søndag den 14. maj 2017

Prison Break (Timequest, Copenhagen)

It’s safe to say that the idea behind the “Prison Break” escape room is not particularly original. Neither are the puzzles ground-breaking in any way. Still, if you have a knack for films set in prison – like The Shawshank Redemption or the aptly named World War II classic, The Great Escape – this escape room should feel like coming home. Despite its conventionalism and lack of inventive puzzles, it still has atmosphere, and – more important still – it’s a fun ride. 

The setup to the “Prison Break” escape room is as simple as it gets: You’ve been wrongly imprisoned — convicted and sentenced to life for a crime you have not committed. Luckily for you, the prison warden has locked you up in the same cell that used to belong to infamous escape artist, Peter Grant. Grant has left a bunch of clues to help future inmates to follow his escape plans. Obviously, your job is to find these clues, decipher them and leave the prison once and for all. But unfortunately those escape plans don’t involve a lot of physical puzzles, nor just loose floorboards, nor a huge Rita Hayworth poster on the wall. This escape room is all about numbers, logical thinking and cryptology.

Set decoration: 7 points
The best thing about the “Prison Break” escape room is probably the atmosphere of the room. When the game starts, you immediately feel that you’ve been taken back in time to an American prison around the 1930s or 40s. The room is nicely decorated with old furniture and the lights are appropriately dimmed to make it feel like dusk or night time. Indeed, you have to navigate the space with a flashlight, which just enhances the isolation experience of prison. From the loudspeakers of the room, you can hear your fellow inmates from the other cells, and at a certain point the sound of thunder and rain also kicks in to set the mood.

Overall, it’s quite immersive, also because the many knick-knacks make it feel like a proper room. Of course the attention to detail is easy to uphold when the room you’re decorating is just around 10 square-metres in total. However, as small as it sounds – and 10 square-metres is cramped ­– the room size is actually well justified in this context. You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic, because you’re supposed to feel that you are really locked in and you need to really get out. Now!  

What doesn’t work all that well in the set design of “Prison Break” is the wiring of the electric devices. The wires are actually completely visible which means that you could sabotage the entire escape game by accident. It’s also a little confusing that the controls of these devices are locked inside small cabinets with padlocks that look like the padlocks you need to open in the game. Also working against one’s immersion in the room is the fact that the walls illogically have been decorated with numbers and letters of the alphabet. They of course have to be used to solve the puzzles and find the many codes in the game, but it’s a rather crude way of integrating them into the set decoration to just write the numbers on the walls. And come to think of it, wouldn’t a normal-thinking prison warden have whitewashed the entire cell in order to strip it of any clues?

Puzzles: 5,8 points
Perhaps the best puzzle – or at least obstacle – in “Prison Break” was the fact that we were handcuffed together before the game started. In a way, it’s a very simple gimmick that suits the overall plot and theme very well, but it also forced us to work together while at the same time put a strain on our ability to move about the room. If the handcuffs hadn’t been part of the game, we probably would have solved the entire thing 10-20 minutes faster. In that way the handcuffs become a big part of the experience, like it or not.

Besides a couple of physical puzzles involving black light to illuminate hidden messages, a blinking lamp and some funny-looking utensils, the entire set of puzzles were of the brainy variety. You have to be logical and use all your cryptologist skills from math class – and fortunately there is a calculator located inside the room for your benefits. (It doesn’t really match up with the 1930s prison setting, though.) Just to make it clear, this means that there are many padlocks in this room – many codes to be found – not inside books or on slips of paper, but written directly on the bare walls of the prison cell, like mentioned before. On the one hand you could argue that this puzzle design makes the game feel more free and less constricted – you have to actually look and move about with the flashlight – but it’s still just a question of finding the right code or at least finding the right system or combination. And it’s even put right there in your face on the wall.

Game Master: 6,5 points
Our Game Master had to work pretty hard. Not only did he have to serve three different parties including us – he also had to play both host and Game Master at the same time. Needless to say, that meant that the ‘hellos’ and introductory remarks to the game weren’t very personal – and neither were the evaluation and the ‘goodbyes’ in the end. Since the other teams were still playing when we finished “Prison Break”, and since our Game Master of course had to concentrate on these games, communication with him was highly restricted. He was not unfriendly, he was just busy doing other things.

However, despite the heavy workload, our Game Master still did a good job during the game. At one point we were really stuck, and he was alert and he helped us along through the use of a walkie-talkie – that worked out fine. We heard from the other parties playing simultaneously with us that things hadn’t run as smoothly in their rooms: The count-down timer had simply disappeared for a number of minutes on the screen.

On a more positive note the backstory to the room worked excellently: We weren’t just handcuffed to begin with – we were also put in orange prisoner suits and blindfolded. Surrounded by darkness inside the room, with our hands on the wall and our legs spread apart, we could only hear the Game Master lock up the cell door, complete with heavy chains and padlock. That really set the mood and it was a great way to start the actual game.

Conclusion: 6,4 points
Overall, the “Prison Break” escape room is not inventive or ground-breaking in any way, but it does have a moody atmosphere due to the well-decorated setting and the immersive introduction to the game. Whether you think the linear string of puzzles works well (or works at all), depends on how much you like math and cryptology

Room: Prison Break
Company: Timequest
Address: Lille Strandstræde 20, 1254 Copenhagen, Denmark
Languages available: Danish and English
Game time: 60 minutes
Price: DKR. 595,- for 2 players

This review:
Game date: 12 April 2017
Number of players: 2
Hints: 1

We survived, 42 minutes played

søndag den 7. maj 2017

The Last Passenger (Brain Game, Copenhagen)

It’s the perfect set up for an escape game: The year is 1934. There’s been a murder on a train. The authorities have stopped the train and sealed off the carriage. And now it’s your job to solve the murder, find the murder weapon and reveal the killer and maybe even the killer’s motive. You also have to do it on time – let’s say 60 minutes – because there’s another train coming down the tracks, so a genuine disaster is lurking right on the horizon.

That story would have been perfect, and “The Last Passenger” tries all that it can to be that game. The overall experience, though, leaves something to be improved upon – both when it comes to the rather cheap set design and the incoherent puzzles. Furthermore, the set up has actually been reduced to the less than bare necessities: “There’s been a murder on a train. Go and solve it!” Still, “The Last Passenger” is a both charming and playful escape room, but the best part about it may actually be that initial Murder-on-the-Orient-Express idea.

Set decoration: 5,0 points
First and foremost, let’s clear up the main question: There is no real train wagon in “The Last Passenger” despite what ads for the room might lead you to believe. It’s just an ordinary room inside an apartment dressed up to look like the inside of a carriage. Still, the set designers have tried to make it look like a train wagon – to a certain degree at least. The walls are decorated with dark wooden panels, and there are shelves meant for luggage. On one of the walls there is a huge window looking out on the platform of a station. In actual fact it’s a huge wall sticker, but it gives the idea of a window – there’s a similar poster on another door in the room, trying to create the illusion that you can look into the next carriage. It’s okay, but you really have to suspend your disbelief here. 

To underline the idea that we are in an old train back in 1934, there’s also a huge, black chandelier hanging from the ceiling – it would have been great, had it in fact been lit and created a really moody or shadowy atmosphere, giving the sense that the story is taking place in the middle of the night. But – alas! – it is not lit. The room is in fact quite brightly lit, and therefore not scary in any way. On the other hand, there are train sounds that fill the room to help set the mood and enhance the intensity.

In other words, “The Last Passenger” is not a very authentic or detailed room. The designers have not had the opportunity to make it look convincingly like an old train carriage. The passenger seats are comprised of cheap garden chairs bolted to the floor, and the naked porcelain dishes and water glasses that you find on a small table are from the local IKEA shop. Besides the strangely misplaced chandelier, there are no antiquities of any kind. The lack of knick-knacks or old-fashioned furniture could of course be tolerated, since we’re on board a train, but we are also missing a number of old and stocky suitcases on the shelves. Instead we have a couple of black nylon bags made for modern-day laptops, and some small, incongruous cupboards in the corners, too. In this way, the overall immersion into the whole murder story and buying into the 1934 train atmosphere become quite difficult.

Puzzles: 7,8 points
What worked absolutely best for “The Last Passenger” were the puzzles. Without a question, the flow and variety of the puzzles made this escape room fun and entertaining. Of course, you have to unlock a number of padlocks with both codes and keys. Yet the codes are uncovered through interaction with a number of electronic devices and actual water – yes, water! – which makes the hunt for the next three or four digits much more playful.

However, some of the puzzles did not feel intuitive but were rather difficult to solve. We relied quite a lot on the Game Master’s hints at various points in the game, because the method to solve these puzzles wasn’t apparent to us – probably because those puzzles were somewhat randomly put into the 1934 setting. To make it slightly more frustrating, the linearity of the game also meant that we couldn’t continue before we had actually solved the head-spinning conundrum. Obviously, you can work together on solving the challenging puzzles, but mostly it was a question of seeing a particular pattern or simply understanding the idea behind.

Still, it’s important to underline the playfulness in the puzzles: Along the way you get to play around with different pieces of evidence, colours and even a short video. Overall, there was a nice game flow in “The Last Passenger”, however what the room seemed to lack was a real story flow. Sure, a few of the puzzles towards the end of the game had to do with the setting and the crime at hand, but in general most of the puzzles didn’t fit the murder case or train set: At a certain point, you have to play with black light, and there’s even a DVD player on a table – both of which are put to good use in the line of puzzles, but none of which make any sense in this 1934 setting.

Game Master: 8,0 points
Our Game Master was sweet and helpful, and also ready for a chat before and after the game. There’s a screen inside “The Last Passenger” which displays the hints, and the hints are marked with a sound inside the room, so communication with the Game Master was never a problem for us. Furthermore, she was always alert and very helpful. She didn’t just give us one hint in connection with some of the tougher puzzles – she would readily give us a couple of hints to make sure we had fully understood how we should solve the puzzle. And she never succumbed to just giving us the solution, but played along with us. That’s definitely a plus.

However, “The Last Passenger” lacks a proper background story. The lack of immersion inside the room was also missing outside the room. Our Game Master just briefly stated the year, the murder on the train, the time limit – and that was it. It would have been great with more details, like who had actually been murdered, and who were we supposed to be. To actually put more details and building a proper story around the murder before stepping inside the train carriage, would have made the whole experience more immersive and more spooky. Here, the background story was nearly reduced to “somebody has been murdered”, which more or less matches the random selection of incongruous puzzles on board the train. It’s hardly our Game Master’s fault, though – it has probably more to do with the overall lack of narrative.

Overall: 6,9 points
In the end, “The Last Passenger” feels like a nice and playful string of puzzles put inside a homemade train carriage. The set decorations are a little too sparse and incongruous, and it also seems that the escape room needs a proper storyline. Still, despite the lack of immersion and rather expensive ticket prices, it was a fun ride.

Room: The Last Passenger
Company: Brain Game CPH
Address: Gothersgade 35 1., 1123 Copenhagen, Denmark
Languages available: Danish and English
Game time: 60 minutes
Price: DKK 800,- for 2 players. Brain Game suggests that you can be up to 6 people in your group, but we won’t recommend playing this room in groups larger than 2 or 3 people.

This review:
Game date: 10 April 2017
Number of players: 2
Hints: 6

We survived, 57 minutes played