What I wish I’d done instead
Outside the room
Possibly the least well advertised escape games in London is located in Namco Funscape, an entertainment centre just next to the London Eye. At 765 seconds long, it’s very much an escape room that fits into its arcade setting, where the twelve minutes and change playtime makes it seem a positively lengthy encounter.
The first thing you’ll find when you go to play is that some of the staff have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. A word to the wise – don’t bother asking for directions to the escape room, just ask for directions to the bar…
There’s little fanfare when you get there, though – once you’ve made yourself known to the staff and paid your entrance fee (you can’t book in advance), you’ll be whisked straight upstairs to the room for the intro.
We were members of the police swat team, raiding a drug lab in a warehouse. We’d got there only to find the place empty and had to crack some codes to solve the mystery. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I didn’t really understand what the ultimate goal was.
I did understand exactly what we were meant to do, though, because the host told us the exact order and location of each lock we’d have to get past. We needed to use this clue, to find the code for that box, which would give us another clue, that would unlock this cupboard, which would… you get the idea. If you were looking for a sense of discovery in this room, then you’d be somewhat disappointed.
After being told all that, the host left the room, and the story was repeated on the TV (another hint: time doesn’t start till the countdown shows on the screen – so no need to worry when the host leaves the room).
Inside the room
I have mixed feelings about the theming in this room. They’d put in a few props to convey the theme, but there was very little more than that, so I never felt very immersed, and while the stash of weapons was a nice touch, the garish blues and orange of Nerf guns somewhat ruined the effect.
On the other hand, the puzzles were all in some way related to criminality, so they fitted nicely in the room, though (and admittedly this is true in many rooms), there was no context as to why they were present.
At 12¾ minutes long, the clue system probably wasn’t very critical, and no explanation was given in advance, but half way through our host waltzed into the room to see what we were up to. I assume, had we been struggling, he’d have given us some help, but who knows – this is an arcade centre, so perhaps they expect you to keep coming back to complete the mission.
Of the four puzzles in the room [not a spoiler – we were told that in the briefing], three were distinctly solvable, indeed they were decent fun, but the last one seemed to make very little sense, to the point where afterwards, when we asked the host to explain the solution, he seemed to utterly confuse himself…
Both teams reached the finale puzzle, but were utterly flummoxed by it, so another failure for me in a not-quite-normal room, and for a couple of my team mates, the first entry in the loss column.
Opinions within the team varied, but mine was clear – I didn’t enjoy this game. Yes, it had some nice puzzles which were vaguely related to the theme, but the final puzzle utterly ruined the experience. The hosting was also pretty amateur – just a member of the bar staff given a brief sabbatical from his duties.
Talking to our host beforehand, he told us that they’d removed one of the puzzles from the game because people were finding it too hard. I’m almost certain that in the process of removing that puzzle, they left the game distinctly less coherent and I originally thought they’d rendered the final puzzle next to impossible (see postscript below).
And had it not been for Twitter, I might never have known, because the host didn’t have a clue how to solve the game, and that for me is pretty much the nail in any escape room’s coffin. Solutions should be obvious once you’ve got them, so if the host can’t explain them, in fact, doesn’t even understand them, then something’s gone horribly, horribly wrong.
I was just about to post this when @garethadams told me about his experiences. The upshot is that I now think the game is solvable, but very, very tough. I’ve adjusted the number of stars in the rating accordingly.
Detailed Room Ratings