Amsterdam Escape Review: Save Amsterdam

This is part of a series of articles on games in Amsterdam – click here for the introduction and links to all the other articles.

Once again, we were in the relative outskirts of the city, this time at Save Amsterdam that themes all its games around saving Amsterdam from some sort of disaster. It’s a nice idea: you still have a central concept which binds your games together, but there’s plenty of scope for something a bit different each time.

The venue itself is a couple of adjacent commercial units, so there are two different reception areas: one for Zombie and one for the other two games. The second venue is literally next door, though, so there’s no problem with going to the wrong address. We had the owner GM us for Black Hole and an employee (who seemed to work at several escape room venues) GM us for the other two.

Of the three games, Black Hole was by far our favourite – it had some genuinely innovative puzzles, some fairly cool tech (both high-tech and low-tech that worked really well), some communication puzzles and a sense of exploration and discovery that seemed a little lacking in the other rooms. Zombie and Flood were both still fun, but Amsterdam has so many good rooms that I’d only recommend doing them if you’re already in the venue.

Zombie (4 stars)

We headed downstairs from the venue to the basement, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself starting outside the house of the doctor that we were investigating. It’s a bold move to do that sort of thing, because you have to create two entirely separate environments for the player. It was worth it, though, because it really added an extra dimension to the start of the game. Decoration was a bit hit and miss through the game, with most of the space being quite bare, but there were still moments that impressed. One moment in particular delighted, although I was sad to hear that it was a massive step down from what they’d originally designed, which had been broken by over-enthusiastic players… Story-wise, there was little beyond “there’s a zombie apocalypse”, and you had to find the anti-zombie remedy.

There were plenty of puzzles to work our way through, and they’d laid them out nicely so that there was much toing and froing between rooms. There was no strict order for completing the challenges, which made things a little tougher. It wasn’t always clear whether we had all the clues we needed for any given puzzle, so it very much an iterative process – clearing out clue after clue until we worked out what we had left and could then use that reduced information set to solve the puzzles we were stuck on.

The finale isn’t that exciting – find a code to exit the room – but it’s worth saying that the reason you’re locked in is one of the cleverer ideas I’ve come across in an escape room. I wouldn’t say we left on a high, but we were certainly satisfied with the game we’d played.

Black Hole (4.5 stars)

I really wasn’t expecting much from a game called Black Hole. Perhaps my mind thought it would be played in darkness, or perhaps be very empty. I was wrong: there was a pretty set and, while it was possibly not the brightest in the world, the darkness wasn’t a big issue for us. Again, there’s very little in the way of storyline in the game.

There were three things I really enjoyed in this room. Firstly, the sense of exploration: each time we took a step forward, it unveiled a new and interesting space but, even then, we had to regularly retrace our footsteps, which meant we never left the old scenes behind.

Secondly, I loved the props: there were some really simple ideas that they’d used to convey the space theme but also some much more involved ones which helped to cement that theme while giving the feeling of being in something akin to a spaceship.

The third thing I liked was the range of puzzles. They were logical, they were complex and they involved communication. I loved that our team had to shout across the space to each other or explain difficult concepts that were more than a little confusing.  Mostly, I think the puzzles were relatively sequential, with us having to wait as a team for each stage. The finale puzzle made sense within the game world and, as one of the more difficult puzzles in the game, worked well in finishing the experience.

Flood (3.5 stars)

The final room in our trilogy of saving the city was flood-themed. Amsterdam is a city of dykes, and in this game they’d had a dangerous build-up of water which would bring down the dam unless we could phone up one of the engineers. If you’re thinking that sounds easy, then bad news: you’re wrong.

The game starts with one of the most off-theme puzzles I’ve ever encountered. It had us stumped for a couple of minutes before we eventually worked it out. Afterwards, I realised that was because there was absolutely no reason for us to take that action. Certainly no reason in the story but, even taking into account escape room logic, it was pretty out there. At the time, though, it just seemed a strange start to the game.

Things improved as we got further into the game, with later puzzles making more use of the theming and having metaphors for some of the actions you might take when trying to get a piece of flood equipment working (which was slightly odd given we were really trying to call up the engineer). The decoration never really sold me on being at a pumping station, though, and that left things a little flat – no real story progression.

One thing really frustrated me in this room. We’d breezed through most of it without taking a hint until we came across a roadblock. We tried and we tried to find the solution to one of the puzzles but just couldn’t. Eventually, we decided we were well and truly stuck, so we brute-forced the final number in a lock. At the end of the game we asked what we’d missed. The answer? Nothing – you’re actually meant to brute-force a lock for this game. I find that incredibly frustrating – once you’ve learned that this is sometimes expected behaviour, is it then legitimate in all other circumstances?

That’s all about Save Amsterdam – want to read more about Dutch games? Click here to head back to the main Amsterdam page.

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