Published on October 4th, 2017 | by Dean Love1
The Panic Room, Gravesend – The Gilman Hotel
This isn’t billed as The Panic Room’s scariest game, that honour goes to The Dollhouse, but in many ways this one is far, far creepier, and sets out to wrong-foot you from the start.
It begins with the host briefing you about your task (recover five ancient artifacts, put them in the bag, escape) before leaving you at the end of the corridor to the hotel, as he doesn’t want to go anywhere near it. The intro then gets even creepier, and introduces a dynamic to the game that really ups the tension.
(It’s worth noting at this point, we’ve heard from others than this intro can play out quite differently depending on certain circumstances with the room. For us it played out perfectly, channeling the creepy, Lovecraftian vibe with aplomb. But I’ve heard others have had an experience that’s a lot, well, broader, which I imagine can boost the intimidation factor a little but also seems to be like it’d be less true to the theme.)
The theme is, of course, a “spooky mystery” quite openly inspired by the story Shadows Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft. For those less familiar with the source material, this means horror, but not in your face, jump scare horror. Nor does it mean haunted hotel horror. Rather it’s the horror of what might lie behind the shadows, in the edges of your own sanity and in the cosmic insignificance of the human race. Translated into escape room terms: that means going through the possessions of the hotel room’s previous resident, finding out about awful things that have happened and discovering some sort of ritual and cult.
You’re tasked with both finding out what happened to said previous resident, and recovering five artifacts that have gone missing. The former task provides the critical path through the game and you could feasibly just stay focused on this while ignoring the rest, with finding the artifacts being a sort of side-quest. Some will be fairly easily discovered along the way, while others are a little trickier to get to.
As mentioned earlier, there’s an element to the game that really ratchets up the tension and I’m not 100% sold on it. See, it also introduces an element of ambiguity to the game: you’re aware that there is potential for “a bad thing” to happen if you’re not careful, but you don’t really know what the consequences, in terms of the game, of that would be. Or even if there are any. As a general rule, I’m not a fan of this type of thing, partly as I really enjoy having an understanding of the game space and boundaries, and also because it generally feels quite artificial: if I cause the “bad thing” to happen ten minutes into the game, the host isn’t going to walk in and say “bad luck, game over, thanks for the forty quid”. In this case though, inducing this sort of confusion and trepidation into the players’ minds is inarguably on theme and the structure of the game means that it’s viable for it to penalise you without breaking the flow entirely: you are trying to recover five artifacts, but screwing up could result in one of them being inaccessible, still leaving the rest of the game intact. Because of that, overall it worked out for me and was a net benefit to the room. So I guess a room that makes me enjoy something I don’t normally get on with is a worthy achievement!
The puzzles in this room are a step up in difficulty from the rest of The Panic Room, though that’s offset somewhat by there being few of them. There’s a few large, difficult puzzles that you’ll be thinking about for a good while. I also found these to be some of the best puzzles the venue had to offer: the way the solutions often hovered tantalisingly out of reach as your mind grasped for exactly how you were meant to manipulate the strange symbols you had discovered was both enjoyable and mirrored the theme perfectly.
There were nevertheless a few frustrations, including one device that was overly fiddly, meaning we had the answer for a good while but needed a hint to tell us how to input it correctly. Fortunately we weren’t left grasping pointlessly for long, as the hint was provided quickly and unobtrusively via the video screen the room.
The aforementioned mechanic also adds time pressure to a few puzzles, which allows otherwise mundane tasks to feel a bit more interesting.
The game ends quite satisfyingly and in an unexpected way that’s fun. It’s also interesting to note that you’re tasked with finding five artifacts, but there are actually six hidden away. I’d normally be a bit disappointed that we finished with time to spare but didn’t know to even look for something else, but then when shown where it was we agreed there’s no chance we would ever have found it.
Overall I would recommend this game, even though it plays with some things I wouldn’t normally expect to enjoy. Be under no illusion, it’s not a scary game, but when the website says this game is tense, it’s not being hyperbolic!
Result – we escaped in 54 minutes with 5 artifacts
Date played: 5 September 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine
Summary: A good game that channels the Lovecraftian theme really well, including the (minor, mental) discomfort of the plays. But if you can deal with tense scenarios and some tough puzzles it's recommended, though the difficulty means it's also not for beginners!