We arrived at Escape Reality's Coventry branch to play Alcatraz, a room based on the high security prison housing the most infamous and dangerous criminals. The plot revealed that due to our arrival, for the first time in history the prison had reached its maximum capacity. As master escapers no prison has previously managed to contain us and after plotting our escape plan for Alcatraz, the time had come for us to finally break free...
The size of the game area was of a very generous size, and decoration was functional but felt very clinical, resulting in a feeling of detachment from the scenario we were supposed to be in (this an issue that we felt in all the rooms we played at Escape Reality). The game itself started by separating our teams across two cells. We’ve played divided starts in rooms previously and they’ve always been a relatively positive experience. However the length of time we were segregated here offered too long of an opportunity to leave one half of the team stood around without anything to do.
Communication was key and whilst this can be a fun challenge when exchanging puzzle clues concealed equally across two spaces, this wasn’t the case in Alcatraz. It was near impossible to assist the other team without having any idea of what they were actually looking at. Due to the nature of the first few puzzles, they were practically impossible to verbally explain to the team not privy to task, especially with no visual aid or point of reference.
In contrast the splitting of the teams at the start was probably the rooms most interesting feature. The game that followed offered not much variation in puzzle variety and we felt it was particularly maths heavy which may alienate some players. The puzzles also felt somewhat uninspired, with a large proportion lifted straight from generic popular word/number puzzles and utilised in a way that wasn’t overtly relevant to the rooms penitentiary theme.
Prior to your game you’re handed a tablet which doubles up as your clue system. This reads QR codes located at each puzzle point in the game, meaning in theory that you’re able to request relevant clues using your tablet as you need them.
Whilst it's easy to assume the use of technology would enhance the experience, in practice we felt this to be one of the worst clue systems we’ve ever used. Not only was it time consumingly fiddly with temperamental image capture - particularly in low light, there was also a penalty time added as penalisation for using it. Alternatively you could ask for assistance from your GM, who entered the room to show you the resolve without incurring any penalty. Whilst this was seemingly the quicker and less frustrating option of the two, you immediately lost any immersion you had in the game.
We left Escape Reality Coventry a little bit disappointed by our experience after arriving in high hope due to their success not just here in the UK, but the US and UAE too. Overall it felt like a “fast food chain” of escape rooms, with cookie-cutter metal plate puzzles featuring across all of the rooms we played at this branch.
The company clearly has the financial backing and space to produce something spectacular, but sadly for us it felt like their setup is primarily to serve a 'corporate day out' audience and if this is what they are aiming for, to their credit they have achieved it with some success.