Amazing, simply amazing
You’re thrown in at the deep end to replace the recently deceased former Air Raid Warden Mr Parsons. Your job is to defend Canterbury from a barrage of air attacks by deploying air defences and performing your duties, all the while unravelling the mystery of an unknown traitor sabotaging your every step.
I walked into the Comms Room at Escape in the Towers, completely unprepared for the amazing experience I was about to have. Housed within Canterbury’s original former city gaol built in the 1830s and England’s largest surviving Medieval gateway, Escape in the Towers uses their one of a kind venue to great effect, by using what is already there, and the hundreds of years of history to mould their games, rather than forcing the game to fit into a space it was never intended. Where Crime and Punishment Lab is based in the original 19th-century prison cells, the Comms Room is set in an original World War 2 comms room, that has never before been open to the public. In fact, at one point, it had been used simply for storage.
But we didn’t really know much of this when we arrived. As instructed, we arrived at The Pound Bar & Kitchen to await the arrival of our GM. There is a nice area, with signs and comfortable seating, where teams can wait, although you wouldn’t want to arrive too early unless you were planning to grab a bite to eat or visit the museum (which looked like they would be worthwhile detours).
At the appointed time, our GM, Ben arrived. The health and safety briefing was held in this little holding area, but then it was time to cross the street and make our way to the room. Once we stepped over the threshold into the 1940s, Ben gave us a bit more detail regarding our mission, and the circumstances that had led to it. And with that, he closed the door behind him as we set about trying to learn the whereabouts of the missing Air Raid Warden, identifying the traitor, and defending against aerial attacks – nothing like a bit of multi-tasking to really get the adrenaline flowing.
The thing that stands out for me most when I think about the Comms Room is not the puzzles, simply because they didn’t feel like puzzles. In fact, each task isn’t so much a “puzzle” as it is reacting to and handling the actual scenarios that those operating a comms room in the middle of a war would have had to deal with (with a bit of drama and intrigue thrown in). Escape in the Towers quite prominently state on their website when booking Comms Room that the Key Skill here is Teamwork, and they certainly aren’t lying. Each task you run into along the way will become infinitely easier if you are able to work together and communicate effectively.
There were a few traditional escape room-style puzzles that resulted in four-digit padlock codes, but not one felt out of place, off theme, or contrived in any way, and using heavy-duty, brass, spring-loaded padlocks, these blended into the scenery well. While teamwork is certainly a key skill for achieving your mission and thwarting the traitor, keen observational skills will not go amiss, as there is a significant amount of vital information around you, once you know what you’re looking for.
As Comms Room is located in an actual heritage site, the team at Escape in the Towers have been relatively limited in what they are able to build. In fact, the set is designed in such a way that the building can be returned back to its original condition with minimal effort and won’t leave a trace that an escape room was ever even located there. And yet, the set doesn’t feel temporary, and nothing seems out of place in the setting. And what a setting – be sure to take a moment to look up during the game to take in and appreciate just how cool this setting is.
Escape games are evolving from a room, or two, that are simply full of locks and puzzles. As the industry grows, people, particularly those that play escape games regularly, are expecting more from games, not just regarding the inventiveness of the tasks or the quality of the build, but from how involved they feel in the story, in other words, the immersion. Now, this is solely my opinion, but I see escape games moving in the direction of becoming closer to immersive theatre (with or without actors); almost a live-action version of a video game. Comms Room has achieved this, hands down. From the moment the game started, I was in War-time Canterbury.
My expectations for this room were just completely blown away. Despite never leaving a room that had a smaller footprint than my childhood bedroom, I was fully engrossed in following the story through to the conclusion from the moment the door to the tower closed. The intensity of the game steadily increased, with the pressure building, until it reached the most epic climax I think I have ever experienced in an escape room, solidifying a spot for The Comms Room as one of my Top 10 Escape Games to date.
There is an integrated screen in the room which can be used to deliver clues from your GM should you need them. However, the story is integral to the experience, and there will be some audio clues/cues that you will hear. These are automated, and while they may help you solve something, their inclusion is part of the entire experience.
We didn’t require any help from Ben, but given our thorough debrief after the game, I have no doubt that he was paying close attention, and help would have been sent through quickly had we ever been particularly stuck.
Given the inclusion of the screen within the game, a timer was noticeably absent. Gord prefers to have the time displayed, but I actually prefer being in the dark, so to speak. My personal preference is to have a highly immersive game, and I find that a timer often detracts from the immersive qualities of a game, so its absence was appreciated here.
With your booking, escapers also receive free entry to the Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint and a 10% discount on food and drink in The Pound Bar & Kitchen on the ground floor with your booking. We didn’t have a chance to take advantage of this, but we’ll almost certainly be back for Crime and Punishment, and the Magna Carta Murder (opening sometime in 2020), and I’m excited to arrive in enough time to have a look around the museum and enjoy a tasty treat.
Team: 2 players – succeeded in 41:38 (no clues)
Address: One Pound Lane, 1 Pound Lane, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2BZ, England