This is part of a series of articles on games in Amsterdam – click here for the introduction and links to all the other articles.
I’ve known about Sherlocked for a very long time – pretty much since I first started thinking about escape rooms outside the UK. It’s a company with an international reputation that is talked of fondly amongst enthusiasts. Nestled in the heart of Amsterdam, inside the old stock exchange, it’s hard to believe you’re going to get to play in such beautiful surroundings and, as you get further into the games, that feeling just grows.
Successfully completing a game gets you a coveted crossed keys pin badge, and completing both games means you get the gold and silver copies – a must-have in any enthusiast’s collection.
These are without a doubt two of the finest experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in. At times they could be a little weak on the puzzle front, and you could argue that there are better escape rooms. However, as experiences they were exceptional. Take a trip to Amsterdam and play them.
The Architect (5 stars)
Sherlocked believe in immersion. From the moment we entered to the moment we left, everything was about staying within that story. We’d been asked to investigate a secret office that they’d found underneath the Amsterdam stock exchange, amid rumours that the man who designed and owned it was a member of a secretive organisation.
Now, I’ve played a few “office”-themed games in my time. Many are terrible. The best are well laid out with nice furniture. Nothing, nothing would prepare me for this game. As we entered the main space, I was amazed. This is a *huge* room with a footprint that would easily accommodate five generous escape games. It’s not about the quantity, though, it’s about the quality, and this game has it in spades. Where other rooms have a few pieces of old furniture, this took advantage of the room’s original wooden decoration and matching period furniture. It was a slightly surreal experience because, on the one hand, the size of the space meant you had to raise your voice to talk to your teammates but, on the other, the hallowed nature of the room – like you were in some Oxbridge college or masonic hall – made you desperately want to whisper.
As alluded to above, Sherlocked don’t make games full of puzzles. There are enough here for a 60-minute experience but you need to treasure the ones you get. They’re generally beautifully crafted and, while they do sometimes fall into escape room logic, the rest of the experience more than makes up for it. It did grate a bit, though – two puzzles relied on skills that you might not have in the room, while another puzzle was destructible. Given how amazing this game is, and its longevity, I’d have thought they’d have ironed out those wrinkles.
In this game it isn’t always obvious what the next step is, which is kind of scary. Given its size, you really do not want to be re-searching this space, so I recommend being prepared to lean on your GM outside the room if you hit a roadblock.
Good games deserve good finales. Great games deserve great finales. The very best games deserve a finale like this. I can’t tell you much about it without giving away spoilers, but it was the perfect wrap-up to the experience.
The Vault (5 stars)
Having played the Architect earlier in the day, we were excited about the follow-on game, the Vault. From what I’d heard, both games were good but the sequel was better and harder, so this looked like it would be an experience to remember.
You know it’s going to be a bit different when you don’t start in the venue but are instead sent off to a car park across the square. I’ve played a lot of games where they’ve gone for immersion from the start, but this really was in the upper echelons even of those (and no, you’re not bundled into a van!). Note that you’ll require a phone that can receive text messages in order to start the game.
During the game, you have to infiltrate the Vault and while, at its heart, it’s an escape room, plenty of the experience goes well beyond what I’d class in that genre. The primary difference is the extent to which you have to interact with actors, which really blurs the line with immersive theatre. This game begins well before you get inside the “room”. To help convey just how immersive it was, when I think of this game I tend to imagine it in third person. I think that’s because it felt so much like I was taking part in a film that my mind naturally replays it with that context.
The story is right up with the very best and, as the game progresses, you both learn more about it and have what you’ve already found out reinforced. One minor quibble I’ve heard levelled is that, while there’s some suggestion that you have agency within the game, in practice you’re on a very fixed path. It seems we chose that path for ourselves, so it never hit us.
The space is absolutely gorgeous. Like the Architect, it’s huge and it’s old but, with the original Vault of the Stock Exchange in use here, it’s absolutely perfect. It brings both the wealth that is required for the storyline and the security that the game’s name suggests together in the perfect setting. As with the Architect, that can be intimidating at times but, for me, it worked.
If there is one thing that lets down this game, it’s the puzzles. Were they to be placed in a standard escape room setting, they would likely leave you underwhelmed. There aren’t many and they aren’t complicated (indeed, when we did get stuck, it was because we were assuming there must be more to the game than we could see). There are a couple of physical challenges and probably a half dozen more normal escape room puzzles, including one ambitious one that requires a fair amount of communication. If you’re only here for the puzzles, then you’re going to go away disappointed.
This had its weaknesses but, where it wasn’t weak, it blew everything else out of the water. Is it my favourite escape game? No. Is it my favourite experience? Yes. From the moment you arrive at the start to the time you finish, hopefully sporting your golden keys, this is a true adventure. There’s no two ways about it: you should head to Amsterdam with three friends and play this game as soon as possible.
That’s all about Sherlocked – want to read more about Dutch games? Click here to head back to the main Amsterdam page.