Fun from the first step
A group of talented criminals brought together by the criminal mastermind, Shanks, are tasked with testing the security of the huge ‘Wexell Bank’ in Loughborough, but is Shanks really on your side, or is he setting you all up to take the heat for a real heist?
It’s no secret we love Deadlocked Escape Rooms. Their online games helped to keep us (relatively) sane throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021 (if you haven’t played The Cyphstress yet, you should; it’s my favourite!), and of course, we thoroughly enjoyed their physical games at their Reading Branch, with Time Machine being a particular favourite. But despite being in the area, we almost gave their Loughborough venue a miss due to seeing some less than favourable (historic) reviews for the games there. Long story short, we decided to give them a shot anyway, and I’m glad we did! Skipping them would have been a mistake, as Magic of New Orleans actually ended up being my favourite game that we played on Day Two of the Great Escape Room Road Trip 2021.
After playing four games at Break Escape, and a short break for lunch which involved a picnic and exploring the few parks Loughborough had to offer, we made our way to Deadlocked for the final two games of the day. First up: Vault Squad. Neal, our host and GM for our games, greeted us at the door and led us to what can best be described as the foyer, with lockers to stash any of our bits and pieces, and take us through the basic health and safety of the day.
That’s when things got a little bit different though, as Neal reappeared as “Pineapple” and we were led to the entrance to the Wexell Bank, where and we were presented with (extra, rather silly) masks and the option to choose our codenames and roles. Suitably disguised for a break-in, we watched the message from our employer, “Shanks,” letting us know just exactly what we were up to, and then it was time for a heist.
Covid-19 Procedures: NHS Track and Trace was in use at Deadlocked Loughborough, and at the time we played (May 2021), face coverings were required for both players and staff, and everyone adhered to this policy. There are plentiful hand sanitising stations throughout the venue and Deadlocked have left plenty of time between games to ensure that rooms can be thoroughly aired and cleaned between teams. During our visit we were the only team in the building. All masks were thoroughly cleaned/disinfected between teams.
Once you’ve crossed the line into Escape Room Enthusiast territory, you’ll probably notice that certain themes are more prevalent than others, and people have their favourite, and their not-so favourite themes. I’ll be honest, “Heist” games, and particularly bank heists, fall into my “Not-So Favourite” category, with one or two notable exceptions. Did Vault Squad absolutely blow me away to become one of those exceptions? No. Did I still enjoy the game, and have a wonderful 43-minutes breaking into the Wexell Bank vault despite my general misgivings about heists? Why yes, yes I did. And it all started before we even entered the bank, with breaching Wexell’s security. I don’t want to give too much away, but it set the tone for the rest of the game and was unique, fun, and let’s just say, I didn’t expect Wexell’s security measures to actually work.
Deadlocked have always strived for immersion, and Vault Squad started the process even before the briefing with choosing our codenames and roles in the squad, but it didn’t end there. Deadlocked have made use of the space they have available, and while it doesn’t really scream “bank,” it gets the job done, so it wasn’t so much the set that made the game feel immersive (although fans of The Insiders may get a kick out of playing, as they’re sure to recognise some of it), but rather everything that went along with it: Codenames, GM interaction, timer, thematic puzzles, some fun “physical” tasks, and even a suitably heisty ambient sound track to set the mood and keep momentum going all played a part.
Vault Squad’s opening challenge led me to think that the entire game would be quite linear, but once through to the actual bank, the game opened up, and rarely were Gord and I ever working on something in tandem. From the moment we ascended the stairs to the bank, Vault Squad flowed well, and only ever slowed when we missed something that was in plain sight. The game moved effortlessly from task to task, climaxing as we finally broke into the vault, and ending with a satisfying conclusion.
Puzzles have always been one of the highlights of any Deadlocked game, and they didn’t disappoint here either, with a mix of “easy” wins and more complex problems. Styles ran the gamut of what we typically see in escape rooms, with logic, pattern recognition, observation, word play, and a few more tactile things all making an appearance. Of course, these had a Deadlocked twist, but the puzzles all fit well within the theme and gave us plenty of really delightful “Ah-Ha!” moments as we solved them.
I say there were “easy” wins, but of course it’s the simplest puzzles that we’ve seen time and time again that trip us up, so of course, there was one (okay, there were two) of those that we lovingly refer to as an “enthusiast trap” in The Vault Squad. I would imagine that there are quite a few teams that have played few to no previous escape rooms that will get this puzzle instantly, but for one, Gord and I decided that the simplest answer was not the correct answer, and created our own (wrong) puzzle. Of course, once we were pointed in the right direction, we felt a little foolish…
After clever, if sometimes fiendish puzzles, the next thing I think of when I think of Deadlocked Escape Rooms is their clue systems. For me, one of the most important aspects of any escape game is being immersed in the world, and one of the places this can go horribly wrong is in providing help to a team in need, but not at Deadlocked. Whether it’s a physical game or an online experience, Deadlocked have tried to make their clue systems as immersive as possible, and Vault Squad is no different.
Although clues are delivered via the escape room standby of a screen within the game, this is done so using in-character video clips of your boss, “Shanks,” since he’s ever so helpfully been hacked into the system by our third team-mate: Pineapple. Of course, Neal was behind the scenes as Pineapple, ensuring help from Shanks was available if we needed it (and we did; see above moment of ineptitude), and while he took the approach of allowing us to ask for help when we needed it, when we did finally admit defeat, help was provided instantly.
Vault Squad had one of the most unique openings to a standard “heist” theme that I’ve seen, and the amusement it provided (particularly when we tripped up) set the tone for the entire game. If you’re in Loughborough, skipping Deadlocked Escape Rooms would be a mistake.
Team: 2 players – escaped in 42:43
Address: 2a Granby Street, Loughborough, LE11 3DU