A Generally Awesome award winner, The Penitentiary is a challenging game that you need to bring your A-game for. Technically excellent, well-themed, and a genuinely difficult one to get through. New to escape games? ClueQuest is up the road…
Having knocked out Escape Plan a couple of weeks ago, Team Amaze was looking for a step up, and Omescape looked like just the ticket. With two sites in California and a shoal across China, this new arrival to the UK had plonked down a stone’s throw from ClueQuest and has brought across two of its popular scenarios as well as adding a third.
Arriving in good time, some wood puzzles were available to play about with at reception. With black walls and simple theming, we were put in the mood for the game pretty quickly.
Team Amaze was along in force for this one, bringing all its most experienced players in myself, Mig, Bubbles, Vicky, and Nick. The five of us were ready for most things… but not the last thing the host said before going in. I’ve hidden it behind spoiler code in case you don’t want to know about it, although it isn’t really a spoiler per se as it happens before you’re in.
You need to divide into two sub-teams for the start of the game and will be locked into two separate cells. Voice communication is possible between the cells as they’re within earshot. Your first task is to get out of the two rooms.
Right away we noticed two things. First, it was dark. Not proper dark, but there was a couple of dim table lamps and that was the limit. Second, this was not going to be a room where you were looking everywhere for something that might resemble a code to type into a padlock. It was far more advanced than that. The puzzles were very intelligent throughout, and integrated into the room. We did clear one of the early ones by accident, meaning we needed to realise and discard a later clue. We also tried to open the door we had come in by, but the host promptly got on the radio to tell us off!
We were particularly enthused by a puzzle that gave two ways to solve, one by collecting a load of items and the other from general knowledge. I’m not a fan of any puzzle that expects external general knowledge to solve, because teams that don’t possess that little piece of knowledge are likely to fail, and fail hard. This one rewarded the general knowledge and making several more mental leaps, and enabled us to speed through a puzzle without needing to mess about with the scavenger hunt.
We were about half way through when presented with a physical puzzle. Immediately on seeing it, the host radioed to warn us what not to do and that we would incur time penalties for breaking the rules in this segment. This stretched our team to the limit and despite that we had the solution we didn’t do it properly and needed a radio message to say we were on the right track.
One puzzle about two-thirds of the way through was a weak link. The reasoning and logic behind it was too much of a jump in the dark for us and after a couple of minutes staring blankly at it we were rescued by a hint. I think we’d still be there without it.
The room’s large enough that once you’ve got to a certain stage you actually can’t hear someone at one end if you’re at the other end, and communication’s really important. With several later puzzles requiring you to go back and see or do something from earlier on, this was a big factor. There are also stairs from one section to another, and Bubbles nearly fell down them at one stage! We’ve been assured they’ve been marked out with hazard tape since.
We didn’t really get to the stage of the sense of panic at running out of time, partly because we made good progress but also because we were so engrossed in proceedings that there wasn’t any chance!
As the exit door slid open with 13 minutes left on the clock, I was still in game mode asking myself “what next/is that it?” and had to look back to see that the clock had been stopped and we were indeed done.
I was energized coming out of the room and feeling really chuffed about a job well done – the room is pretty darn hard. The host told us we were only a couple of minutes off the room record and awarded us an Omescape medal on a ribbon – which I later found out has a unique design for the room.
This room gets the Generally Awesome award for originality and being a substantial challenge, covering mental, physical, skill, and mystery (see what I did there) in its challenges, integrating the puzzles into the room rather than littering it with padlocks, offering multiple ways to solve several of the puzzles, and just being generally on point.
Accessibility: Not at all wheelchair-accessible. Steps to entrance and within room, amongst other things.
Alerts: Very dark (torches provided), time penalties, has physical elements, tight/small door. In the first element, rooms were actually locked and in the event of an emergency or a player needing to get out because of a panic attack/needing the loo/etc., they would need to be fetched and released by the host.
Capacity: This room has a capacity of 4-7 players. We think 4 would struggle at one particular element. The ideal number in our opinion is 6.
Cost: We paid £92.65 for 5 players – normal price is £109, but we had a 15% off coupon code, which is now expired. I understand the pricing to be £79 for a team of 3 and £10 for each additional player, plus a £10 peak time surcharge.
Photo: Yes, with branded background and medal (if won). One copy printed and placed in guestbook to sign. Electronic copy was found on Facebook within a few days.
Getting there: 10-15 minutes walk from Kings Cross/St Pancras, Caledonian Road, or Caledonian Road & Barnsbury. Over the road from clueQuest.
Footnote: This room is 6-10 players in the USA…