Published on September 4th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
Escape Reality, Coventry – Murder In Whitechapel
The venue itself is huge, with six games open already. It’s a really neat use of space in the city centre that’s sat empty for a long time now – it’s old office space but just opposite the newly revamped Cathedral Lanes restaurant quarter. It doesn’t still feel like office space though, it’s been well decorated, or least disguised. The whole place beyond the reception area has been done out in black, which gives it a certain laserquest-chic. The reception area itself is large – indeed large enough on this night to be hosting an actual party. We were playing the Jack The Ripper themed room, with the set-up being quite simply to solve the Ripper murders. Should be simple enough.
There’s a short briefing outside the room, where you’re also told about Escape Reality’s somewhat controversial clue system. Rather than an actual host or game-master, there are QR codes next to each puzzle. If you’re stuck, you just scan the code with a provided iPad and get an automated hint, in exchange for a time penalty (this only effects your final leaderboard time, not the time you have in the room). It’s a strong idea in theory, but in practice it’s not implemented that well. Rather than getting multiple levels of hints to nudge you in the right direction like a human host might, instead you’re basically just told the answer, or at least how to calculate it. There was also one puzzle that seemed completely unsolvable without a hint, requiring a leap in logic that just wasn’t clued anywhere. The less cynical part of me thinks there was actually a clue missing from the game. The more cynical part of me thinks it was put there just so players get to experience the hint system, though in part that’s because the remaining puzzles in the game were all strongly logical, if a bit too straightforward.
The room itself looks great, even if a detective’s office and a crime scene aren’t particularly ambitious things to build. The plot and story flows quite well, and there’s even a fun joke in there that you may or may not spot, which was a nice touch.
What was frustrating is that early on we hit a problem with the game: we entered a code into a safe, got a green light and heard a mag-lock click open… and then nothing. The safe didn’t open. Things in escape rooms fail. They break. It’s just inevitable. I usually wouldn’t hold it against a game. But it’s here the flaws in the automated hint system become apparent. After trying it about ten times we had to hit the emergency button to summon the host to the room, and then explain what was going on. Luckily we knew what was going on: the mag-lock was stuck. But that’s not something the average player is going to figure out. Without someone actually watching the game and noticing something was going wrong, I could see teams being stuck for a long time: trying the code over and over, presuming it was wrong and trying different codes, scanning for the ‘clue’ which would have told them to put the first code back in again… and so on.
So the host comes in and tries the code too and here’s the second problem with the automated hint system: Escape Reality make a reasonably big deal about the leaderboard for escape times: indeed, without doing the that the five minute penalty for a hint wouldn’t make much sense, so there’s a nice board up with photos of the top three teams for each room and their times. The time being tracked by the iPad you’re using and so of course, there’s no way to actually pause the timer, so the ten minutes or so spent sorting this out just gets added on to our finish time. Which is fine, right? I don’t really care about leaderboard placements so it’s not like we’re being penalised but… well ten minutes of faffing around is also equivalent to taking two hints and getting five-minute penalties for both of them. If you’re going to treat “time” along with associated penalties as a scoring system for players, you need some way to handle it when things go wrong.
So after the host gets the manager she then repeats the same steps, and also tries the override code and the thing still isn’t opening. The conclusion is reached that the only way to reset it would be for her to climb into the ceiling to reset the power. Remember when I said this being the launch party was relevant? Well, her cocktail dress was as gorgeous as it was unsuitable for any sort of athletics. If you’ve played a few games yourself you’re now probably thinking “why don’t they just give you the spare copies of whatever is in the safe?” which is what I suggested. But see, Escape Reality print all their in-game documents not on paper, nor on card, nor on laminated card, but actual metal sheets. They’re chunky, durable, if they get written on it can be wiped off and no-one is going to walk off with one in their pockets. It’s impressive enough to make you think you’d never need spares. So instead we get shown a page from the host’s notes which tells us what to do next.
If that all sounds fairly negative, I should stress it’s actually a decent room. Normally a mechanical problem like this wouldn’t even be worth talking about in much detail. It’s just this particular problem highlighted a number of more fundamental flaws in the Escape Reality approach to their games: the automated hint system, the lack of an active GM and no provision of spare game parts.
Ultimately this was a decent room let down by a mechanical issue, which in itself was compounded by the way it was resolved.
Result – we escaped in around 40 minutes
Date played: 27 June 2017
Team: Dean, Sam, Andy
Summary: A decent game hampered by a mechanical failure.