Published on October 3rd, 2019 | by Dean Love0
The Chamber, Prague
Sometimes when you a planning a trip to a city to try out some escape rooms, you’ll ask for suggestions and get a wide range of answers, directing you to all sorts of weird and wonderful games. But in some cases, you’ll just get the same answer, over and over. Or you’ll get “well there’s X, but everyone will have told you that already”. When it came to planning our trip to Prague, The Chamber was that company. Local enthusiasts, fellow travelers and other Prague owners alike all listed The Chamber as their top pick. And not only were they the most heavily recommended, they were also the largest, with six games across three different locations in the city. Clearly, they were worth the visit.
The Emperor’s Secret
So one warning first. The Emperor’s Secret is located in one of the few medieval buildings still standing in Prague. It’s a really cool setting, and it’s also next door to a branch of Hooters. We were playing it last thing at night, so the game building and pretty much everything else other than Hooters looked deserted. Our Uber driver looked quite confused at the fact he was dropping one man and two women off there.
There’s a video and in person briefing that happens within the building itself, that sets the tone nicely – you’re attempting to find the treasure of Czech King Charles IV – and delivers the rules with some nice humour. Once in the game proper, the welcome if generic medieval music certainly enhances the theme. You may be forgiven then, for thinking this would be a relatively technology-light room. It’s not. Instead it uses some clever technology that’s well hidden, in order to create some neat mystical effects. That said, it also includes some really big, hefty mechanical puzzles that do very smart things without a circuit board in site.
Weirdly, what stood out about this game was how clean it was. We’ve played so many historical themed games where it’s almost used as excuse: “of course everything’s dirty, it’s the 14th century”. What you get in The Emperor’s Secret is a really bright, clean environment that still feels natural. We were playing in the middle of the night but it was lit in such a way it felt like playing in natural light. Another nice touch is the use of cloth “sacks” to cover items that were out of the game. It allowed them to look natural (or hide cameras etc) and was a big step up from the usual “don’t touch anything with this sticker on” despite the simplicity of the approach.
As you progress through the game you access a second space which was very visually impressive. It feels a little sparse, but that’s because it’s so much larger than your average room. And it uses that space very cleverly in a number of puzzles. The puzzles themselves were great with a good amount of variety, and ultimately it was just a really nice place to spend an hour puzzling.
If you visit the website for this game (or look at the image above this article) you’ll see a photo of the room with a person strapped to a table. You’ll be tempted to think this is just a publicity photo, and that they don’t really do that to you. You’d be wrong. Indeed, all the players will start the game individually restrained in some way, and will all need to work with their teammates to get out. What I loved about this intro was that the player who seemed initially most helpless actually still had the agency to effect her own escape – she only needed information from her teammates, not a rescue!
It’s perhaps down to either the cultural differences or just relaxed health and safety standards, but despite having been blindfolded and tied up in many a game in the UK, we’ve never been quite as roughly treated as we were in this game. That’s not a complaint – it actually felt far better and much more realistic to be dragged about a bit and threatened than the usual UK approach of the most gentle kidnapping ever. I should stress this wasn’t anything severe – there was no actual aggression – it was just down to attitude. Indeed, perhaps the one downside of the game was that the way I was restrained, I was easily able to remove the sack from my head. We were later told that the idea is you shouldn’t be able to do that until you’re free, but I guess locking it in place around the neck would be a bit much for some!
Alas this brilliant beginning wasn’t reflected by the rest of the game. It was a pretty dark and dingy space, which is fine, but then there were a lot of puzzles relying on some quite close observation of things. Which with the lighting level made them frustratingly difficult. One puzzle in particular stumped us for a good long time, and seemed to benefit from an outside understanding of historical torture devices! It just seemed like there were a few too many options for each part of the combination, and I think we only stumbled on it eventually through dumb luck. And again, the light level didn’t help.
Clues were delivered via the disembodied voice of a nearby prisoner, and there were also other audio cues for when you were on or off track. Though in a non-linear room like this, where we were often split up, that’s less useful as you’re never quite sure what action the audio cue is referring too.
It’s worth noting that while this game is normally themed as a Medieval Dungeon, when we got there we ended up playing the “King Kong” version that was being run as part of a film promotion. It’s essentially the same game, but you’re kidnapped by apes instead of a dungeon keeper, and they’ve put in some greenery and jungle music. I can see commercially why they would want to make such a tie in, but it was a little odd in practice. It certainly felt more like a dungeon than a jungle.
The game builds to a really clever finale that wrong-foots you one final time. It’s a game worth playing for the start alone, it’s just a shame the quality dipped a little after that.
The Haunted House
Way back in the year 2000 a video game was released called Dark Fall: The Journal. It’s a Myst-like game where you’re navigating around a haunted house, trying to figure out what actually happened there. It’s a game very much about psychological horror rather than jump scares, with the game aiming to creep you out and the ghosts staying mostly invisible. The Chamber’s Haunted House really set me back in the mood of that game. You even get an EM tracker that you can use in certain places to listen to ghostly messages, just like you did in that game. Suffice to say, it’s a game I loved back in the day, so The Haunted House was on to a winner from the start.
That said, we did book this one with some trepidation. Scary games aren’t usually our thing, but we had heard this one was so good it’d be a shame to miss it. And actually we were fine. It’s actually quite low on the jump scares, instead preferring to just freak you out a bit. There was one bit one member of our team really didn’t like, but other than that I wouldn’t be put off by the “scare” stories.
It’s often tempting to break up escape room reviews into “Puzzles” and “Theme” but in this case they’re so intertwined that the distinction is almost meaningless. They may not be the most complicated puzzles in the world but doing them while under the stress of worrying what might happen, with creepy noises and flickering lights – that’s where the true challenge lives. What is cool is how many of the puzzles tie into what can only be described as “real world special effects” – some amazing trickery that boarders on being, as Arthur C Clark might put it, indistinguishable from magic. Your brain only needs to make a very small leap to let you believe that something very freaky is happening.
The game also ends brilliantly. I won’t say how, but it’s a very smart way of instantly killing all the fear and trepidation you’ve been experiencing, letting you know you’ve won, and giving you a moment of celebration. This was our second favourite game of our whole Prague trip, and comes highly recommended. It would have been number one if it were not for…
The Hacker’s Nest
Our final game we played at The Chamber, and our final game of the entire trip. We loved it. It’s one of those games that just worked for us. There’s an emphasis on 90s era technology, channeling ideas from The Matrix and other such movies, but the technology behind the game is a lot more advanced. It’s a busy game, with lots of puzzles to be getting on with, but you’re nudged through hints as you go. But not your traditional “the host can see you struggling, here’s a hint” sort of hint. Instead, solving a puzzle would often give a hint to another puzzle, or make you look closer at a specific thing and realise it had a significance you hadn’t accounted for. There were a few items literally hidden in plain sight. With careful enough searching, you might have found them on your own, but that’s not required, as you get pointed in the right direction eventually.
What starts as a fairly pedestrian investigation of a Hacker’s bedroom soon escalates into something more impressive, as the space opens up and the story rachets up in tension and the stakes are raised, ending, as with most Chamber games, with a great finale. I can’t say that The Hacker’s Nest is the best game in Prague. Hell, if you ask other people they’ll argue that Haunted House or Medieval Dungeon are better games at The Chamber. But for us The Hacker’s Nest was nigh on perfect, and a great way to end our trip.