A Tourist’s Review of Aberdeen Escape Rooms

In February 2017, a group of three of us went up to Aberdeen for the day and played all seven rooms that were open at the time. Rather than write up separate reviews, I’ve put together a mini tourist post covering the three venues. It’s obviously not a detailed guide, but it should at least help players going to the city to decide between the different offerings.

More detail below, but by far the most interesting game came from the Locked Door. If you want a quick fix, then the half-hour zombie apocalypse game at CountDown Escape Games was surprisingly stressful and fun. Breakout Games Aberdeen produced three games that were all very similar in terms of difficulty level, which might work well for a larger group. The GMs and owners at all three venues were without exception helpful and friendly throughout our time at their sites.

The Locked Door

The Locked Door had only been open a week or two when we turned up, but the game already felt well tested and smooth. That bodes well for a strong future – they’re already hard at work on an Egyptian-themed game, so it will be interesting to hear how that turns out. It’s a nice little venue just outside the centre of the town, with parking on site and a large waiting area.

The Heist (3.5 stars)

As mentioned above, this game was my favourite of the seven we played, probably beating the other rooms in story, theming and puzzles. While it’s not very story-based, there’s a clear structure to the room that sees you ticking off steps on your way to completing the heist, which acts both as a sense of progress and to slowly build the tension up as the game progresses. The theming delivers well enough, although don’t expect to feel like you’re walking into a museum or bank. Instead, they caricature certain aspects of the heist, either in decoration or via the puzzles, to convey the experience.

They weren’t afraid to have the odd piece of electronics in the game but equally didn’t shy away from using more traditional escape room elements. Similarly, on the puzzle front, this isn’t a room that’s just about observation and simple cyphers. Instead, you’ll be involved with some physical puzzles, sometimes on a pleasingly large scale.

The finale was an interesting choice. It’s more complex than most games’ attempts, and I can well imagine teams falling apart under the pressure of completing it in a rush. I liked it, though, because it really rewarded teamwork and could easily have incorporated a full game’s worth of people into that final stage. In what is, at its heart, a team game, it’s great to see a finale puzzle where everyone can make a contribution.

CountDown Escape Games

The waiting area at CountDown felt a little small given the three games they had on the premises but, with only us playing at the time, there was plenty of space. They’d been open for about a month when we visited, so were likely still finding their feet a bit – by now they may have switched out or upgraded some of the weaker puzzles – but this is about the games as we saw them at the end of February.

Of the three games, Gangster was definitely my favourite with the most interesting puzzles.

Gangster (3 stars)

The strongest of CountDown’s three games, Gangster, was centred round breaking into a Russian gangster’s office to find some evidence that would lock him away. It has a fairly standard mafioso look, although the Italian references have been replaced with Russian to reflect the origins of the main character, Sergei Reznikov.

There isn’t really much to be said about the game; the puzzles weren’t numerous or amazingly exciting but they were logical. The finale had its highs and lows – it was a pretty dull puzzle that got you there, of a type that is all too common in escape rooms and suffers from causing a lot of frustration, but it was followed by a nice reveal.

Zombie (3 stars)

I was pretty dubious about a 30-minute experience. It’s the age-old question of how you make a short game that beginners can fully access without making it trivially easy for enthusiasts. Add to that a game which has slightly creepy overtones and you’ve got even more variability between how different teams will progress.

As it was, it certainly wasn’t an issue for us for two very different reasons. First off, the dark room was a great leveller. Usually I’d be very against dark rooms, and I’ll admit it was frustrating at times but, in this case, knowing that the game would end in thirty minutes meant we had something else to preoccupy us. The second reason was that, without a clock in the room and with the knowledge that it was a short game, we lost all track of time. I genuinely felt we would run out of time in this room – surely we were almost at the thirty-minute mark by the time we exited? – but in reality we were only slightly past the halfway mark.

The puzzles weren’t amazing – search hard, make a couple of connections and you’re out. Obviously there aren’t many in a thirty-minute game and, with three fairly separate strands to follow (find some food, medication and weapons), they’re never going to be very complex. This game is all about ramping up the pressure as much as possible, in a dark, slightly creepy room. If that appeals, then head along and have fun; if it doesn’t, then I don’t think you’ll get much from the room.

Ghost (2.5 stars)

After playing Gangster, it felt like we had the measure of the CountDown games, but this was surprisingly different. It revolved around a central set of puzzles. Again, they weren’t very numerous, but one or two of them felt a little bit more tenuous than their neighbouring game, which resulted in us taking a little longer to escape and resorting to our only clue across the three rooms.

That set of central puzzles built to a fairly dull logic puzzle which was, at some level, the finale of the game although not quite the very end. They’d incorporated a few different puzzle types in the room, but it was the imagery where this game was at its strongest. It’s a relatively unusual subject: a ghost story about a bride who was murdered on her wedding day. That left the room as a combination of weddings and ghosts, and the resulting decoration worked reasonably well.

If you’re of a nervous disposition, it’s worth mentioning that there may be a jump scare in the game – talk to them if that’s worrying.

Breakout Games Aberdeen

The original escape room in the area, Breakout Games had had no competition for almost two years, and I think it showed a little. What they delivered they did very well, with well maintained rooms and logical puzzles, but they lacked the innovation that I’d like to see in an escape room as they release additional games. We were just a little too early to see their new game Frankenstein, which I suspect would represent a step up given what I’ve heard.

This was the only venue where we weren’t GMed by the owners, and I was pleased to see that our GMs still had a good level of enthusiasm and friendliness in spite of being employees.

If you’re not worried about your games being adventurous or unusual but you do want them to be logical and well maintained, then Breakout Games will absolutely deliver for you.

Black and White (3 stars)

This game delivered on its title – a monochromatic theme which was delivered crisply. That’s pretty much where the immersion ended, though. A relatively short series of puzzles which never really caught my imagination. Simple observation, decryption and a variety of escape room tropes only kept us in the room for 25 minutes.

V75 (3 stars)

This time round it was a scientific theme as we tried to find an antivirus for V75. Across the rooms there were a variety of chemistry- and general science-related props, and a couple of the puzzles were incorporated into the theme, but we were really surprised at how similar it felt to the Black and White one next door. It felt almost formulaic, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Amazon (3 stars)

Of the three games we played at Breakout Games, this was probably the one I enjoyed the most. The theming was a little more interesting than the others, there were a couple of puzzles that were a bit more involved, and the searching was a bit more of a challenge. Not a huge step up from the other rooms but just enough to make it stand out, with a couple of puzzles that required teamwork being the highlight for me.

That’s all, folks

I hope you found this write-up useful. If you did, then please let me know via email, and that will encourage me to write more in future. If you’ve got opinions on the above or, equally, if you’ve played one of the games that has opened since our visit, then please drop a comment below.

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