I wasn’t sure that Clockwork Dog could outdo their last attempt at a pop-up escape game. And yet they have. I’m still not quite sure how. We’ve rated it Generally Awesome, and you should go and play it, ideally before reading the rest of the review.
First and foremost, this room is highly difficult to review without causing potential spoilers. If you read further it is at your own risk of finding out something you may not want to have known. I’ve put in some collapsed spoiler boxes but they don’t cover everything.
The team playing was Team Amaze (3 players). It had been a while since we’d played and we had one person new to escape rooms on board, but that didn’t hamper us too much.
As with Langstroth’s, the introduction was given in-character, but this time with the addition of a humorous briefing video. The premise, such as it is, is that some engineers need to go and activate a machine but haven’t turned up today. Due to a mysterious memory loss effect, they have left clues for themselves so that they can still activate it, and you the players are emergency engineers who come and help.
The room is narrow but presents a range of puzzles that can be done in parallel. There was a pleasing balance between needing to search for stuff, puzzles where it was obvious what to do but executing it was difficult, and puzzles where figuring out what to do was hard but it could be done very easily when you worked it out. Almost everything was on-theme and seemed to have a sensible reason to be there. Build quality was top-notch, and some of the concepts were awe-inspiring. Several times I had to stop for a moment to admire it all.
We encountered very few puzzles that I had seen before in previous guises. The level of originality and of build quality was off the charts, and doing this whilst keeping everything on theme was amazing.
Hints were delivered by a pager-type device.
Two of the puzzles were more fiddly than I would have liked, but they needed to be the way they are.
Finally, this room has
exactly zero padlocks.
I hear some people find that refreshing as a concept.
I can’t actually write anything else, or even explain the outcome, without causing a serious spoiler. But we [SPOILER REDACTED] with 12 minutes to spare. We had four hints, not counting the one we needed to resolve a puzzle that had gone a bit wonky. I think that particular puzzle is going to need a lot of maintenance and spare parts. We also each received a customized printed report card, which I thought was a nice touch.
In discussions with fellow escapers a few months ago I said that I was looking for a more intense experience at my games, without really knowing or being able to explain what it was. It transpires that this was it. Particularly towards the end of the game, the sense of frantic urgency brought on mainly by sound effects/background music but also by the game design itself, which [SPOILER REDACTED, sorry], and by the hosts tweaking things on the go.
I spent a fair amount of time pondering the ratings and thinking whether the little kinks in the game brought it down from 10 to 9. Maybe it does, but the pure amazingness bumps it back up again. It’s rare enough to find this level of production value, preparedness, integration, tech, immersion, slight infuriation, and intensity within a permanent room that’s been well-established and has been able to work through teething problems and everything through hundreds of customers. Seeing this level of smoothness in a venue that’s been running for a week and a half is something else.
Clockwork Dog becomes the first ever operator to pick up a second Generally Awesome award. Well done!
Accessibility: It would be very difficult to accommodate wheelchairs.
Alerts: The whole team will need to spend about two minutes inside a space which is horizontally confined but full height. As mentioned on the website, there is no toilet on site. Those of a nervous disposition may find some short elements of the game somewhat unpleasant.
Capacity: There is one copy of the room which is suitable for 3-5 players. We felt 3 was just right. 4 would be viable, and 5 would get in one another’s way. You could quite reasonably do this as a pair (but would need to pay for 3).
Cost: £30 per player; no sliding scale for larger teams. American Express is accepted.
NB: This is a pop-up game currently booking until Sunday 11 June, with 7pm and 9pm slots on Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5, 7, and 9 on Fridays, and 9am to 9pm slots on weekends and bank holidays. Closed on non-bank holiday Mondays.
Getting there: Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland stations (London Overground) are 5-10 minutes walk away.