Lucardo (Manchester): Contamination

Outside the room,

I’d managed to play four of Lucardo’s five rooms on a couple of previous visits and I was desperate to pick up the last one. Rumour had it that it was one of their stronger games, so I was keen to find out what it had to offer, especially as it was rated as their most difficult. This was also the first time we’d been there without either owner present (indeed, we’d only booked in a few hours in advance, so we were likely totally under the radar for once), and I was looking forward to seeing what the non-owner GMs were like.

As ever, we got a friendly greeting on arrival and then waited for a few minutes while they finished getting the rooms ready. Interestingly, they chose to give us the general briefing as a group with some other players. That worked well and, at the very least, saved one of the two teams from listening to the spiel twice. They then took us to just outside our room for the game-specific briefing before showing us inside. In answer to that previous question – the GM was top notch. Well done Mathew.

Background

Scientists from around the world have developed a new modified deadly strain of poison: the T-200. It is capable of polluting the nation’s water supply within minutes. Only five vials were created and one has gone missing – we believe Professor Thomson has stolen it and has it hidden somewhere in his lab. Break-in to his lab and find the missing vial before Professor Thomson returns.

Inside the room

Somewhat surprisingly for a game that’s rated as their most difficult, it felt like Contamination had been very much designed with an intro to escape rooms as the beginning. It quickly got you through the basics of searching and a couple of simple puzzles without overwhelming you with data. I’m constantly amazed by the number of escape rooms that drop absolute beginners into an environment where they’d be overwhelmed, so a big thumbs-up for putting in that first little step.

Woah. As I finished that cute little intro stage, I realised why this was rated the hardest of their games and, probably, why they had that intro section. There was a huge amount of information to sift through in this game and, way more worryingly, a huge number of four-digit padlocks. So many that I actually decided to count them: at one point, you’ll have TEN unopened padlocks to test your four-digit codes out on. Let’s hope there are no ambiguous puzzles. To my mind, that’s just lazy implementation. Maybe Lucardo think that spinning through a multitude of padlocks is fun, but for me it became massively tedious and entirely detracted from the game.

And that’s not the only way in which they’re lazy – I don’t want to give away secrets of the room but there are a couple of times where those combination locks require absolutely no puzzles to be solved. Literally nothing – as if, for example, you open a drawer and one of the codes is just written there inside. It didn’t add to the game in any way, in my opinion, and I think Lucardo have shown they’re better than that. BUT maybe they are. Maybe they’re deliberately putting in something trivially easy so that everyone feels like they can take part. I’m going to hang on to that.

Throughout the game, you’ll encounter fun, simple puzzles that give you plenty of quick wins (once you’ve scrolled through the combination locks…). In my opinion they are, almost without exception, entirely fair. There were two exceptions to that: a puzzle that assumed an ordering for no good reason and one with four possible solutions. Now, four possible solutions wouldn’t be terrible but, when you’ve got a bunch of padlocks to try them on, it’s very, very tedious indeed. Any mention of the puzzles wouldn’t be complete without paying tribute to what I’d consider the centrepiece of the game: it’s a fairly standard escape room trope with a slight twist, but it looks so much more impressive than the average version and was genuinely satisfying to put together.

The theming is plausibly laboratory, albeit in a slightly IKEA-esque way, and there’s almost nothing in the way of story beyond “find the toxic vial”, but they have at least put in place a fun finale – bringing the team together for the last few puzzles and finally revealing the toxin you have to retrieve. Nothing too tricky but enough to have you panicking at a time when you’re likely to be desperately short of time.

Result

We escaped from the room with three minutes remaining, having taken three clues.

Verdict –
 

Having now played all five games at Lucardo, I’m starting to get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a purist who wants every code, every interaction, to have a reason in the real world, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you’re just out to have a fun time with a significant number of puzzles, albeit plenty that are trivially easy, then you’re going to have a ball. The rooms may not have strong storylines or sets but they’re well maintained, clean and enjoyable to be in, and the GM-ing is first rate.

Contamination doesn’t contain much that’s truly original (aside from the construction of that centrepiece puzzle), but I’d give up original in a moment for logical and fun. That, they deliver in abundance.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

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