Outside the room
One of my fellow escapers is a big zombie fan so, when I found out that Room Escape Southend was opening a zombie-themed room, we decided to head over and try it out. The maximum occupancy of the room is 12, but we took along eight, which seemed a good number for a room where we’d probably be rushing around! We were heading over by car and all was looking good until, about fifteen minutes before we expected to arrive, traffic suddenly got really busy and we couldn’t find anywhere to park. It turned out that our game start time coincided exactly with Southend United’s kick-off and Room Escape Southend is only about a hundred metres away from their ground. Fortunately, they’ve got a parking space round the back and we just managed to squeeze into it in time. Phew!
Once inside, we signed the disclaimer which you’d expect in this sort of room, and the journey began. They very much got the theatrics going before we entered the game – setting the scene with a good mix of acting and humour. I was particularly pleased that they give us a decent context for why we were locked in the room and why we needed to solve puzzles to get out. So far, so good!
The world is overrun by zombies and the last few survivors are working on a cure to save humanity. You’re heading back to a laboratory in Southend, where it all began, to help find the solution. The problem is that there’s a zombie in the room who’s out to get you and every five minutes they’ll remove another nail that holds their chain in place. Work fast!
Inside the room
As happened with the other zombie game we played, we were taken into the room by a scientist (in fact, in this case, by two scientists, although I’m not sure if that’s true of the usual game) who was presumably there to make sure we played safely and to give us clues when we got stuck. They hid themselves in an unobtrusive part of the room and watched on as we endeavoured to solve the puzzles.
After a shocking (in both senses of the word) start to my last zombie game, I was on high paranoia mode when we went inside so, until I knew exactly where the zombie was and how far she could reach, I wasn’t really thinking about the puzzles. Fortunately, my team mates were more focused and quickly ransacked the room. Before long, the zombie did appear and I was impressed. I’d expected a few torn rags and some blood, but she was well made up and there was an air of menace to her that she played beautifully.
We got stuck into the puzzles and started making some progress. One thing led to another and, by around 20 or 25 minutes in, we’d solved most of the puzzles and things were looking pretty rosy. Most of us had spent some time interacting with the zombie and generally we were having a good time. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get our heads round the last two puzzles. For huge swathes of time in the second half of the game, most of the team were feeling quite frustrated at our lack of progress. I expected the game hosts to step in and give some hints but, other than very vague pointers, they offered little help. Now that I know the solutions, I think we might have been able to solve the two remaining puzzles but, discussing it afterwards, we felt they each required a step that was a bit of a leap. Other people certainly have escaped the room though, (see below), so perhaps we were just being slow.
As we started to run out of time, it became apparent that the chain was a little too long. Had the zombie wanted, she could easily have infected all of us with fifteen minutes remaining (although, by that time, it was already too late for me!). In fact, with twelve people in the room, I suspect you’d run out of space to evade the zombie well before that. I don’t think this room is really (physically) big enough to play with twelve players – eight was nicely crowded.
That all sounds a bit negative but the truth is that I came out having enjoyed the experience. Why’s that? Well, the zombie was simply amazing. For almost an hour she held our attention with a breathtaking performance, never once breaking character. One of our group attempted stand-up comedy to distract her, while others went for staring contests – she barely blinked and showed not a hint of emotion. She played the part beautifully – this zombie was out to get us, of that we had no doubt. And not just us – she was happy to throw props on the floor and came pretty close to destroying a piece of furniture. You’ve been warned!
We started off pretty well, but made zero progress after the halfway mark and, one by one, our number fell, with the last three being infected when we ran out of time.
It’s always hard to review a game where you failed. Are you just being a sore loser, or are there genuine faults? For me, the core escape room aspects of this room weren’t good enough. There weren’t enough puzzles for twelve (or even eight) people, and the ones they had generally weren’t very compelling. We felt that a couple of the puzzles required leaps of logic – not ridiculous ones, but enough that, when we found out the answers, we didn’t berate ourselves for not spotting the solution – we just looked a bit nonplussed. If they’re going to stick with these puzzles, I think they need to come up with better hints than we got.
On the other hand, the zombie performance was out of this world. I left the game having enjoyed the experience in spite of not really enjoying the puzzles. To stay in character for an hour was impressive, but the energy level she gave the performance was amazing. It was an adrenaline rush throughout.
If you’re going here because you like escape rooms and the zombie is a necessary evil, then be prepared to be disappointed. If you’re going here because you like zombies (or, even, just don’t mind them), then sign yourself up and be amazed!
It turns out that trying to find a restaurant on a sunny Saturday night in Southend is more difficult than you might imagine. Certainly more difficult than we’d imagined! We spotted a sandwich board down a side street and came upon Annie’s Bar and Bistro, a relatively new addition to the Southend scene, which fortuitously had room for eight of us. Even more fortunately, they were having a free tasting session, so we got to try a variety of food before our main meals. With the exception of the chicken burger, everything we tried was great – I’d recommend the pies, the enchiladas and the amazing sweet potato fries. We were going on to another zombie experience afterwards, so we should have stopped there, but we were tempted into having desserts by a 2-for-1 offer and they were amazing – melt-in-your-mouth brownie and a very good oreo cheesecake. Would definitely recommend!
Don’t take my word for it
ScareTOUR visited and had a very different experience – I definitely think it’s worth reading their review:
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We were given a discount that isn’t available to the public for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.
After a shocking (in both senses of the word) start to my last zombie game
That’s… pretty disturbing, actually. Was that the game in the lab in Madrid, for the record?
Shocking as in “I played poorly” and “I got a fright”. Not an electric shock! I was referring to Trapped in a room with a zombie.
Good. Thank you. I know people who choose to play a horror game have some idea of what they’re in for and are demonstrating themselves to be up for anything, but that would seem regrettable. Compare with the discussion of “what characteristics can an escape game be expected to have?” – as much as I’m in favour of a game that had high physical demands if it made that very clear in advance to its potential players, I wouldn’t be nearly so charitable to a game that went out of its way to hurt its players even if it made that very clear in advance to its potential players. On the other hand, something that crops up from time to time is discussion of the idea of a not-very-escape game that is essentially a string of Bush Tucker Trials from I’m A Celebrity, so it’s possibly a commercial idea, just one I dearly hope never gets brought to reality.
While not getting bogged down in legal aspects (consensual ABH OK, consensual GBH not I think but IANAL), I’m on the fence about such an idea. Some running events are certainly on that side of things – coming away with hypothermia isn’t unusual, there may be fire, ice, barbed wire or nettles… although I guess you could argue they don’t actually do it to you, just facilitate the means for you to do it to yourself. Plus individual versus group entry changes the dynamic somewhat. Bottom line, I generally believe if people *genuinely* want to do stuff/allow stuff to be done to them then it’s their choice, even if it’s not personally appealing to me.
[Disclaimer: we’re not talking about the article above any more – this isn’t a game where you’re likely to get hurt]