Published on September 21st, 2017 | by Dean Love1
Escape in the Towers, Canterbury – Crime & Punishment Lab
If you manage to secure a location like an 1830s-built former jail in Canterbury, it’s probably tempting to make a straight up prison escape room. It’s to the credit of this game that it instead just takes the cells as a jumping-off point for a sinister story about human experimentation. Rather than be prisoners in the 1800s, you’re explorers in the 1990s rediscovering the abandoned lab of a mad professor, tasked with discovering exactly what he was up to, and of course, avoiding the same fate.
The cells are certainly realistic – to the point of being warned up front that the toilets within the cells are historical artifacts not to be played with, and definitely not to be utilised! Within the fiction of the game you’re exploring both the jail cells of those the doctor experimented on, and his lab. The appearance and use of the historical space meant first impressions were great. Second impressions knocked things down a bit: literally the first thing you need to do is something of a “gotcha” puzzle – it feels less like a puzzle and more the game creator having a bit of fun with you. And I’m not opposed to that as a thing, but it just doesn’t feel appropriate here: while this isn’t a room that sets out to scare you, it does put a lot of effort into providing a gritty, realistic atmosphere, which is immediately damaged a bit when the first thing you get is a reminder that it’s just a game.
That’s one of few complaints about this game though. By setting it closer to modern times, it allows them to use technology in places without it seeming too odd. That technology is also clean and sturdy – too many games will use a “dilapidated” setting like this as an excuse for things not quite working right but you never get that impression here. Everything that’s been built for the game feels like it has been built to last.
The space the game plays out is, as you might expect from gaol cells, quite confined. We played with four and it was a bit of a squeeze – not sure I would want to play with any more. The game does expand out, but there will be many points where you’ll all want to be in the same small area, as that’s the only place with anything to do. It’s also a fairly physical game – there’s a bunch of moving around and manipulating large objects. There’s also a particularly fun large item that you’ll find early on and wonder what the hell you need to do with it for a good portion of the game.
The puzzles themselves are unremarkable: they didn’t stand out as particularly good or bad, although there’s one very neat physical interaction towards the end. You’ll also find yourselves at one point relaying some extremely grotesque information between teammates – it’s one of those conversations that if you were overheard having it without any context you might well actually find yourself in jail! It’s certainly worth taking a step back to realise what you’re doing! Clues were delivered via screen and came at appropriate times to nudge us in the right direction.
The game builds to a finale that adds in a bit of drama and makes for an exciting finish to a really strong game, and my favourite of the ones we played in Canterbury.
The review would normally end there, like the game would, but it’s also worth mentioning that as part of your ticket for the game, you can, if you wish, continue up from the cells, instead of back down, and see the rest of Westgate Towers: there’s a historical museum bit and some battlements that offer some nice views of the city. Given it’d normally cost you £4 each it’s certainly worth doing after your game!
Result – we escaped in 40 minutes
Date played: 11 August 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess, Steph
Summary: A great game that manages to successfully weave a fictional story around a historical setting. Strongly recommended.