Hamburg Escape Rooms: Team Escape

Split across two sites in Hamburg, Team Escape is part of a chain that spans much of Germany and a couple of places beyond. Their original venue houses two games – the Hofman Formula and the Kidnapping – while their new venue contains their more glamorous and modern-looking rooms including the Resident Evil game.

The new location is nicely decorated and has plenty of space – indeed, each game has its own separate waiting area with comfy cinema chairs and a big box to store belongings during the game. The older one is a little less plush, but the staff are friendly and it was still a reasonable place to hang around when we had a gap between games.

I wouldn’t put any of the games we played here on the must-do list, although I’d recommend reading the reviews because there’s context involved in a couple of them. While some were pretty good, each had its own flaws. Sweet Revenge had a style that I haven’t seen elsewhere but left me feeling unengaged. Resident Evil was a thematic creepy room that lacked the real horror element to impress. Blood Diamonds had too many failures for us but would definitely be interesting for some people, while the Gallery came close to being a great game but fell on the final hurdle. The games at the other venue felt a bit old and tired.

Resident Evil (3.5 stars)

I’ve never played the computer games so, if you’re looking to find out whether it’s a faithful rendition, then I can’t really help you. What I can say is that they had some strong visuals across the space that produced a creepy vibe with some level of horror. Having watched a trailer of Resident Evil, it certainly echoed the backdrop of the game, but it felt very much like they’d gone for a PG/12 rating that left it stuck somewhere between a normal escape room and the proper horror you might expect with the franchise.

The puzzles were generally solid, although some lacked polish. For example, there was a tendency to have multiple potential avenues for solving them, all of which yielded plausible solutions. It’s worth noting that, if you have problems with low lighting, you’ll struggle with one puzzle (although it’s very much brute-forceable): I couldn’t make out the necessary detail even after I’d been told exactly what I needed to look at.

We struggled on the last puzzle and, when we finally got the answer, it was a bit of an anticlimax – so much so that I can’t actually remember exactly what happened at the end. This game felt like it really needed a chilling conclusion, that had us rushing out the door, so I was sad to see it just end after the puzzle.

Gallery (3.5 stars)

This was the game that really should have been my favourite were it not for a problematic final puzzle. I can well imagine others loving the convoluted finish, but for our team it took the fun out of the experience. So what was so good about it? Well, it’s a period gallery-themed game, full of old artefacts and paintings that scratch both the geography and history itches. The decoration is beautiful, really capturing the theme and making this one of those games that are enjoyable just to be in. The only negative on that front was that the room was a little darker than I’d have liked.

The puzzles were by and large fun, and there was some tough – but ultimately fair – searching to get stuck into. In fact, up to that final puzzle, I was really enjoying the experience, albeit with the exception of a puzzle that felt unfair – requiring either outside-the-room knowledge or a cross-referencing leap (made particularly hard by the darkened room).

So where did it go wrong? Well, for the final stage of the room they’d put together an ambitious puzzle weaving together perhaps five steps, which could have been absolutely brilliant. When you found out the process at each stage, you could see why it made sense. The problem was that, before you found out that there was another step, the interim solutions also made perfect sense. That meant that, rather than thinking about what extra step we needed to take, we looked at why the step we had taken was wrong. Continually recalculating stuff that we’d got wrong rather than trying to find another level of the puzzle just wasn’t fun.

For me, the puzzle needed more direction – either more hinting at the steps you had to take or else a more elegant solution that made it obvious you were on the right track but still had a way to go. Long finale puzzles can really make a game – giving the feeling of satisfaction that helps bind the whole experience together – but if they go wrong, there’s no recovery. The feeling you remember is the one you leave with, and in our case it was one of frustration.

Blood Diamonds (2 stars)

Blood Diamonds was another game that could have been really good. In this case, poor GMing (possibly caused by a language breakdown), faulty tech and a broken puzzle came together to spoil the show. All three of those could feasibly be absent for you, so I wouldn’t put you off playing – just go in with your eyes open.

The room is a variant on a heist game: you need to break into the main character’s house and steal his priceless diamond. It’s a fairly standard room to start with, but the theming improves (and changes) as the game progresses. The puzzles weren’t great, even ignoring the ones that went wrong, and I often found myself inputting solutions in hope rather than with confidence.

But – I hear you ask – where did it go wrong? Well, problem number one was a puzzle for which they’d just replaced a prop. Unfortunately, the new prop utterly broke the puzzle such that the correct solution didn’t work (and we therefore ruled it out). The clues from our GM left us even more confused, causing us to become increasingly frustrated. The way his hints came across sounded a bit like he felt we were stupid (which, with him not knowing the flaw, was perhaps understandable).

To make matters worse, pretty much the next puzzle involved an incredibly temperamental prop. We did the right action but it didn’t work, and then the GM kept giving us a clue for something we’d already done.

After that, things improved till almost the end, where there was a tricky puzzle that involved a level of analysis that is rare in an escape room. It was the kind of puzzle that I’d really have enjoyed on paper but in which, with the pressure of an escape room, I crumbled. That would be fine, but I really think few people would be able to solve it analytically, so the most likely solution is pretty much brute-forcing and/or being given some of the solution by the GM. Neither are satisfactory endings.

Perhaps we just made a meal of it and others would have breezed straight through. Perhaps the earlier frustrations were still sitting with us and we weren’t thinking as clearly. Whatever the cause, it was a great shame, because the puzzle fitted thematically with the plot and the overall decoration at that point would really have carried the experience well.

Sweet Revenge (4 stars)

A murder mystery set in a doughnut shop? It’s certainly an unusual theme, but it was also an impressive one. They’d worked hard to create a believable space and, in case you’re wondering when you enter the scene… no, those aren’t real doughnuts. In fact, the immersion here was pretty impressive throughout. The puzzles were thematic, the room looked good, and there was a sense of transition that really told a story. They didn’t shove it in your face, but it was almost like they’d taken an episode of a crime scene series and made it into an escape room. Complete with a – for once – decent storyline that you had to piece together.

There’s a large murder mystery element to this game so, if (like me) you prefer more concrete logic, this may not be the room for you. However, if that doesn’t put you off, then there’s a reasonably good puzzle to wrap up the game which involved plenty of discussion between our team. If the communication aspect of games is what you’re after, then this has it in spades. In fact, I can’t think of many games where I’ve had so much discussion without feeling that it was because of a flawed puzzle.

All my teammates thoroughly enjoyed this game, but I felt a bit flat afterwards. Looking back, I think that was because of a sequence in the middle where they all got heavily involved in the action and I got sidelined. The way it’s designed leads to a longish sequence of operations which are likely to end up being performed by the same team members. Yes, I could have interjected at that point, but I think the game could also have been designed to encourage that. Worse still, what you found out from that stage fed into the endgame so, if you weren’t fully engaged at that point, it affected you throughout the rest of the experience.

In the cold light of day, I look back on this game and realise that it had a good set, an interesting storyline, contained good puzzles if you like the murder mystery mechanic, and had incredible theming in the sense of really giving the feeling of working a murder case from start to finish. If you’re into murder mysteries,  I’d recommend trying it out.

The Hofman Formula (3 stars)

The Hofman Formula saw us breaking into a science lab to try to produce the antidote for a terrorist attack. It’s a fairly standard story, although I liked that they made us not just find the formula but actually complete his work. The decoration and theming were acceptable but never really shone. While there were plenty of sciencey-looking things in the laboratory, they weren’t really used in an interesting way, and the puzzles mainly felt like they’d been placed inside the environment rather than integrated into it.

The challenges varied in quality, but I rarely felt excited about them – one particular group that summed up the game for me was a set of interesting-looking props that could have housed a fun puzzle but in the end gave way to something that was, in essence, a logic problem. Another of the puzzles felt more like I was taking a test than playing a game.

This would have been a perfectly good escape room a couple of years ago (when it was probably created), but I think it’s showing its age both in the sense of wear and tear and in terms of how the puzzles and theming stack up to the other games. If you’re going to play at Team Escape, I think you’d be far better off heading to their other venue.

The Kidnapping (3 stars)

Our final game at Team Escape felt like it might have been the first one they’d created. A kidnapping-themed room where you had to work out what had happened and foil a terrorist attack. Again, it felt a bit tired – apartment-based games often struggle to impress, especially ones set thirty years ago, but even in that context this one left me underwhelmed, and you’d get no more joy from the story, which had only the slightest extension during the game.

The puzzles were generally inoffensive. There was one that frustrated me immensely, but that was because I assumed that it was broken instead of just needing more pieces that hadn’t yet been found. I’d usually criticise puzzles that encourage you to persevere because they don’t make it clear that you’re still missing pieces, but in this case it was very much on me: I’d assumed we had everything and that the failure was because of faulty props. If I’d trusted the room, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

It looked like there might be a genuinely exciting finale to the game, but it turned out not to be very impressive at all – just smoke and mirrors. If the rest of the room had excited me, they’d probably have got away with it or even made me laugh at my naive assumption, but instead I felt disappointed that the potentially cool ending and  highlight to the game had ended up being pretty mundane. So not a room to write home about, although nothing much was very wrong with it either.

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