The Panic Room Gravesend: The Dollhouse

Outside the room

I’d been looking forward to visiting Gravesend for a very long time – the Panic Room have a reputation in the industry, and the lead time to book weekend slots suggested they were doing something right. I’d rounded up the usual suspects and booked out eighteen of their slots. Yes, eighteen. Like I said, the Panic Room have a reputation and there were plenty of people willing to join me on the day out.

The first puzzle when you’re playing at the Panic Room is which site to go to. At the time of writing, they’ve got two venues in Gravesend, although that will rise to three in the not-too-distant future. One is reasonably obvious, right next to the clock tower. The other is pretty nearby but, while the address appears to be on the main street, be warned that the way in is actually about twenty metres down a side street (The Grove, if I remember correctly).

As with their Harlow location, there’s a humorous video introduction to how escape rooms work but, for this game, there’s also a second video that introduces you to the game itself.

Background

You and your friends wake up inside a gloomy and grim basement. You have been chosen as the next victims of a deranged killer with an obsession for dolls and mannequins known for stripping the flesh off of his victims and much worse. A grim and haunting tale with many twists and turns to get your heart racing, blood curdling and adrenaline pumping. His collection grows day by day and night by night, will be become his latest victims? Can you find a way out where so many have failed before you?

Inside the room

I found the opening to this game a somewhat frustrating experience. It’s linear and pretty dark so, until you find out where you’re meant to begin, you’re left feeling your way round the space in hope. As the game progressed, we quickly left that feeling behind as the darkness went away and we got access to more puzzles for the team to work on in parallel.

The puzzles were definitely the highlight for me, with them impressing in several different ways. First off, there’s sheer volume. When I look back on the experience, I’m amazed by just how many steps there were between the timer starting and us eventually flying out of the room. It’s not quantity that matters, though, it’s quality, and they did well there too. Yes, there were some pretty simple escape room tropes in their puzzles, but there was plenty of innovation too. They weren’t afraid to use technology where it fitted, with plenty of automation in the room, but were equally comfortable with padlocks when they would do the job. Pleasingly, there was sufficient direction that we rarely had to try a code on more than one lock.

I particularly enjoyed the humour across the challenges. It was pure fun in some places while macabre in others but, for someone that’s not a huge fan of horror, that kind of detail really helped to enhance the experience.

So it’s definitely not a game that takes itself too seriously, and yet it can be pretty intense at times. The intro video plays just before you start the game, setting the scene nicely, and the story trickles out during the experience. The clue system, if you make use of it, ups the ante with help available from another inmate who’s managed to escape to the control room. It’s an 18+ room, so don’t expect those clues to be civil either.

The props and puzzles extended the theme, nicely mixing up the horror of a serial killer’s lair with the creepiness of a dollhouse for humans. As you’d imagine, there are plenty of references to dolls, but that’s not just limited to throwing some old children’s toys into the game; one puzzle in particular made use of a custom prop that brought together the horror and the beauty of the game.

Result

Our team of three escaped the room after 48 minutes having taken a single clue on a search fail.

Verdict –
 

The Panic Room Gravesend absolutely delivered on their reputation. They’ve crafted an experience here that covers all the bases: the exploratory feeling I love in an escape room, fun staff, a simple story that develops within the game so that you find out more about your captor, good puzzles and a pretty (at least in the context) set.

The highlights for me were in how they balanced different aspects of the game: the horror story with humour or the puzzles that were both macabre and beautiful. I don’t think I’ve seen another room that’s done that quite as well.

As with all the Panic Room’s games, I wouldn’t recommend going along at max capacity. We played with three, which was fine. You could probably get away with one more player if you’re an enthusiast or a couple for beginners. Be prepared to get a little in each other’s way for the first few minutes but have a blast for the rest of the game.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

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