Published on March 23rd, 2017 | by Dean Love0
Clockwork Dog, London – Loop
This review refers to the original version of Loop that ran as a pop up game in London. While that closed, the design has been bought by The Panic Room and has been re-opened at their Gravesend site, around half an hour outside of London. We can’t speak to that particular implementation of the room, but reports suggest it’s made the transfer with only minor changes.
Don’t read this review. If you trust the reviews on this site you should just go and play this game. It’s definitely worth it, and one of my favourite games. But it’s very hard to write about without spoiling the experience a bit. Obviously I’m not going to give anything significant away, but even hinting at what the game does will inevitably clue you in to what to look for and risk spoiling things. So instead I just suggest you go and play it – the game made me gasp audibly in delight twice, and that happening even once is a very, very rare occurrence. (And for anyone concerned, it doesn’t do anything potentially scary, awkward or off-putting – it’s still an escape room at heart).
If that doesn’t do it for you, let me see if I can capture your imagination with one little titbit that explains why this is such a difficult game to talk about: even our escape time is a spoiler. You’ll be able to read about that and more after the image…
Right, for those staying, onto the normal review. Loop is the new game from Clockwork Dog, makers of Langstroth’s Last Riddle. Like that one, this is also a pop-up experience in a retail unit, initially running for three months. However that’s pretty much where the similarities end. While that room used the actual boutique clothes shop as a boutique antiques shop, this one pretty much guts and rebuilds an old nail salon as something entirely different. This also means there’s not much of a waiting area (and as the website notes, no toilet facilities) – there’s just a cramped bit of the shop outside of the room where you get the briefing which also serves double duty as the control/monitoring room for the hosts. Were this their first game, the presentation might be worrying me at this point, but past form means they get the benefit of the doubt! The briefing is a mix of in-character stuff from the staff and a video, before you’re handed your clue communications device (I’m not going to be any more specific that that, but rest assured it’s not a walkie-talkie) and sent off with a simple mission of activating a device by getting three lights to come on. What that boils down to is a nice non-linear room where there are three strands of puzzles, which cross over with each other at points, but can be worked on independently. It’s a great structure and worked perfectly for us, though there might be potential for groups who split into three to get through these very quickly. The first brilliant moment was in one of these puzzles, with an “if this were the solution it’d be so cool, but this won’t be the solution, that’d be too cool. Oh it is!” bit.
The game is split into two halves, and once the first is done you progress into a holding bit, leaving everything behind before getting to the second half of this game. Regular players will recognise this as an approach used by a lot of games to essentially double the customer throughput, by letting them reset the first room while you’re in the second. Well regular players like me should stop being such cynical dickheads, because it’s not that, it’s so, so much cooler. I mean it’s a bit cool at first as you’re told the structure of the game, then there’s a second bit where you realise just how committed they are to this structure and it’s even cooler. And while it’s not a criticism, it could have been even better had they gone one step further and used that structure within a puzzle in the second room, rather than it just being something really cool.
The second part of the game plays out in a similar way, with another three strands of puzzles to solve to obtain the items needed to get out. There’s some really good actual puzzles in this room – almost DASH-like staring-at-them-working-out-what-you-need-to-do puzzles, with some cool effects attached. There are also some decent mechanical elements, and out game ended with Kat shouting at me “screw faster Dean!” which almost lost us the room as I tried to focus and not start laughing…
Criticisms then? Well it doesn’t look amazing – compared to their last room, it’s clearly something built from scratch rather than bootstrapping the existing environment, and while the website might lead you to expect some sort of ultra high-tech lab setting, it’s actually more of a 80s ZX Spectrum scientific aesthetic. It works, but it certainly doesn’t look like “a private research and development company working on nuclear transmutation, quantum tunnels and the applications of dark energy”, or at least not one from this century. It’s also a fairly small space, we were a little cramped even with four players, so five may be pushing it. And beware sharp edges – those combined with the limited space and my own idiocy left me with a fairly nasty bruise/graze for the next few days.
Last time I reviewed a Clockwork Dog game, I said it was basically perfect but I couldn’t give it five stars because it just didn’t do anything interesting – it just did everything you’d expect from an escape room really well. I almost feel like this has been a ten-month in development response to that criticism. A response that basically says: “you want to see something different, here, happy now?!”
I am. Very much.
Result – we REDACTED in 1m54s
Date played: 15 Mar 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine, Kat, David
Note that we played Loop during press preview week, so even more than usual, be aware that the game we played may be tweaked and changed in the future
Summary: The worst thing about this game is it might only be around for three months - go play it right now if you're near London and reading this while you still have time to!