyond using padlocks. Good but nothing that blew me away. They all seemed logical, and the only flaw we came across was in one of the puzzles, which we solved without finding the instructions of what to do. That shouldn’t have been possible, but there was a particular characteristic of one of the objects that allowed us to find the solution rapidly. Talking to them afterwards, it sounded like they’ll be looking at ways of fixing that up.
We escaped this room in 37:30 having taken around four clues. After finishing, winners get to choose a miniature key on a ribbon – a nice souvenir and not something I’ve seen elsewhere in the UK.
After a slow start, I enjoyed this game. The set was impressive and the puzzles were generally fun. I definitely think it would be worth their while to integrate the story a bit better into the room so that players are more confident on how the interactions should work.
I’d recommend taking along three to four players with at least one experienced player to make that opening section more accessible.
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.