Published on December 19th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
Extremescape, Disley – Pirate Ship
It’s fair to say we came to this one late. Extremescape’s first room, Pirate Ship, was part of the second wave of escape games opening in the UK, and back in 2015 garnered a reputation among enthusiasts as one of the country’s must-play games. It’s certainly easy to see why, but it’s also fair to say that much of what once made it unique has faded now.
The big talking point was always the set: yes, it looks like the inside of a pirate ship. And when most escape rooms were still offering a detective’s office or a scientist’s lab, that was a big deal. For 2015 the production values are huge, for today, they’re just good. I’ve played in two other pirate ships and one pirate cave, and in terms of appearance it’s not hugely better or worse. It feels a little bit run-down at this point, but thematically it’s hard to argue that’s not appropriate.
The other big talking point was that it’s a 90 minute game. There’s an important point here: it’s not 90 minutes because there’s loads of content to get through. It’s 90 minutes because its hard. We were straight up told in our briefing that we might well spend the first twenty minutes being unable to solve anything, and that was okay, because we had plenty of time. It turned out to be not far from the truth. This difficulty stems partly from it being a non-linear game: most of the game is accessible from the start, and its down to you to figure out what clues go with what to unlock a particular lock. It’s fair to say we found it frustratingly non-linear, and not even having a single “quick solve” puzzle in early on to help get the momentum going was pretty disheartening.
There’s a few inherent issues with non-linear games, the first is overwhelming the player: having so much to look at and not having the first clue what goes with what. Pirate Ship attempts to work around this by offering clues about what to link with what as riddles dotted around the room. You know the sort: “bring the hanged man to the lowly shipmate to raise the sun’s anchor” – if you can figure them out, that’s great. But that’s a puzzle in itself. You’re solving a riddle to figure out which bits of the room combine into a puzzle. That’s… hard. I don’t want to say unfair, but certainly obtuse, There’s so much going on in the room that you’re not going to make those connections easily without these riddles, and the riddles can be pretty cryptic.
Another inherent issue with non-linear games is clues. This is game where you ask for clues, but you also need to ask for a clue about a specific puzzle, rather than just for a nudge in the right direction on whatever you look stuck on. It also creates this weird situation where you’ll be stuck for ages, finally give in and ask for a clue, quickly solve the puzzle to get one of the items you’re collecting, and then be back where you started. Solving that puzzle doesn’t help with the two others you’re stuck on. It’s a situation we encountered a few times.
Once you figure out what you’re doing the puzzles themselves are decent enough, though they all tend to end up producing codes that you use to unlock one of the many, many combination locks around the room. It’s not until you approach the finale that you get any particularly interesting interactions. It definitely turned into a game of “find the numbers, then find the ordering for those numbers” on quite a few occasions, with a strong emphasis on pattern matching.
As the finale approaches you’ll actually get access to a new area, which makes a nice change. The main room is pretty large but this being a 90 minute game, you get pretty bored of looking at if after a while. The new area is neat, but you’ll only spend maybe 10% of your time in it.
I certainly liked Pirate Ship, but I think it’s fair to say I felt it frustratingly difficult. Perhaps we just weren’t in the right mindset, but based on the briefing, it would seem its not uncommon. And I don’t think having teams spend even 15 minutes (albeit of a 90 minute game) having made zero progress is something to aspire to. It just felt like it needed a little bit more, a few more nudges to get you started and to realise what goes with what. It also means I’d struggle to recommend it to new players as it would likely be nigh on impenetrable without a lot of hints. But that all said: it’s not unfair difficulty. At no point did I get a hint and had the “well I would never have figured that one out” reaction.
Overall, if you’re looking for a hard game, and don’t mind being a bit frustrated at points, this is a decent choice.
Result – we escaped in 62 minutes
Date played: 5 November 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess
Summary: A difficult game in a neat setting, worth taking on if you can handle the challenge.