Outside the room
Locked in a Room has been around for a long time in Bristol with their two games Invisibility Gene and Time Lock. They’re particularly unusual in that they have four copies of each of those games – no other company outside London has more than two copies of a game in one location. It’s no real surprise, therefore, that when they moved to London they should choose to open multiple copies of their games there too. What was a surprise was to find out that they were planning on opening EIGHT copies of one of their games and five of the other. Yes, 13 rooms, a capacity of 78 and only two different scenarios.
They’re located in the ExCel centre which, given their huge capacity, also isn’t surprising; this experience is very much targeted at the mass market and you don’t get a much bigger audience than a conference centre. After travelling to East London, we navigated our way to the entrance (it’s on the river, outside the building) and headed inside. I hadn’t really given much thought to how a company that organises 13 teams to start simultaneously would handle proceedings but, in retrospect, it was unlikely to be your standard introduction. Instead, they marshal everyone around: go to the bathroom, put your belongings on these coat-rails, wait here for the group briefing.
Yes, that’s a group briefing for thirteen groups before you’re rounded up and sent to the entrance to your rooms. When everyone has assembled, they give you a final briefing about your mission (a slightly odd choice given you’re playing two different games) before you all head in simultaneously.
You are respected scientists individually working on secret government funded projects in laboratories located in an abandoned warehouse around the Docklands of London. One of the scientists, Professor Samuel Pottenger, has just been dragged kicking and screaming along the corridor by unknown armed assailants. Pottenger is known to you as a very level headed man of immense intelligence and absolutely not one prone to an emotional outburst… Discover his secret.
Inside the room
First impression on entering the room were that it was an old-looking office. Nothing amazingly exciting but reasonably well presented and with good enough décor. We spread out and explored the room, finding some obvious puzzle elements but not making much progress. Eventually, we received a clue (more on cluing later) which told us to do what we’d already done. Another while later we got more of a nudge. For me, that early puzzle was a bit of a leap. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally gettable without a hint and on another day we might have succeeded, but it just felt like there were several equally good solutions to the same problem.
It’s worth talking about how they handle clues because it’s quite unusual. Like most escape rooms, they hand them out when they feel teams are struggling, but they’ve got a big focus on trying to keep it fair across all the teams playing simultaneously. To achieve that, they try not to give one team a hint if it would take them ahead of another team that isn’t getting that hint. Although that’s not a massive deal, it does mean that, if you’re doing particularly well and suddenly hit a roadblock, you may find yourself waiting for a clue for longer than usual – certainly, several of my teammates got frustrated in one of the rooms for that reason.
Once we’d got going, though, it was reasonably plain sailing. The style of play in Locked in a Room is almost entirely linear but, more than that, each solution pretty much telegraphs you to the next thing you have to do. Once we got past that initial stumbling block, we were racing pretty much all the way to the end. I like rapid-fire puzzle solving, but even for me this felt a little too extreme: we’d solve a puzzle, open a padlock container and then immediately solve the next.
The finale to the game was disappointing. As they tell you in the briefing, there are a number of padlocks on the exit door that you need to remove. That felt very lazy – why have four padlocks on a single door when you could do away with all but one of them and have the corresponding codes feed you a piece of information for the final lock? It does give you a way of measuring progress, I guess, but I’d much prefer they achieved it in a different way.
The three of us escaped in about thirty-five minutes using a single clue.
This is a mass-market escape room, intended for large numbers of players to be processed as efficiently as possible. If you’re used to more personalised experiences, this is likely to disappoint but, given the location and market, I think they’ve done the sensible thing and tried to make the experience as homogeneous as possible.
The game itself was disappointing. A slow start, some fun but reasonably basic puzzles given the in-room hints, and then a finale that was hardly likely to excite. In all honesty, I can’t recommend that experienced players go here. It’s straightforward and, at thirty pounds per player and a minimum of three players per team, I think it represents poor value. If you’re looking to organise a large corporate group, then the homogeneity of the experience and the ability to handle up to nearly 80 people makes it a good option for a group of mainly beginners. The whole experience was like clockwork and, if professionalism matters, you’ll find it in abundance here.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We received media-discounted tickets for this event. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.