Outside the room
Escape Live have a (relatively) long history in the escape room world with their first games, based in Birmingham, popping up in 2014. They’ve now started looking further afield for franchise locations, with Southend-on-Sea being the first one to come to fruition. Jeff and Jen opened up the place here a few months ago and, given there were a couple of rooms at Escape Live, another room opening in a local venue and it being only an hour from London by train or car, we soon hatched a plan to visit with two teams’ worth of people.
The venue is located right in the heart of Southend, round the corner from Southend Central on the High Street, although it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking at the signage in the first floor. Wandering upstairs, there’s a nice waiting area with the usual array of puzzles, where we were greeted warmly by two hosts (which is good, because I’d been a bit worried this might be one host watching both rooms). First up was Room 13.
Room 13 is a unique experience which is not for the faint-hearted. Amy is locked in a room and is relying on your team’s wit and skill to get her out alive. You are her only hope. You must piece together clues, solve puzzles and find objects to get the four-digit number you need to release her. With just 60 minutes to rescue Amy, will you manage to save her life?
Inside the room
First off, let’s make this clear: while I wouldn’t take small children here (teenagers would be fine), this isn’t a scary room. If you’re of a very nervous disposition, you might get the odd slight fright (although I doubt it) and the subject matter is obviously close to horror but you shouldn’t go into this room scared. If the description hasn’t put you off, then I don’t think you need to worry.
Since we’ve started on the feel of the room, let’s continue there. They’ve done a good job with the theme. There are plenty of props to give the feel of a hospital and the room is well decorated – it’s three months old but it didn’t feel worn. Definitely above average visually. The real highlight of the theme, for me, was the countdown timer. It really added to the ambiance in the room and the tension in a way that felt quite innovative.
Sadly, the puzzles didn’t match up to the theming. There were a variety of “spot the number” puzzles, but one particular one close to the end of the room left us a bit bemused – we managed to solve the puzzle by trying all the possible orderings but, when we found out the reasoning behind the correct one, I felt let down. My benchmark on puzzles is that, once you find out the solution, it should be obvious that it’s the correct one. Yes, there was some logic behind their chosen answer, but it was a solution I would have tried without much hope, and there were other solutions we tried which seemed far more likely. Our other team did manage to solve that puzzle the correct way – so perhaps you’ll feel differently.
That wasn’t the big problem with the puzzles, though – they just felt quite basic, such as spotting some numbers hidden in the room in some way without an actual “reason” why you’d need to solve that puzzle to escape the game. It’s unrealistic to expect ALL the puzzles to feel natural, but at least some would be good. Although you could argue that the room is some sort of test set by the kidnapper, I’d still like more integration of the puzzles with the plot.
There was a reasonable bit of searching, including a couple of instances of directed searching, which I’m a particular fan of. There was one aspect of the search that I absolutely hated and that should never happen in a room because it sets a bad precedent – like getting people to use force to do something: it has the potential to lead to danger in other rooms.
The finale to the room had a nice bit of tension to it which really helped the game end on a high.
We got out with around 25 minutes remaining without asking for a clue. There were a couple of puzzles along the way that we got past without really understanding exactly how we were meant to solve them.
This was a solid escape room. The theming was above average, the puzzles were OK, the hosts were great and I loved that they made the countdown a bit more interesting. However, I really felt it was missing something more than just searching for numbers hidden around the room. I know that the plot allowed for this being a sequence of arbitrary puzzles but I would have liked to see a bit more.
If you’re in Southend and you’ve got an hour to kill, then I think this is a good game to play, but it’s not one that I’d travel for. Warning: this room was ridiculously hot on a day that was warm but by no means sweltering. By the time we got out (and remember that was well short of the 60 minutes), I was uncomfortably hot. If you want to go, I’d recommend waiting till the evening or else the end of the summer (it’s Britain – it won’t be long).
Last time we visited Southend we’d tried to get into Mangetout at the last minute only to find they were fully booked. This time we phoned ahead but still found it ridiculously hard to get a table, eventually opting for a 5:30pm booking and aiming to faff before ordering. By the time we’d left, we’d realised why you need to book ahead: great food (it describes itself as a smokehouse restaurant, so plenty of grilled meat and burgers), great service and a great ambiance. It’s about thirty seconds’ walk from Escape Live so, if you do visit this venue and fancy something to eat before or after, I’d definitely recommend it.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We were given these tickets for free after our initial booking was postponed because the opening was delayed by a week. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.