I’ve seen better vampires…
Outside the room
On a previous trip to Escape Room Preston we’d played a couple of their games and while we’d not been overwhelmed by them, we thought they were worthy of a second visit, so booked ourselves in for a double session as a romantic Valentine’s Day activity. First up: Vampire Chronicles. Nothing says romance like Vampires.
Last time round I’d been more than unimpressed by their facilities, complaining about the horrendous state of their toilets. Yes, it’s not the most exciting part of an escape room operation and generally I don’t bring it up in reviews, but if they want to attract people from outside Preston (we’d driven an hour to get there) then they need to do better. It’s been two months since then, so I assumed things would have improved, but, no, on our return we found that they now had no working toilets. That’s pretty bad, but fortunately they’d struck a deal with a garage next door to use theirs. Unfortunately the garage was closed, so back inside we went to tell them. “Oh, I didn’t know” was all we got. No apologies, no attempt to help us find somewhere else, just a blank face of “I don’t really give a shit” (no pun intended). Customer service is a major problem at Escape Room Preston, so every visit is a lottery – if things go right, then they get away with it, but when things go wrong they fail. Miserably.
Fortunately, for once we’d turned up twenty minutes early, so we had to time to make a quick exit to a local cafe and still be back just in time for our game…
[Note – according to the owner, the toilets have now been fixed]
It’s thousands of years in the future. Vampires have fought a war against humans and you’re the last remaining group. Captured, it’s up to you to escape and defeat them in a final battle.
Well, I think that was the story, but it wasn’t entirely clear. The host looked, well, embarrassed to be telling us the story. To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed to be listening to it, but I went with the flow and hoped it would get better.
Inside the room
This was, without a doubt, the single worst start to a game that I have ever had the misfortune to take part in. It wasn’t helped by the earlier problems, but even if that hadn’t been the case, I would have been utterly disappointed. Spoiler: this game starts in a room so dark that you’re barely able to see your own hand. I don’t mind a bit of moody lighting, and I expected nothing less from a Vampire theme, but I wasn’t expecting to spend the first ten minutes joylessly feeling my way around a room as my eyes slowly became accustomed to the gloom. To make matters more “fun” there was an exposed screw tip on one of the pieces of furniture, so as you flail around in the darkness, there was a decent chance you’d scratch yourself.
You know what’s a really good idea in an entirely dark room? Lots of red herrings. How can we make this worse? Hmmm, let me think for a moment. Let’s make it so that there’s only a single puzzle in the room, and not give you much clue about what that puzzle is. Yes – that seems like a great idea. Sigh.
Fifteen minutes into the room we asked for our first clue having made almost no progress (other than to utterly ransack the room). A minute later, our host arrived (yes, we’ll gloss over how that totally dispels the illusion of us being the last humans on earth since I’ve ranted about that in previous reviews) and gave us a very direct hint on how to continue. To be honest, it was a perfectly legitimate puzzle that on another day we might have solved, but the red herrings had made us feel like maybe we’d entirely missed the point.
And then the darkness lifted. Metaphorically. Once we’d got past that puzzle, things improved immensely and I was reminded of why I’d come back to Preston. They do a great line in decent puzzles that have sensible solutions. Yes, the props are likely to be a bit broken and the room is always in a shoddy state, but all the puzzles I’d come across had been solvable. Even better in this case, some of the puzzles were made much easier if there were two of you working together – something I always like to see in games. Yes, I was actually starting to enjoy this.
A few more puzzles in and it got even better, as there was something genuinely novel in the room. An idea that I’d never considered, but which is fantastic and more rooms should imitate. Like a fellow enthusiast said when we’d met up the day before, there’s something about this room that will make you chuckle long after you’ve left. Well done Escape Room!
And so we arrived at the final puzzle. In spite of our slow start, we’d raced through the rest of the game and still had well over twenty minutes to spare. No rush, we had time, so let’s settle down and enjoy it. We quickly worked out exactly what we were meant to do, but it required a certain amount of skill that we didn’t possess. Not particularly unfair skill, but skill none-the-less. We struggled and struggled with it, desperately keen to avoid a second clue, but it wasn’t to be.
Eventually we caved, and asked for help. We explained to the host what we thought we were meant to do and she confirmed we were right, but she couldn’t work out how to help us – instead just telling us to persevere. We did, and with two minutes remaining called her back in to make it clear that we’d really like a clue rather than just being told to “persevere”. This time she was marginally better, but she was still pretty much clueless. In fact, when I explained to her what I thought we were meant to do and how I would translate that into the escape code, it turned out that I’d hit on *exactly* the right code this time. How I’d missed it in my 78 previous attempts I’ll never know, but when I said the code she suggested I try it, and if it didn’t work then try similar ideas.
Fortunately I followed that advice and so we got out with just a few seconds remaining. Phew!
You’d think, with less than two minutes remaining and having heard me utter the correct escape code, that the host would wait outside the door for the game to be over, one way or the other, but no, in a replay of our previous visit to the Vampire room, we walked out to find ourselves alone. In fact, we were so frustrated with our experience that we almost walked out straight away, but we decided that was rude and so went to say goodbye.
For all that I’m frustrated by our personal experience, I think there’s a solid game in here – with the usual ten or so solvable puzzles that generally makes Escape Room Preston an OK place to while away an hour. The red herrings and the darkness were a total killjoy, but if they fixed that up, the room itself is pretty solid, and there are some real highlights in there. The thing I can’t get over is how bad their customer service is – I assume caused by minimal training, fewer hosts than games and not being very picky with recruitment. Oh, and sort out the toilets – it’s a total embarrassment.
The bottom line is that I’m left feeling that if this game was run by a different company, I’d be recommending it as a decent bit of fun now, but in all honesty, I can’t.
Detailed Room Ratings
Hi, firstly I would like to say…the room is dark because it’s supposed to be a dungeon. Why would a dark gloomy dungeon have bright lighting?? Secondly it’s the vampire kings dungeon, I thought you knew that vampires can’t survive in daylight hence it is dark on purpose. Secondly the red herrings are there to make it difficult, thirdly the toilets have been fixed now and we have got a whole new team of people.
There’s a middle ground between dark and bright lighting. Your Mummy room for example achieves it admirably. You can counteract darkness by designing your puzzles carefully to cope with that.
As for the red herrings being there to make it difficult…. I feel sorry if that’s what you need to do to make your games difficult. There are lots of ways to make games more difficult (a couple of extra puzzles?) that are WAY more fun than what we did (and probably easier for your staff to reset, and less likely to cause your props to be damaged).
Glad you’ve got the toilets fixed. I doubt you have a whole new team of people given I visited a week ago, but I don’t think that’s necessary – just some training in how to handle customers that aren’t enjoying the experience.
BTW – if you want to have a more detailed chat about any of my feedback, without having to sidestep spoilers, you’re welcome to email me (email@example.com). As I said in this review – you have solid, solvable puzzles which are the core of a good escape room. I desperately hope that the feedback you receive allows you to convert that solid core to an all round good experience.
1) A dark room can be fun if you make it clever. It doesn’t sound like you made it clever.
2) You know what else makes a room difficult? Clever puzzles. Red herrings are put in because the designer is lazy. And yes, I’ve designed many puzzles. Red Herrings are the bane of any escape room and any room that has them should feel the ire of many a reviewer.
3) Yay! Toilets fixed. 😀
If you are the owner and you want more people to come to your escape room, then you need to re-think your whole persona. Your response has an air of condescension. And red herrings do not make a room difficult. They make a room ridiculous. You need to read your reviews and take them seriously. Otherwise you won’t stay in business long. If you read reviews from experienced and beginner escapers, they all agree that what makes an escape room good is the attitude of the staff who are open to making their rooms better. If you’re not open to making your rooms better, then why stay open at all?
We did an out-of-town room where the room had shredded paper as part of the room. My wife spent 10-15 min putting it together and it left a very vague riddle. After only making it 50-60% through the room, the GM came in the room and admitted the Shredded paper was a red herring.
As customers we’re paying for an experience with puzzles as part of that. With that being said, Red Herrings are the equivalent of discounts.. which i doubt many owners would be willing to give after the fact of playing a room.
(Don’t get me started on Toilets not working.. I’m sure my health inspector friends would love to visit a company like that)
Firstly I completely disagree with your take on red herrings! You seem to be the only people who doesn’t enjoy the traps, you seem to be be frustrated by the fact that you fell into the traps and hence you wish for us to remove them. We have had a huge amount of positive feedback from our customers in the past about our room, our puzzles and our service. We have hired 7 new staff members, new STandard operating procedures have been created and a refreshers training course has been initiated.
Lastly toikets break in any Buisness, the right thing to do is to pump money in that direction and apologise for the inconvenience this has caused customers and the embarrassment this has caused staff. The wrong thing to do would be to leave the toilets in that state, but we have fixed them numerous times, do not threaten us with your health inspector friends as I can assure you our venue is passed on all bases and any problems we have been having have been resolved.
There are red herrings and red herrings. I’m not a big fan of red herrings, but I accept some owners want to put them in. This went way beyond that and spoiled our experience. I sincerely hope we are the only people who felt that way, but I doubt it – you have more data points than me though, so I guess I’ll have to accept that people love them.
As with toilets, I will repeat what I said – I can only review what I saw on the day – and note that as soon as you replied to say the toilets had been fixed, I updated my introduction section to say so. That said, in my fifty visits to escape rooms, I can’t think of an occasion where the toilets have been entirely out of order or in as bad a state as I saw at Christmas except for the two visits to your establishment. I’m very glad you’ve taken the decision to fix them properly.
I disagree with the lighting, we cannot have it too bright like mummy room, as it would negate the effect of UV. The scene is set so that you and your crew are condemned to death in a dark gloomy vampire castle.
That’s your choice. I think it’s the wrong one, but we’ll have to agree to differ.
Also please do not claim that having red herrings make the designer lazy, in that particular maze we have many new puzzles that can be initiated but it’s all about having a balance, by having a million puzzles it makes the likelihood of escaping very little hence customers come out deflated without a sense of achievement and do not enjoy the experience. You have to make the mazes hard enough for a challenge but not too hard so that nobody escapes. So I completely disagree with the take that our designer is lazy, our team is thouroughly experienced, creative and imaginative to be able to create such mazes. Even the review mentioned you laughed a lot about one aspect of the room.
I didn’t claim your designers were lazy (although I wouldn’t dispute Errol’s comment). Again, we’ll have to agree to differ. I’ve talked to plenty of escape room designers and enthusiasts and that’s the general opinion. Maybe they weren’t lazy, but I’d still feel they were misguided.
And yes, part of the game did make me laugh – I thought it was fantastic and even suggested other rooms should imitate it. As I said in the Verdict: “there’s a solid game in here” and if the surrounds of the game were run better then “I’d be recommending it as a decent bit of fun”.
This was my first escape room so I’ve got nothing to compare to, but I enjoyed it. Staff were friendly. First room wasn’t TOO dark plus we had lights on phones that I asked before we started & were allowed to use. Not sure what red herrings you mean so maybe they’ve changed things a little or maybe we just got lucky. Toilets were working.
Negatives – too many combination locks/number pads, agree that props can be a little shabby, final puzzle is tricky without appropriate “talent” and it would have been nice if they’d been waiting outside for us.