This is part of a series of articles on games in Warsaw – click here for the introduction and links to all the other articles.
I’d heard good things about Hard Lock from a couple of the owners that I’d emailed, so we’d booked in to play two, possibly three, of their games one evening. I was particularly curious about a game called Chernobyl which seemed like it might be a fun variant on the usual “defuse the bomb” experience.
All looked good when we arrived at the venue. Incredibly friendly hosts and a comfy waiting area complete with phone chargers and a music system where you could choose what you wanted to listen to. Unfortunately it was downhill from there, with some relatively weak games. Terrorist was the most enjoyable of the three, while Mafia Snitch had an interesting centrepiece that made me glad we played. Ironically Chernobyl, the game I was most interested in, was the biggest dud.
Mafia Snitch (3 stars)
It’s a cramped start to the game, inside a small drab office without an obvious way to proceed. If this had been my first ever escape room, I’d have been wondering what I’d signed myself up for. It’s a tough start too, so you could well be in cramped confines for an extended period. There was little direction about where to start and plenty of red herrings (including a Playboy magazine!), but we persevered and eventually managed to make progress.
That was a repeated experience throughout the game – perseverance was rewarded, but it genuinely was perseverance. Very few of the puzzles were easy, and several required quite detailed searching. We got some puzzles that felt a stretch to me and needed a clue on one which was very gettable, but I can imagine some teams reaching the end without any help which, I guess, is the goal for an escape room. The puzzles weren’t very exciting except for the centrepiece to the game.
And what a centrepiece it was! I’m glad I played the game, even if it was frustrating at times, because it was a cool idea which generated a nice set of puzzles. As an enthusiast, something unusual is enough for me, but for most people I’d say that it’s probably not worth the experience for that alone.
Aside from that centrepiece, the room felt grubby and full of red herrings, which is never a pleasing prospect, especially in a tough game, because it means you’ll be rifling through all those items repeatedly. I was pleased to find there was a way of measuring progress towards the end of the room and, while it wasn’t the most exciting finish, there was at least a clear mission beyond the usual “find a key to escape”. If you’re looking for something a bit different and particularly if you’re a searcher then this might be worth a look.
Chernobyl (3 stars)
Expectations are never a good thing but, to be honest, I didn’t really have any for this game, because I didn’t know what to expect. Chernobyl conjured up images of something mysterious and dangerous with a hint of science. Sadly, the game didn’t really deliver that. It’s set in an apartment that was hastily vacated when the disaster happened. The backstory and the room are slightly contradictory but, at its heart, it’s a simple escape-the-room scenario.
The apartment was a reasonable attempt at what a Communist-era habitat might look like after it had been abandoned and then left to rot for thirty years. The problem is that it’s not the most inviting place to search or spend time in. I’ve often said that it’s a difficult balance but, if you want me to enjoy a room of that type, then you’d best make sure the puzzles are top quality.
Sadly they weren’t. Again, they were gettable but tough and, for me, they lacked direction. Annoyingly, there was a fair amount of searching to be done, and part of it involved small pieces of paper, which meant you were always paranoid that you’d missed something. Add to that a puzzle type that was used twice in quick succession (and looked like there might even have been a third incarnation that had been partially removed) and you get a feeling of distinct lack of originality.
The finale, while still not amazingly original, was certainly the high point of the room, with a fun physical puzzle. That was until you’d pretty much solved it and had to complete the final step. We’d got to this point with twenty or so minutes remaining but then took around five minutes to complete a very tedious action that allowed us to get our means of escape. That was pretty dull in the circumstances but, if we’d got there with two minutes remaining, it would have been infuriating. It should *never* be apparent to you that you can’t complete an escape room until the final few seconds because, instead of ending on an exciting finale, the game falls flat. More to the point, even for successful escapers, the last memory of the game is boredom as one person completes the action and the others watch on.
Terrorist (3.5 stars)
Having played two games with (admittedly thematically) rundown décor at the venue, it was nice to play a room which looked a little better presented. This game was set in an airport terminal, and they’d done a nice job of caricaturing that setting both in the initial view and with the events that occurred as the game progressed. There were ideas that I thought were pretty clever ways of immersing us in the airport theme, as well as an audio track that worked well to reinforce it.
Add some cool moments during the game and this game had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, those really were just moments. In between them were several weak puzzles and searching that was likely to frustrate escape enthusiasts. I’m not a big fan of searching and, truth be told, this could have been worse but, without knowing what you’re searching for, you have to be ultra-careful. It’s another example of where following the theme isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yes, this fitted the theme perfectly, but it didn’t make the game more fun.
The saving grace to the experience is a finale that comes from an unexpected place and is exactly what the theme needs. You’re told on the website that the mission is to find a bomb, but I was still surprised when we finally got it in our hands. That combined with a couple of other impressive parts to the game meant I left happy with the experience.
That’s all on Hard Lock – want to read more about Warsaw games? Click here to head back to the main Warsaw page.