Published on July 19th, 2016 | by Dean Love1
Enter the Oubliette, London
So this is a weird one to write. Sometimes a game does what it set out to do so well, that you have to acknowledge that, while also noting that what it set out to do, you maybe didn’t like all that much.
Enter the Oubliette are now closed, but I’d heard others rave about the room so much I really wanted to go and try it before it shut down. You need five people to get a private booking (although one of ours dropped out so we ended up with four) and none of the regulars could make it, so I pulled together a team of mostly newbies who hadn’t done many rooms before and off we went.
The setting is a 1984, Orwell-esque dystopian future, where you’re attempting to rebel against the state. Or rather, someone else is, and you’re trying to help them make their getaway. The game is very theatrical, right from the start, as you step through a hidden door to watch a video briefing, before having to blag your way into the game itself by convincing a secretary to let you in. The “negotiating with live actors” thing is the first thing that some groups will just love but everyone in ours just happened to be a bit uncomfortable with and it was kind of weird. It’s also strange because the clock doesn’t start until you enter the room, so you’re not losing anything by not being good at it, and you know the interaction has to end with you getting into the game which you paid for, so it just seemed a bit weird.
The room itself also has an actor in, though they’re there purely to fix any technical problems with the room, which isn’t a bad idea (and was needed at one point). Once in the room I have to admit I was thrown. The game had been so story and drama driven to that point, that when one member of the team found a piece of paper that happened to have some numbers on referring to one thing, and suggested trying them as a code for something completely unrelated, I sort of dismissed it. I’d bought into the fantasy. Of course, the code worked. This far more of a traditional room than I thought.
The puzzles in the room were mostly good, logical puzzles with an interesting mix of solving and task-based puzzles. But then at around the halfway point you get a message that asks you to do something utterly dull and boring to (literally) keep the lights on. We worked out what to do quickly, but doing it required a bunch of people working together and essentially doing the same thing over and over, without making an error, for an off-putting amount of time. It was pointless busy-work that made us frustrated and annoyed. Which is so, so on theme it’s actually brilliant. Our progress and fun was being impeded by the red-tape requirements of the state. They were creating just the reaction they wanted, but having that reaction… well it wasn’t exactly a fun time. To their credit, when we were ready to give up we were hinted an alternative solution to the puzzle that also worked on-theme. And perhaps not having the usual team meant lacking the sort of teamwork we’d normally rely on which didn’t help.
The rest of the room went okay, though the penultimate puzzle was very challenging and we had to burn a lot of hints (some are given for free, but you can also request a limited number of hints via a fairly clever in-game system) – I’m still not sure whether we were just a bit frazzled or it was just really hard, and the way we finally solved it probably wasn’t as intended.
The drama returns towards the end in kind of an awesome way. I wasn’t really involved in solving final puzzle, so I mostly got to enjoy the increasing tension as a couple of our team worked together to get the final bits in place. Again, they work really hard to up the stress factor here, but then it’s more understandable as the game is building to a grand finale.
So how to sum up Enter the Oubliette. I had an experience. One which maybe I wasn’t mentally prepared for. Certainly one I’ve not had in an escape room before. It just wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience, but then I don’t think it’s meant to be. In the same way that when attending interactive theatre, you’d expect to undergo various emotions, not all of them pleasant, Enter the Oubliette creates more than just fun and enjoyment: it’s stress, discomfort and frustration too. But they also make the feeling of relief and success at the end all the better. Maybe if I’d gone in expecting that, I’d have had a more positive reaction. But being somewhat taken aback by it reduced my enjoyment a fair bit.
I’d say to absolutely give it a try if you’re interested in escape rooms, but alas it’s now closed. They’ve lost their venue, but it seems it wasn’t doing well enough to be worth relocating elsewhere. The pricing model was a bit odd, initially being a ticketed system, so each slot had 8 tickets available, and you could be mixed in with strangers, which was changed to requiring a minimum of 5 players. There’s probably not enough going on in the room to support that, eight people would be far too many, five actually seems ideal. But with the aforementioned stressful and dramatic elements it’s also probably the last game I’d want to play with strangers.
It’s hard to score something like this. A review should always reflect someone’s personal experience in my opinion, which is fine until sites start aggregating scores without content. So for me this was just a bit too uncomfortable for me to rate above three stars. But for fans of things like this (or even for me, on a different day, knowing what to expect, and having the right team) it might well be a five star game. It certainly succeeds in what it sets out to do brilliantly. What it sets out to do might not be for everyone.
Disclaimer: I backed this on Kickstarter, but mostly for the Kieron Gillen storybook!
Result – we escaped after about 63 minutes (with bribing someone for extra time!)
Date played: 12 June 2016
Team: Dean, Sam, Andy, Kirsty
Summary: A challenging room in more than one way!