A room that left us disappointed and frustrated. Innovative and faithful to its theme, probably a fun experience for those new to escape rooms, but enervating, unexciting and frustrating to veterans.
I don’t normally back Kickstarters, but something about Escape Rooms Newport made it look like it stood out from the crowd. I went in for the top-level package entitling me to play the game in a team of up to 6 and then act as the game master for another team. I gave the room a month and a half or so to get into gear before coming down from London for the day to try it all out.
I recruited eight members of Team Judge to come and play across two attempts – playing myself in the first round, and acting as the host second time around for my friends. The experience started the day before, somewhat intriguingly, but to say more would be a spoiler.
David and Elinor, the owners, gave us a very friendly welcome – I sensed the appreciation at my having contributed an eighth of their Kickstarter goal – and explained the premise of the game. The briefing was on the short side and had a good expression of the “no brute force or climbing” rule, but reminded us that they aimed to be realistic and that traditional escape room assumptions might not hold. With the now-typical waiver signed, Elinor popped off to double-check everything was ready whilst David offered to answer questions. We were also told that there was no hint system like other rooms, but “help will arrive” if it seems needed.
Entering the room it was clear that we were in for something a bit different. There were some nice touches and amusing moments visible from the start. We got a recorded message briefing but could not make any sense of it, so as we were faced with some slightly disconcerting documents and immediately a lot of searchable locations, we did our best to dive in and try to be systematic. Direction or suggestions were thin on the ground and it was more luck than anything else that we came up with something we could use after 10 minutes of combing the place. Some very oblique clues pointed us to a door code eventually and gave us even more to do and further places to search. We got a couple more unintelligible audio messages over the TV… could have done with subtitles.
And search we did. Repeatedly, extensively, and thoroughly. The few usable clues and pieces of information spread around the room gave us one or two pointers, but as often as not sent us somewhere we’d already looked and found. Most of the time someone exclaimed “I’ve found [x]”, they were quickly told that someone else had checked it already. Nevertheless, there wasn’t much to do, so we went and tried it again. And again. And it still didn’t work. We could see something that we thought we should be doing, but couldn’t actually execute because we were missing something, and despite a plethora of information and a range of places to look, we simply couldn’t lay our hands on anything.
There were a few creepy elements, one of which put one of our players off and generated a bit of a laugh for the others and the hosts.
It was 50 minutes and a lot of frustrated searching and re-searching before the promised help arrived and eight more (and one more nudge) for us to finally find the appropriate needle and haul ourselves out of the room.
Team Judge #1 escaped with under 2 minutes on the clock only to be met by the hosts with very long faces saying that we had somehow come across a hint belonging to the previous team which they had left in the pocket of their overalls, which meant we experienced the flow of the game in completely the wrong order. We had had access to where the exit key was since 20 minutes in but just hadn’t found it. We had used two hints.
Team Judge #2, who had the dubious privilege of me as their guest host, followed the flow through correctly and escaped with 18 seconds left and having had six hints.
My experience as guest host does not form part of the ratings.
The primary emotion that each member of both Teams Judge mentioned afterwards was frustration. Frustration at spending multiple man-hours searching haystacks fruitlessly for needles, at looking again and again at the same things, and at trying the same thing over and over to make sure we hadn’t screwed up, because no hint was forthcoming until 10 minutes remained on the clock. We felt the game contained maybe 20 minutes’ worth of actual puzzles – most of which were fairly easy to solve – stretched out to 60 by making things hard to find and having all kinds of places to look.
Several of the audio clues were completely inaudible, which contributed further to the frustrated feeling.
There were definite innovations. There was a good reason for us to be asked for the names of all the players and aspects of the game were individualised for us (won’t say any more than that, but it appears to me that this is something they do for everyone and you should fill in all the players’ names in the box provided when you book). You need to leave most of your assumptions about escape rooms at the door – if it wouldn’t work in a real-life depraved corporation of death situation (to the extent that corporations of death operate in real life), it probably wouldn’t work here. And therefore the flip-side of this review is that people who’ve not played an escape room before will potentially enjoy themselves more than we did.
Acting as host for the second game was a real eye-opener, but deserves a post all of its own, which I’ll link here once I’ve put it up.
Accessibility: Steep steps down to the venue, no lift available.
Alerts: Fake blood and body parts, jump scares (removable on request). Optional bag storage. Overalls provided and recommended.
Capacity: The one room takes 2-6 players.
Cost: My Kickstarter package plus the additional game set me back a total of £285. Normal people pay a rather more sensible £35 for two players up to £69 for six. American Express is accepted.
Photo: Taken afterwards with a proper DSLR and the choice of whether or not to stay in the orange overalls. The promised team 3-minute highlights reel which was part of the package didn’t materialize, but the photo turned up on Facebook pretty promptly.
Getting there: Newport (National Rail) is 10 minutes away on foot.