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

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