Published on February 16th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
The Panic Room, Gravesend – The Don
90s multimedia may not sound like a great theme for a room, yet somehow it all comes together in the third Panic Room game we played, as we’d unwittingly saved the best until last.
Like The Lab, The Don is located at The Panic Room’s original premises. As that site hosts three games, the waiting area was a little more developed, including a small shop selling “Escape Room In a Box” experiences (and at reasonable prices too). They also had, on display, a copy of The Crystal Maze board game. This is a game I owned as a kid, and had since entirely forgotten existed. Despite having recently dug up a bunch of childhood memories about The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze and the Crystal Maze gamebook, because of its recent resurgence in popularity, this had somehow remained out of mind! This bought back a whole bunch of memories and perhaps set my mindset appropriately for The Don, where you’re trying to gather evidence on a mafia bosses’ crimes from his office. It’s all very Goodfellas/Pulp Fiction.
If you’ve played a few escape rooms you may have spotted the red flag in the previous paragraph. “Office” as a room location is so often an excuse to knock something up cheaply, changing minimal amounts of room decor and using cheaply obtained props and furniture. Not so with this game. The office in question is very much befitting of a rich crime boss, being a large, luxurious space. No worn out props or dirty floors, there’s a sense of quality here that’s rare (and if lacking, would entirely destroy any chance of being immersed in the theme – no mob boss is going to put up with damp stains on his walls). It makes it another of those games where the room is just a lovely environment to be in solving puzzles. And yes, I get that many rooms thrive on the notion of “escaping” the place, and therefore they need to communicate a bit of unpleasantness, but increasingly that’s just becoming a lazy excuse for not hoovering every night. Whereas I’d happily have played this is as a 90 minute game with a half hour break in the middle to eat a packed lunch!
On top of that, there’s a subtle but appropriate soundtrack that nudges the entire game from being a nice looking play environment to feeling like you’re truly immersed in a fictional space. And that’s the great strength of The Don. Sure, the likes of Time Run have amazing sets that make you feel like you’re genuinely in another time. By setting the game in an office, The Panic Room are aiming a lot lower, but they pull it off so well, and with such attention to detail, that it feels just as real.
The second interesting thing about this room is that it’s not zero-tech, but the technology you use is quite dated. To me that’s what firmly grounds it in that 90s gangster aesthetic, with video and sound both playing important parts in the puzzles, but in a very different sort of way. I genuinely half expected to have to log on to a computer and research something on Encarta at one point.
The puzzles themselves are good, with not too much searching needed, and there’s a nice collection puzzle you find very early on which helps give a good indication of how you’re progressing in the game. You uncover a storyline as you go, and it not only makes sense but it even helps with clues for some of the puzzles. It’s weird writing that statement as a positive as it should be a given, but so rarely is. Clues were provided by a screen built into a grandfather clock, and that was the only thing in the game that didn’t quite fit the theme, but the clues themselves were good and offered when needed.
It’s a terrific room that’s well worth playing, and as with The Dollhouse, it’s a flat £15 per person so equally feasible for a couple as it for a larger group. This was the last of three games we played one evening late last year, and in the few months between then and writing this review, The Panic Room have opened two more rooms, and have another three expected to open by this summer. One of the most impressive things about them is the speed at which they’re able to launch quality games, given that they’re all the work of a single couple. Here’s hoping the high standard continues!
Result – we just made it out with 3 minutes to spare
Date played: 25 October 2016
Team: Dean, Katherine
Summary: A really great room and the highlight of our evening at The Panic Room