Published on February 15th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
The Panic Room, Gravesend – The Lab
The Lab is a great idea. An escape room designed specifically for two people. Making it ideal for dates, or as in my case, people without many friends. And I should be singing its praises, but the problem with The Lab is that The Panic Room is such a great venue as a whole that The Lab is rendered somewhat redundant. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
It’s a good room. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a smaller experience, both in volume of puzzles and the physical size of the room. While still having good puzzles and a decent looking room with some nice props. Bingo. Nailed it. And only £30 for the two of you. Grab your partner and have a fun date night. Ask that girl you fancy if she wants to be locked up with you for an hour. I mean you can probably hop on the train to Gravesend, fire up Tinder and find someone up for playing with you within an hour. Easiest escape room booking experience ever!
It is, essentially, a mini-room. Certainly the smallest space I’ve played an entire game in – I’d say around half the size of your average room – but still packed full of puzzles. Styled as a medical lab, the plot is that you’re trying to create an anti-virus to a pathogen released into the world by a madman. While plenty of the puzzles reference this idea, and there’s an on-theme ending, they never quite tie-in fully; there’s always something of a disconnect between what you’re trying to solve and the information and story presented. That can be more frustrating that the rooms with entirely off-theme puzzles: if I find a bunch of molecular diagrams, I’d expect them to be somehow related to synthesising the cure, not just used to derive a bunch of numbers that open a random padlock. It’s a criticism that can be aimed at many rooms, but as is becoming the theme of this review, The Lab is close enough to getting it right that it stands out all the more when it gets it wrong.
The room itself looks the part, but there’s a big centrepiece prop that teases plenty of cool interactions, but turns out to be 90% set dressing. Still, the puzzles are decent enough, even if we weren’t quite sure how we solved a couple of the earlier ones, the main problems with this room are somewhat external to the room itself. Firstly, as cool an idea of a two-player game is, there’s literally just one puzzle that requires physical teamwork from both players. Where you have just two people, you can rely a bit more on their ability to work together, and present challenges for pairs without risking having the other players standing around unoccupied. So it’s disappointing the game didn’t do more to play to that. It’s less a two-player room, than a regular room with everything turned down a notch to make it viable for two players.
The second “problem” is that the other big upside of a two-player game is not having to pay through the nose for it. Most UK sites will charge a big premium for playing with just two, so the chance to play a room without having to pay £30-40 each is a huge plus… except all of The Panic Room’s games charge a flat £15 per person, and cater for two players. In a choice between £30 for two of you to play The Lab, or £75 for two of you to play one of the big London rooms, I’d recommend The Lab. But in a choice between £30 for two of you to play The Lab or £30 for two of you to play Panic Room’s The Don, the latter is a no-brainer.
So this is where I struggle. The Lab is fine, but I don’t know who it’s for. It’s not really for couples who want to test their teamwork as it doesn’t involve any more of that than most rooms do. It’s not for teams of two who want a cheap way to sample escape games, as every Panic Room game offers that. It’s not even for those entirely new to escape games that want to try something a bit easier, as it’s not a particularly easy game either (not to say it’s tough, it’s just clearly not specifically targeting that market). So, err, recommended if you’ve played all their other games, I guess?
Result – we escaped with around 8 minutes to spare
Date played: 25 October 2016
Team: Dean, Katherine
Summary: A fine, fine room but pales in comparison to its competition. Which are other rooms by the same company!