Published on July 22nd, 2016 | by Dean Love0
Omescape, London – The Penitentiary
Omescape is new to London but the company and their room designs are not, having a strong pedigree over in the US. Weirdly, that’s reflecting in our gaming experience.
Omescape has a sparse, almost intimidating waiting room, which reflects the game themes quite well. It also comes with a variety of physical puzzles to play with while you wait, which is a nice touch. After a quick briefing we’re led to our cells and the escape begins.
There’s a really pleasing physicality to Omescape. You certainly don’t need to be fit to play, but small degrees of physical exertion are required which hugely adds to the immersion. Likewise, everything feels well built and solid – you don’t worry that you’re going break anything (either objects in the room or your own limbs!). The escape spans a fairly sizeable area too, with multiple rooms, so there’s a real sense of adventure.
The plot is fairly straightforward – only one person has ever escaped these cells – find out how he did it and copy it. The puzzles are good if a bit more traditional – I found myself writing down more than any other room we’ve played. We ended up with a really good escape time, and I think in part that’s beacuse the room feels more like a videogame escape room than most.
So far, so good, and as you’d expect from a room with extensive testing in the US, the design is great. Less so the clues. They’re given over walkie-talkies, which works well because they’ve clearly spend a bit of money on devices that transmit voices clearly, without static or distortion. The problem was the number of clues, and when we received them. We escaped with 21 minutes to spare, but were being given so many clues that it felt like it should have been a lot closer. At one point, we were told to split up and have two people work on one puzzle and two on another. Good advice, and as we were playing with the minimum number of people for the room, I worried a little that we must be falling behind. That obviously wasn’t the case. More clues were given later on, but were mostly things we’d already figured out: there were definitely points where we were being asked, unprompted, questions over the walkie-talkies that we didn’t want to answer, because we knew what we were doing and it was just distracting us. And at the one point we were actually stuck for more than a few minutes: no clues offered! We’d basically solved the final puzzle and were just grabbing the last bit of information we needed, when the walkie perked up again offering us advice. Not only had we already figured it out, but there were 22 minutes left in the game and this was the last puzzle (and while we didn’t know that, the staff member clearly would have).
The way the system is meant to work is that, if you want to be in the hall of fame and win a medal, you need to escape with three or fewer clues. You can ask for clues, or occasionally they’ll see if you’re really stuck and give you a hint anyway (which may also count as one of your three clues). That wasn’t how it played out in practice at all. Maybe it was a new staff member who was just over-eager to be helpful? Who knows. But then, it didn’t really damage the experience much. Most of the ‘clues’ we got were to things we’d already figured out, even the one right at the end. It was more like just having an annoying fifth team member along who was a bit slower than the rest of the group. And was just a mouth. Without any hints we’d maybe have taken five minutes longer, so I didn’t feel that any of the puzzles had been ruined.
The weird customer service continued after the escape – we got our medal and a photo, which they printed and bought out for us to decorate, then everyone disappeared. We were left in the waiting room on our own. After about fifteen minutes of scribbing on the photo and looking at the block puzzles we figured no-one was coming back and just left – an odd ending indeed! But it does make an odd sort of sense: you can import the room designs but you’ll generally need to train new staff.
All that aside, I really liked it. The physicality of the design, the clever puzzles, the sense of adventure – it all really worked for me. The customer service needs to improve and probably will, but for me it was just a niggling annoyance rather than something that ruined the experience.
Result – we escaped with 21 minutes to spare – our fastest escape to date.
Date played: 17 July 2016
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess, Alex
Summary: Great design, not so great staffing.