Published on February 8th, 2017 | by Dean Love


The Panic Room, Gravesend – The Dollhouse

We came to The Dollhouse with a sense of trepidation. Firstly, because it looked to be the first proper horror game we had played, but more because… well we’re not that great at escape rooms. Obviously we’re pretty good, mainly because at this point we’ve done loads. But I see other bloggers knocking out leaderboard placings, 40-minute finishes and all-time records left, right and centre. Whereas we just tend to do “pretty well”. So when we booked into three games, with just two of our normal team, at The Panic Room (yes, they have significantly more than the one room the name suggests) the owners mentioned that with our background, we’d have a good shot at beating the record on The Lab, their two-player game. I knew that wasn’t going to happen, but it’s nice to be highly thought of. What was worrying is what came next: “I think you’ll struggle with the Dollhouse though, no two-person team has beat it yet”. Great. The owner who has already massively over-estimated us thinks that even the fictional, elite, record-breaking version of us in his head is going to fail this room. No pressure.

14702235_626227230912857_5775489589424839436_nThe Dollhouse is the first game to open at The Panic Room’s new location, though said location is just a two minute walk from their initial location. There’s a decent enough waiting room with seats, games, puzzles and so on, but it wasn’t needed as we were all set to go. There’s a generic video introduction that covers the rules for all the games (and yes, you only have to watch it once if you’re booked in for multiple games!) followed by a briefing on the specific game from the host.

After this we were locked in a cage, handcuffed to the bars, and we were off, with an hour to escape before the doll-obsessed serial killer gets back. While I’m still not a fan of handcuffs in escape games – seriously, use shackles, leather restraints, or anything that isn’t designed to tighten and be painful when strained against – you’re out of them fairly quickly. Once you are free, the final task to get out of the cage and into the room proper is one of the coolest tasks I’ve yet seen in a room, if a little tougher with just two people than it would be in a larger team. It’s also one of those puzzles which has that “I think we might have to do this, but if I’m wrong we’ll look like such idiots” factor, which I find fun.

Free from the cage, you enter the main space for the game, and it diverges into a very non-linear game. The room looks great, and there are plenty of puzzles to keep even large teams busy. In our case that meant splitting up and trying to cover as much ground as possible. The eponymous, literal, dollhouse offers a centrepiece for the room, and also a decent way at tracking how far in to the game you are, as you try to get the doors to each room open.

The puzzles are strong, with a good mix of difficulties. The only slight frustration was a puzzle that required observing where certain items had come from, and we’d moved things without noticing. The puzzle wasn’t unsolvable, as the information was also given elsewhere, but I think we’d unconsciously dismissed that as a possible solution by applying the escape room mantra of “prop location doesn’t matter”. There was also one puzzle that we accidentally took apart, which again didn’t render it unsolvable – we triggered the mechanism outside of the thematic prop- but when we later got the clue for it there was a moment of “oh, that’s what you were meant to do, that would have cool”.

In terms of theme, there’s a somewhat intimidating warning on the website:

The Dollhouse at it’s core is a horror themed escape room. Although it doesn’t contain live actors, it does contain certain items that may be disturbing to some individuals.

Due to the content this experience is recommended to be rated 18+, however if accompanied by a consenting adult then 12+.

The Dollhouse contains some gore, nudity, morbid themes and interactions and claustrophobic passages. If you would like more detailed information to find out if this room is appropriate for you please contact us.

We’re not horror fans, and so this looked like it might be a little on the edge for us in terms of what we’d enjoy, but we decided to risk it. And we were fine. We’ve played scarier games that didn’t even have that sort of notice, and I’d go so far as to say that if you’re booking this hoping for a scary experience, you’re going to be disappointed. Conversely if you’re a bit put off, there’s absolutely no reason to be. While there’s some gross imagery, none of it is particularly realistic, and there’s a couple of jump scares but nothing particularly bothersome. That’s not to say the rooms doesn’t look good though – it’s well dressed and full of lots of on-theme items, though that includes many red herrings. Indeed, looking at the state of the room by the time we were done I don’t think we’ve ever left a game in such a mess before! The room is also fairly dark, but you’re give good torches and if you’re smarter than we were you can find your way to enlightenment…

It’s a hard one to review this. While we were given clues as needed (via video messages from the killer’s brother) there were clearly too many puzzles for the two of us. Which I kind of loved. It made it a real challenge and while most people would be advised to take 4-6 people along, if you’re an enthusiast and want a good but fair challenge, I’d suggest giving it a go with two. In the end we didn’t make it, we had a moment of thinking we were near the end with a couple of minutes to go, opening what we thought was the exit door and finding… two more puzzles! But apparently that was the furthest any two-player team had got at the time.

I really enjoyed it – tense without being scary, hard without being unfair, occasionally unpleasant without being mean. It struck just the right balance of theme, puzzles and atmosphere for me.

Lastly, I don’t normally comment too much on price in reviews, but it’s worth noting The Panic Room charge a flat £15 per player (with a minimum of two) and all bookings are private. Which does make all their rooms ideal for couples in terms of pricing at least. Especially given it’s a short, cheap train ride from London, where most of the games are going to be 2-3 times that to play with just two.

Result – we were two puzzles away from escaping

Date played: 25 October 2016

Team: Dean, Katherine



About the Author

Dean is a professional writer who has worked for The Mail On Sunday, The Digital Fix, MicroMart and others.

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