Outside the room
I’d first come across Timed Trap when they’d launched an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign earlier in the year. It seemed that, from what they said, they’d run out of money while developing their game and were looking for additional funding to finish it off. That didn’t fill me with confidence, nor apparently other people, as the campaign failed to get any backers.
Fast forward a few months and they’d obviously found funding from somewhere, because they popped back onto the scene with not one but three games all ready to go. When we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare in the company of a self-confessed escape room addict, we phoned up and arranged to play a couple of their games at short notice.
It seems that more and more new venues share their premises with an existing entertainment service. This time round it was upstairs from a bar and pool hall. While we didn’t make use of the downstairs facilities, I thoroughly approve of venues that combine different forms of entertainment and allow you to turn your one-hour escape room into an extended night out.
We were greeted by the host, who appeared to run all the games in parallel. It’s not clear to me whether she would be in charge of three games at the same time, but certainly while we were there she was looking after another group as well as us. That might play into their decision to restrict clues – you can have at most two in a game. That’s a bold decision and always a concern if the puzzles aren’t entirely logical.
A makeshift prison is set up in a research lab complete with cell, bars and surveillance cameras. For two weeks participants are recruited to play prisoners and guards. The prisoners are locked up and have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the ‘guards’ are simply told to retain order without using physical violence. Anyone is allowed to quit at any time, by forfeiting their payment. In the beginning the mood between both groups is insecure and empathetic. But soon quarrels arise and the warden employs more drastic actions to show his authority.
You only have one hour to escape before your plan is discovered. You must break all the inmates out of their individual cells, before escaping through the infirmary. If you are caught, you will no longer be part of a research project, you will be an actual prisoner.
Inside the room
So that’s why this room has a minimum of four players! It’s hopefully not too much of a spoiler to tell you that you’ll be behind bars in this game, and I’ll expand on that slightly by saying that you’ll be separated out into four groups. I’ve not seen another prison break go to that level of segregation, but I really liked it. Ideally, they’d have an option to play the game with three or even two players, but overall I love the idea of you all being separated from the start. Perhaps there’s a little bit of pride in this – I wanted to be able to say that I’d done my job – that I’d searched my cell well and found everything that was hidden within. More than anything else, it was the opportunity for teamwork – would each person be able to open their own cell? Or would we each have to help the next person open their cell? Maybe the required clues would be visible to everyone from the start?
So many possibilities but, in the end, I was sorely disappointed. It started off reasonably well but we ended up with two of us being stuck for significantly longer than the rest of the team. As it happens, it was myself and Mrs Logic, so we’ve discussed at length the flaws that led to that situation. In one case it was poor game design. I can’t tell you how but it was always likely that I would be one of the last to be freed and would miss a substantial part of the game. In the other case it was a dubious puzzle. Now, it was solvable but it was very hard to solve. We can argue all day about whether or not it was a reasonable puzzle but I don’t think it’s reasonable to have a hard puzzle that effectively restricts one player from participating in more than half the game. It destroyed the experience for her because she got no “quick wins”. Every simple puzzle had already been cracked by the time she got there. Every search had already been done. The result was that she didn’t take any active part in the game at all. She was frustrated; I’d have been livid. Worse still, we eventually asked for a clue not because we were entirely stuck but because we felt it was unfair to leave her locked up any longer.
Asking for the clue was a real disappointment. I’m OK with getting clues, but this room had opted to provide clues by the host coming into the room. No attempt was made to make it fit in the scenario, so the immersion was utterly destroyed. Talking of destroyed immersion, they had a really nice piece of theatre in the game which I thought was a genuinely novel idea that they could have played with but the host didn’t really get into the spirit of it. That really grated for me because this was so close to being a highlight of the game but, instead, it became a low point.
Fortunately, most puzzles were logical, so the limit of two clues wasn’t a massive issue. However, if it’s strictly enforced, I’d expect inexperienced teams to struggle to escape. I don’t really see the point in having a maximum of two clues – if you’re going down that route then why not just have a “gold standard” escape if you use no more than two clues, or restrict the leaderboard teams to ones that didn’t need extra clues? This is meant to be fun and. if people are frustrated. then give them the help they need.
There were two big problems with the puzzle side of things. Firstly, there just weren’t very many of them. With a room which requires four people and can take six, you need far more to keep them occupied. Secondly, a couple of the puzzles felt distinctly dubious to me. Even if you worked out the solution, they were fiddly to input/read and, in one case there was something that misled you into thinking you hadn’t solved the puzzle correctly – which would have been reasonable if inputting the answer was easy but, given that it was a bit hit and miss, it felt like an unnecessary red herring. Aside from that, the puzzles were probably a bit too straightforward, with the result being that we spent huge swathes of our time on poor puzzles and minimal time on the logical ones.
Another highlight in the game was the use of technology to move away from the experience being a series of locks and keys. While there certainly were parts with more traditional ways of progressing, there was a more than average amount of tech. While tech doesn’t necessarily make a game fundamentally better, in this case it definitely broke things up for me and offered a bit of variety from typical games.
We escaped in 42:35 having taken a pair of clues.
This game could have been so much more. I liked the physical set-up, I liked the theatre they tried to add to it, I liked (most of) the use of tech and I liked that they’d added in something beyond the usual “you’ve got to break out of jail” mission… but I hated the break in immersion for clues, the total failure from the host to be even vaguely in character, the restriction to two clues, the repeated puzzles and the lack of flow in the game. Ultimately, the negatives won the battle and I came away disappointed. I’m definitely not writing off the company – there’s promise here, and if they design another game in a few months with some more experience under their belts, then I’d definitely consider going back.
The game is designed for at least four players but there aren’t enough puzzles for even that many. If you do go along, that means you should go as a four, regardless of experience.
Detailed Room Ratings