søndag den 18. juni 2017

The Bedroom (Sherlocked, Malmö)

Not only is Anna’s House a remarkably well-restored authentic city house from the 1870s – it’s also a site for three escape games with hints and nods towards the gothic and the macabre. And when it comes to “The Bedroom” in Anna’s House, it doesn’t get any more gothic or macabre than that. Apparently, Anna didn’t socialize much, but died old and miserable, a childless spinster, alone and angst-ridden under very strange circumstances. In fact, her corpse was found weeks later locked up inside her bedroom under her bed. In her diary she had confessed that she believed that something or someone was after her and her family secret.

That pretty much sums up the set up to “The Bedroom”, and as with the other escape games provided by Sherlocked in Malmö, the finer details are lacking here, too. It wasn’t particularly clear what roles we were supposed to play in the room so many years after the fatal incident: Were we modern archaeological investigators, were we paranormal detectives – what was our business there in the room? Other questions were also left unanswered – like: why were we locked up inside the room at all? But the main objective was fortunately pretty clear: We had to search for the family secret inside the room and get out of there before the stroke of midnight because that’s when the ghosts start appearing.

Set design: 7,8 points
What’s truly brilliant about “The Bedroom” is the set design and the atmosphere generated first and foremost by the room itself. Actually, the game starts in the most spooky way in the children’s room outside the bedroom, and by doing the very first puzzle you end up locking yourself up inside the bedroom. Which is, by the way, pitch black. All the lights are out and you have to find your way through the darkness with the help from two small flashlights.

This way of entering and discovering the room, was both adventurous and scary. It was like rummaging through an abandoned room in a real haunted mansion. You slowly uncover old objects and various knickknacks inside the room, among those an array of eerie antique pictures of children on the wall, and a dark wooden wardrobe with a mirror. Discovering your own reflection in there is how close to a proper haunted house film this gets.

However, there wasn’t really a bed, which is kind of weird considering the name of the escape room. And furthermore, we were treated with famous film music streaming from the loudspeakers (from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas among others); this unfortunately didn’t really enhance the ghostly and dreadful experience, especially since the music changed to a thumping action film score only halfway through the game.

Anyway, we spent 20 minutes in complete darkness fiddling with a bunch of stuff and discovering the room – and it was great! Then the game master nudged us towards the turn-on-the-lights puzzle. Which apparently had been the one puzzle we should have started with all along…

Puzzles: 8,0 points
“The Bedroom” is not ground-breaking in any way when it comes to the puzzles. Here are lots of padlocks to open – involving both numbers and letters. It’s pretty straightforward, maybe also because once the lights are on you realize that the room is fairly small, sparsely decorated and therefore easy to survey. This obviously also means that there are less red herrings in this room compared to the others we’ve tried with Sherlocked – and the signposting of this room also works better. Overall, it creates a better game flow which we prefer any day.

There are a couple of troublesome puzzles, one of which involves some bottles you come across during the gameplay, but which doesn’t really make a lot of sense in this somewhat realistic context. The second one was just downright difficult because you have to bring your a-game math skills – and there is no notepaper, no pen, no nothing to help you.  However, most of the puzzles were playful and varied and used the room and the decorations in a creative way – as well as darkness and sound.
Game Master: 9,3 points
Let’s just make one thing clear regarding Anna’s House and Sherlocked: “The Bedroom” is just an escape game. It’s not “real life gaming” or “live theatre” or whatever Sherlocked try to brand their rooms as. First of all, you could argue that this kind of advertising is misleading to the customers – at least it might lead to some confusion. Especially because, secondly, the rooms can certainly stand their own ground: They are beautiful and gorgeous, suspenseful and playful. The house itself is a character that comes alive during the gameplay, and the introduction, the stories about the Frick family – it all works very, very well. Sherlocked don’t need to hype it.

This, also, because the game masters we’ve met have all been very kind and forthcoming. They’ve been more than willing to chat and show the details of the rooms up close – and even commented on some of the more problematic features. We’re not big fans of the hint system with hints delivered in that rumbling, distorted voice over the loudspeaker. We really missed a bell sound or something similar to make us pay attention as well as a screen with the hint spelled out in writing. Slightly more frustrating was the fact that we received the same hint several times – maybe 4 or 5 times – in connection with the bottle puzzle mentioned before. That’s not all that inventive or helpful for that matter...

Also frustrating was the fact that we never really knew how much time we had left. The old-fashioned clock itself is set inside a cabinet that you need to unlock, which of course is quite a playful and fun thing to do. But it also meant that we didn’t really know when the timer had started, and in the end we felt we were snubbed of maybe 5 minutes. Still, it didn’t really mean anything, because we unlocked the door, got out in time, survived – and got our picture taken as a souvenir.

Conclusion: 8,4 points
In many ways “The Bedroom” is the better escape room in Anna’s House. It’s more sparsely decorated, but the haunted-house atmosphere is near perfect. The puzzles are creative and playful, even though it’s all about opening another padlock. The game flow is very good, and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend escape game enthusiasts (beginners and advanced, alike) to go and seek out Sherlocked in Malmö.

Room: The Bedroom, Anna’s House
Company: Sherlocked, Östergatan 5, Malmö, Sweden
Languages available: Swedish and English
Game time: 60 minutes
Price: SEK 295,- per person (minimum 3 players – SEK 885,-)

This review:
Game date: 28 May 2017
Number of players: 2 (Sherlocked recommends that you are 3-5 players, but that would be too crowded in the small room)
Hints: 7 hints

We survived, 52 minutes played

søndag den 11. juni 2017

The Library (Sherlocked, Malmö)

There are many mysteries awaiting the visitors in Anna’s House in Malmö. Some are ghostly and downright thrilling – others are of the confusing variety. The house itself used to belong to the famous Frick family back in the 1800s, but now the old rooms have been refurnished with a sense of detail to make it feel like you have actually gone back in history. But Anna’s House is not a living museum, though it certainly feels and looks like it – no, it’s in fact three escape rooms based on the lives of the Frick residents. Or, so the escape-room owners will want you to believe. However, this mash-up of actual historical characters and set design, tall tales, ghost stories and gruesome deaths works very well indeed.

One of the three rooms is called “The Library”, but the set up is more difficult to pin down. Apparently one of the Frick family members used to study medicine and came up with a groundbreaking recipe of some kind - which he therefore (quite illogically?) hid from everyone, including his own children. And now we’re here, and it’s our job to uncover the legendary recipe – but we’re not locked up as such, or are we? And we have to get out before midnight with the recipe, because apparently the old house is haunted, or is it? And why are the ghostly inhabitants interested in punishing us for not finding the recipe?

There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t really make sense in that story, but the aim of the escape room is fortunately much clearer: Find the recipe! Escape from the room before the stroke of midnight! Go!

Set design: 8,8 points
Let’s just admit it: We love the Victorian age! And if this escape room – this whole house, even – is anything, it feels like walking directly into a room in the 1890s. It’s beautifully decorated with dark wooden panels, a chandelier in the ceiling, paintings and knick-knacks that actually look like they belong in a museum. It makes it a little difficult to tinker with the various objects in the game, because you’re afraid you might break something of real value. During our time in the room a vintage clock actually toppled over, due to the set design. Anyway, the room is spellbinding in every possible way, especially due to the flickering lights and semidarkness that envelops you from the get go. Also, the moody film score streaming from the loud speakers works perfectly to set the mood.

However, there’s not much library about this room: There are only around 6-7 books on a shelf by the door. It’s not even a study or office, because there’s no writing desk. The upholstered furniture and the fireplace make it feel more like a drawing room.

What taints the overall impression of so-called “The Library” is revealed as you venture further into the story: Here the attention to detail is truly lacking. It’s not bad – it just makes the room feel more like what it actually is: A game, and not a Victorian time capsule.

Puzzles: 4,8 points
Even though the room doesn’t really feel like neither a library nor a study, the puzzles work well in connection with the overall recipe plotline. Several of the puzzles have to do with measuring things or playing around with bottles with liquid – and that’s a really fun and creative idea. The overall aim is still to find a string of numbers or letters to open a number of padlocks, but it’s mostly done with some creativity.

However, the puzzles are difficult and frustrating. One of the first problems we stumbled upon involved an apothecary weight, and we spent close to 20 minutes out of the designated 60 minutes to solve this puzzle. And at the very beginning of the game that’s tough. Furthermore, some of the padlocks are so worn down that they are nearly impossible to unlock – we even had problems opening the exit door itself. And to make these frustrations worse still, our game master gladly told us that they were well aware of the mechanical flaws and also the difficulty level of that first puzzle. Many other visitors had had similar problems, and Sherlocked sees this as perfectly fine, because players will have to spend 20-30 minutes on two puzzles. We disagree: In our opinion, it seems that there’s a lack of puzzles in “The Library”, and the game experience suffers from this decision.

However, the difficulty level and the technical issues also need to be coupled with a lack of flow in the game. There are many red herrings in the room, and it’s never obvious where to go next. The clues you think you get inside the room – from the objects, for instance – are not real clues. We ended up feeling more like puppets guided through the game by a game master who handed us many hints. It actually felt more like his game than ours: Could he guide us through all the puzzles in just 60 minutes? Could he make us survive?

Game Master: 9,3 points
The whole idea with the historical house opening its doors to escape-room players works brilliantly! After arriving at Anna’s House, you are taken on a short guided tour through a couple of rooms, where your game masters tell you about the Frick family and set the mood for the game. The game masters are all dressed up for the occasion in white shirt, tie and vest. The lights are dimmed in the rooms making the house feel both authentic and dead spooky – especially the children’s room upstairs! Most of the stories about the Frick family are probably tall tales made up especially for this haunted-house atmosphere. Don’t expect to see any ghostly appearances in “The Library” – nothing happens if you stay in the room after midnight, and the game master’s supernatural setup is all a disappointing tease. And likewise: Sherlocked likes to call Anna’s House “real life gaming” inviting the players to “join the theatre” and in this way hinting that this is something truly extraordinary – perhaps there are even actors walking around you during the game. “The Library” is not, though – it’s just an escape room.

On a more positive note, our game master spoke English fluently, and having escaped the room, we got our picture taken as a souvenir. We got as many as 15-20 hints during the game – however many of them were repeated several times, which was not all that inventive or creative, to be honest. Actually it was just annoying. Furthermore, the hints are delivered over a loudspeaker, not on a screen, making it more difficult to understand and hold on to the hint. Especially when the game master – as here – speaks with a devilish rumbling voice filtered through a computer.

Conclusion: 7,6 points
So, overall “The Library” is quite a mixed bag. The house itself is the most beautiful and immersive set design we’ve seen so far, but the escape room experience itself – the puzzles – are frustrating to a degree that it hurts the gaming experience. Feeling like the game master’s avatars completely stole our sense of accomplishment.

Room: The Library, Anna’s House
Company: Sherlocked, Östergatan 5, Malmö, Sweden
Languages available: Swedish and English
Game time: Approx. 60 minutes
Price: SEK 295,- per person (minimum 3 players = SEK 885,-)

This review:
Game date: 28 May 2017
Number of players: 2 (Sherlocked recommends that you are 3-5 players, we won’t disagree due to the overall level of difficulty)
Hints: Too many!!

We survived, 56 minutes played

søndag den 4. juni 2017

Moriarty (Sherlocked, Malmö)

The adventures of the world’s greatest detective Sherlock Holmes have been covered widely over the years. But little is known about Holmes’ archenemy, the evil mastermind Professor Moriarty. In fact, Moriarty only appears in two of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and so the aptly named “Moriarty” escape room is about to change all of this. And let’s be absolutely clear about it from the get go: The Moriarty escape room is as beautifully decorated, as the puzzles are tough to solve.

However, the set up to the room should be pretty easy. Or so you would think. Moriarty has escaped – obviously – but he has taken somebody with him. It’s not really clear, if the person has followed along willingly, or has been kidnapped, or maybe in a more symbolic was has passed away. It’s all very strange, and in all honesty also kind of confusing – maybe because it’s never really clear what role we as escape room players should partake: Are we the police? Is this the crime scene? Are we the aforementioned “stranger” whom Moriarty has taken? Anyway, fortunately the objective of the game itself is very clear: You have to find out who has disappeared? Where has this person gone to? And when did this person in fact leave the room?

Set design: 8,3 points
The first impression of the “Moriarty” room is that it is gorgeous to look at. Beautiful and authentic. When the door opens, you gaze into a dimly lit office back from the Victorian age. Dark furniture fills up the room with supplementary knickknacks here and there: A big and clunky typewriter, an antique tube radio, and there’s even an old (if rather weather-beaten) violin lying around. Everything is dimly illuminated by the giant chandelier that hangs from the ceiling, and from the loudspeakers light and somewhat jazzy orchestra music fills the room.

In other words: It’s perfect. And we haven’t even mentioned the rosy wallpaper, the wooden panels and all the rest. The place simply oozes Victorian England – and maybe that’s why you constantly think that this is not Professor Moriarty’s abode but rather that of Mr Sherlock Holmes himself. If you love all that turn of the century stuff, this is the room for you. 

However, it’s important to mention that – as the game progresses – the set design opens itself up to more adventures, but in doing this the suspenseful mood and the Victorian flavour disappear somewhat. First of all, the music changes to a thumping action-packed score already at the 30-minute mark, which is very early: Yes, it gets the adrenalin up and running, but it also makes any communication and concentration difficult to the nth degree. Secondly, the room itself evolves into something more barebones and simplistic – one might even say modern. This doesn’t destroy the first impression of the “Moriarty” escape room, but it still taints the perfection of the set design.

Puzzles: 6,3 points
All of the puzzles in the “Moriarty” escape room are of the padlock variety: There are padlocks based on numbers, padlocks based on letters, and also padlocks that need to be opened with a proper key. This is a very padlock heavy room. Therefore, the interesting question is: How do you find all the four-digit codes, the five-letter words, and all the keys? Are those puzzles interesting? And yes, fortunately they are. Most of them at least. ‘ ‘ ‘’

The best puzzles in the “Moriarty” escape room make creative use of the antique decorations and set design. We won’t spoil any of them here, but nearly all the decorations are put to good use. So, that’s why it’s also a little odd that there aren’t really any puzzles that rely on sound or playing music, since Moriarty apparently was a great musician himself. That would have been great.

What can be said about many of the puzzles is that they are very challenging. To such a degree that it nearly kills the flow of the game. It’s a difficult room to solve due to (of course) the number of red herrings and the jumbled linearity of the room: You spend what feels like many minutes experimenting with numbers and names that are scattered around the room. It’s not all that inventive or particularly fun – it’s just difficult.

Besides these red herrings, what makes the room even more difficult is the structure of the puzzles. Each puzzle actually consists of several – 3 to 5 – steps, and you are dependent on solving each of these correctly, if you want to reach the final solution of the puzzle. As such, some of these steps or smaller puzzles are both fun and creative, but they are also extremely linear, which means that there’s a big chance that you will get stuck along the way before you have connected all the dots. In other words: It’s difficult!

Thirdly, and more problematic, some of the puzzles are designed to be solved by one person only, leaving the other person (or persons, actually) on the team with nothing to do. In a way this also underlines the tension and atmosphere of the room, but it’s never fun to just stand around waiting for something to do. And again: The booming action music just enhances the growing feeling of being isolated or unconnected with the game, unable to communicate properly with the other team members. And yet again: It steps up the difficulty level of the “Moriarty” game room.

Game Master: 9,3 points
Our game master was both kind and alert during the game. He spoke both Swedish and English fluently, and he also had time for a chat both before and after the game. We were served around 3-4 hints during our 57 minutes inside the “Moriarty” escape room, and we really needed them. We communicated with our game master via a screen where the hints were written in flawless English. The hints are also accompanied by the sound of a bell, so it all works very well. 

Interestingly, our game master (and apparently the rest of the company behind Sherlocked) was completely aware of the steep level of difficulty of the “Moriarty” game. According to our game master, only 40% of all visitors make it out of the escape room in time. That means that the company have to deal with 60% of all customers feeling like losers at the end of their – maybe very first – live escape game experience. And we wonder if “feeling like a loser” or feeling frustrated or feeling that this is too difficult and stressful will make people come back for more? Is that a clever business model for a live escape game company?

Anyway, our game master was helpful and very well dressed in old-fashioned clothes. In fact, he was quite a pleasure, and we even got our photo taken afterwards as a souvenir. What we need to mention, too, is the waiting area outside the “Moriarty” room: That’s really something. It’s both gorgeous and adventurous. It’s even more overly decorated than the room itself.

Conclusion: 8 points
The “Moriarty” escape room is beautiful to behold. It’s created with every attention to detail. The puzzles and especially the flow in the puzzles could be improved upon, and the level of difficulty is pretty high. Still, if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Victorian London, this room is definitely one to seek out.

Room: Moriarty
Company: Sherlocked, Norra Vallgatan 16, Malmö, Sweden
Languages available: Swedish and English
Game time: 60 minutes
Price: SEK 295,- per person, with minimum price of three players.

This review:
Game date: 28 May 2017
Number of players: 2 (Sherlocked recommends that you are 3-5 players, we won’t disagree due to the level of difficulty)
Hints: 4

We survived, 55 minutes and 57 seconds played