The Escape Room Newcastle(-under-Lyme): Spy Mission

Spy Mission Logo

Outside the room

Despite having a hectic week of escape rooms lined up, Mrs Logic seemed disappointed when she found out that only one was booked for our first day, so it was off to the exitgames map to find a venue with availability. A short search later and I’d found the Escape Room Newcastle, a venue that I’d been thinking of paying a visit to since it opened. I’ve played four of their franchise’s games before, and my experience was that they’re more or less fair games but key props are often in disrepair and there’s an excessive use of darkness. The big problem at the Preston venue, and the reason I was keen to try out a new location, was that the customer service was generally very poor.

Oh, things were most definitely different here. The two people on duty were much better – polite, friendly and engaging. They spun through the rules of the game and I was amazed to find that this is an escape room that actually trusted its customers. We were allowed to use our phones during the game as long as we didn’t take pictures or video. Specifically, they suggested using them for torches, calculators or for noting things down. Hallelujah – I wouldn’t be sharing a torch and I wouldn’t have to worry about half-dead batteries! In retrospect, this seems like a win-win for most escape rooms – they save the hassle of having to replace batteries regularly, we get personal torches.

To cement that customer-centric viewpoint of this venue, they also said that we could have as many clues as we wanted – the aim of the game was to make sure that we enjoyed the experience. Yes, this was most definitely better than Preston. Bring it on!

Background

Your team works for a secret organization named “Knight Order”; a classified government agency specialized in international espionage and black operations. Recently an elite group in the agency known as “White Knights” has gone rogue and was deemed a threat to national security. Your mission should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate White Knights’s safe house and uncover the conspiracy against your nation.

Inside the room

Oh, dear god. I thought the Vampire Chronicles was bad, but this room was rammed with books. Floor to ceiling of an entire wall was packed full of books. Five hundred? Maybe even a thousand. Were we meant to search them all? Remove them from the shelves? I had flashbacks to my previous experience and started rifling through the books half-heartedly. I soon gave up, figuring that, whatever we needed to do with them (if anything), we’d be told. We started looking at other items in the room and quickly reached an impasse. The Escape Room games are generally very linear so, if you get stuck on the first puzzle, it’s incredibly frustrating because you don’t have anything else to work on while you mull the problem over, and no one likes to ask for help before they’ve solved anything. Sadly, though, we had to press the button of shame and wait for the game host to come into the room to give us a hint.

It wasn’t our only request, though. We pressed it again on the next puzzle. Twice. And on the next puzzle. Puzzle after puzzle in this room eluded us and the single puzzle that we solved properly and didn’t need a clue on was because it was a formula they’d used in two of the four rooms in Preston. Perhaps we were having a bad day? Maybe, but I don’t think so. There was a puzzle where you had to arbitrarily drop some of the information. A puzzle where you had to do something that wasn’t explained in the instructions. A puzzle where there was a perfectly good solution we tried which failed, and a second solution that seemed right which didn’t work and then, when we asked two different hosts to explain what we were meant to do, neither of them could tell us. Three of the puzzles required you to wait around while a piece of information played. If you missed something during that, then you’d be waiting for it to play out a second time.

I’d like to highlight one particular annoyance which I think is something that good designers wouldn’t allow in a room: one puzzle had multiple possible solutions and multiple possible ways of “inputting” them. We tried both the correct solution and the correct input mechanism but not together. Had there been a single “obvious” answer or a single “obvious” way of inputting the answer, then we’d have been fine. Usually I’d want *both* of those in a room, but I’ll accept either. When you don’t get even one, then you’re left trying a matrix of somewhat frustrating solution/input combinations with a decent chance of missing the correct one.

When we finally found out how to use the books in the room, it became apparent that, while it was a possible (although, in my opinion, unfair) puzzle, it was also destructible if you chose to do the wrong thing. Something that playing the Vampire Chronicles might encourage you to do…

The two puzzles that we didn’t request clues on were both heavy on the process. You quickly realised what you had to do and then there was a chunk of work to be done turning the handle to get the answer. That’s fine when you’ve been enjoying the puzzles but when you’re feeling frustrated that’s really unpalatable.

At one point we used Word as a decryption program, which just felt like they were too cheap to write something more impressive that would do the job. A decent programmer could have created something far nicer with only a few minutes’ work. Finally, to add insult to injury, you had to open an encrypted file and they hadn’t even paid the licence fee for WinRAR so we had to click through the “you must either remove this software from your computer or remove it” popup. For around £25 they could make that appear far more professional and the fact they haven’t says a lot.

Result

We didn’t get out. This is by far the worst failure I’ve ever experienced – we didn’t just fail to get out of the room – we had several puzzles left that we hadn’t even seen. We asked for clues on almost every puzzle we attempted and only avoided it on one because Mrs Logic had a masterstroke of genius that allowed us to totally skip the puzzle entirely. In the entire room we solved ONE puzzle properly without help.

Verdict –

I always worry that I might rate a room poorly because *I* didn’t get the puzzles. Now, perhaps that could be true with one or two puzzles, but for me to be utterly stuck on pretty much every puzzle they set suggests something has gone horribly wrong. When the answers were explained to me, I was at the very least dubious. For one puzzle, the games master didn’t seem to know how to solve it, vaguely saying that he thought there was another number I’d missed that I should have used rather than the really obvious one that I’d spotted. Unfortunately, that was after the game, so I had no way of verifying. He was probably right, but the fact that a good solution didn’t work is a problem.

They did at least show me the finale to this room, which was truly impressive. The last couple of puzzles looked quite fun and there was genuine innovation for the finale where you got to choose the end scenario in the game, decide on whether you wanted to attempt a bonus puzzle and there were even special effects. It is an absolute travesty that players can get stuck on the disappointing initial puzzles and miss out on a genuinely impressive and interesting-looking finale. I just don’t understand how they can let this happen. Or rather, I do. Perfectly. The hosts are great, but they don’t know how you’re getting on and so rely on you asking for help. We were utterly frustrated, but they just weren’t aware. The problem is that the clue system just doesn’t work for certain sorts of people. If you’re happy to buzz then it’s probably fine, but having played so many rooms, I assume most puzzles will be solvable so keep working away at them until I truly reach an impasse. Less experienced players probably give up far sooner and have a better time. And that’s ignoring the fact that having to get a game host to enter the room to deliver a clue totally destroys the immersion of the experience.

The bottom line is that there was literally nothing that I enjoyed doing in this game. If they fixed up those initial puzzles, then I think it could be a truly interesting game (caveat: I didn’t actually see the final few puzzles so can’t be certain) but, as it is, I think there’s far too much frustration for this to be fun.

For me, I’ve been frustrated by the Escape Room once too often and I’ve lost faith, but it’s perfectly possible the other four games would be worth doing. If you’re willing to chance it, then I think this is the Escape Room venue that I’d most encourage people to play. The customer service is good and the newer games mean you’re less likely to have to deal with broken down props.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

2 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Hello!

    Let me introduce myself, my name’s Anne and I’m a member of staff at this branch. I started roughly a month after your visit, so I’m not sure quite who hosted you, but I’m flattered that you were taken by our hosting skills! We’ve since dropped a couple people and picked up some others, so our staff are all supremely customer service focused, we love it when people do well and enjoy themselves!

    Our Spy room is pretty solid. I’ve made my mark on it best I can, arranged the books in a semi obvious way so it doesn’t slow customers down so much. I can understand that our way of hinting may no be for everyone, so in our safety briefs I try and make sure people know there’s no shame in asking for help, we’re an incredibly difficult branch!

    Though saying that, we’ve had similar comments about the unintuitive nature of Spy in particular. There’s a lot of red herrings and ways to slow people down, we try and suggest customers try other rooms here first, not so much to click with the puzzles better but to get you used to the designers attempts to trick you. I hope we can iron out any bugs whenever it is that we have a referb, perhaps next year.

    If you’re pretty experienced then might I suggest you come and try our Sherlock room? It’s the hardest the company has put out, and so far since opening only 8 groups have succeeded in their first attempt, giving it a pass rate of 0.25%. I think it’s super cool.

    Also <3 that we're better than Preston.

    Anne x


  2. // Reply

    Well… that’s a refreshing response to a critical review. Maybe I’ll try Sherlock if I’m back in the area again!

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