“I love pressure, I eat it for breakfast!”
You have been convicted of multiple murders that you didn’t commit and have 1 hour to escape your cell in Alcatraz before you are executed.
Pretty much everyone in the escape room world will have heard about Houdini’s, they’ve been around for a while and have a stellar reputation, so it’s quite surprising it took us this long to get down to their Southampton (Tenpin) location to play a couple of their games – although part of this delay can be blamed on Covid.
The stars finally aligned (and lockdown lifted) so we took a day trip down to Southampton to Houdini’s Tenpin location to play two games, Escape from Alcatraz swiftly followed by Extinct. It always feels like a great tie-in when you get an escape room located in an entertainment centre, who wouldn’t want to do bowling and an escape room?
When we arrived we were greeted at the entrance to Houdini’s and our temperatures were checked before allowing us into their premises – a good touch! Once we passed this first test we took a seat in their very comfortable and elegant waiting area while we filled in the usual waivers.
Our GM, Mads, was happy and enthusiastic from the start and we had a nice little chat before she gave us the health and safety briefing. With the formalities out of the way she led us down the corridor and into their private cinema-esque screening room. In normal (non-Covid) times, we would have been given freshly made popcorn, but for obvious reasons that was off the menu today. This ‘cinema’ was used to show another health and safety briefing but was swiftly followed by the room specific briefing where we learned the back story to our mission.
When the video ended, Mads returned to escort us to our jail cell to begin our time in Alcatraz.
Covid Procedures: Our temperatures were checked on arrival before being allowed into Houdini’s. Hand sanitiser was in every single room we went in, even in the game. Masks were worn at all times by us and staff. We even saw the staff having to take a selfie of them taking their temperature to prove they also didn’t have a fever.
Prison themed rooms are not normally the most exciting of sets for an escape room, but Alcatraz was certainly one of the better ones we have seen and they found ways to keep it exciting throughout. There was a really good use of space and interaction between rooms, which made the game much more open, rather than just following through in a set pattern and not going back to a room when we had ‘completed’ it.
We are fortunate that we have never been ‘locked up’ so can’t really comment on the authenticity of Alcatraz, but it had a very ‘Green Mile’ feel about it which I appreciated. There was also atmospheric noise and music being piped into the room over a speaker system which also helped with the feeling of authenticity.
I don’t know if inmates would be allowed to have padlocks to lock their items in their cells, but I’d imagine not. However, Alcatraz did have quite a few padlocks to unlock in the room, and while it didn’t bother me, I know a number of people wouldn’t like this. Saying that, there was a little bit of tech thrown in as well to break up from the twiddling of dials.
The ending of the room brought a nice sense of closure to our mission and fitted the theme well. It certainly wasn’t a spectacular ending by any means, but it worked and again, it didn’t feel out of place.
Alcatraz played out in a non-linear manner which meant Liz and I could split up and look at different things, divide and conquer! This would also make it a good experience for larger teams as everyone should be able to find something to work on.
The puzzles in the room were a mixed bag, some decoding, searching, observation, wordplay, the usual really. We clicked with most of the puzzles in this room which meant we didn’t need any clues, although there was one puzzle that we should have got much quicker but we got hung up on something that we really shouldn’t have. Signposting in this room was clear and made for an enjoyable experience with no padlock frustrations.
Some of the searching in the room was very sneaky so make sure you bring your A-Game when searching in Alcatraz. One thing we solved but we couldn’t work out what it actually triggered, it would have been nice to have more guidance to show us exactly what had been released as it was very easy to miss (which we did).
Mads was a lovely gamesmaster and was great from start to end. There was a minor reset error in the room which we spotted early on so we called her in to reset it (didn’t want to cheat), but it was minor and didn’t affect the game at all – she handled it well.
We’re still undecided how we feel about the clue system for this room. If one needs clues, the GM would come to the door and give you advice. Normally we don’t like it when the GM comes to the door to help, but in a way it felt authentic as there was a hatch on the door which she used so she could talk to us as if she were the warden.
The only way the gamemastering could have been improved would have been if our interactions with her were all in character and she played the role of an actual prison warden, especially when delivering clues.
Prison break rooms are probably one of the most common themed rooms out there, but this is one of the better ones. Quite a search heavy room at times, but the puzzles were fair and the signposting was decent.
Considering the age of the room, it didn’t look worn down at all so credit to Houdini’s for keeping on top of maintenance for it.
Team: 2 players (escaped in 41 minutes)
Address: Tenpin, Southampton, SO15 0SD