“Hold on to your butts”
Welcome to Isla Revelles – a previously uncharted island which even the locals won’t go near, rich with clean energy resources ready for distribution. Ferrox Industries recently sent a specialist mining team to the island to start testing and transporting these resources, but after building the mining base, the entire team mysteriously disappeared.
Although the blurb above doesn’t explicitly say it, the name of the game gives one a pretty good idea of what might be in store on Isla Revelles. And in case it really isn’t clear, it’s dinosaurs. I am a child at heart, and before I wanted to be an actor (and after I wanted to be an aeroplane), I wanted to be a palaeontologist, so when I discovered that Houdini’s had a dinosaur adventure, there was no question it would be played.
We have been wanting to visit Houdini’s Southampton locations for years thanks to their excellent reputation, but the timing never seemed to work out – although a world crisis was a cause for six months of the delay. But finally, cabin fever, a lifting of some lockdown restrictions, and a trip outside of London meant an alignment of the stars for a visit to Southampton – specifically, Houdini’s Tenpin venue. After starting the day with a successful Escape from Alcatraz, I was very much looking forward to Extinct.
Houdini’s Escape Room Experience has it all in the name: “Experience.” And it’s clear that the attention to detail isn’t just paid to the puzzle design and set build, but also to the entire customer experience. So, with time to spare between our games, we settled into the cosy reception area, complete with what looked like a station for hot drinks (although this is out of commission at least until masks are not an essential part of daily life in public) and waited for the arrival of our Games Master/helicopter pilot, James.
Fortunately, James arrived to work early, and as we appeared to be the only team in that morning, we didn’t have to wait long, and following a briefing in reception, we were led through to a small cinema, complete with popcorn machine (briefing snacks will probably also be reinstated in the post-pandemic I’m sure) to receive our game specific brifing/intro. As the sound of helicopter rotors faded from our “journey”, the door burst open, and we were ushered onto the island.
Covid Procedures: Houdini’s are doing everything right. (At least, in my opinion, anyway.) Temperatures will be checked, masks are worn by everyone on-site, at all times – no exceptions or exemptions- and hand sanitiser is available in literally every room you enter or pass through, even the games. Games are also staggered, so you will never see anyone outside your group and the Houdini’s staff once you’re inside, but this venue is located inside the Tenpin Bowling Centre, which may impact the number of people encountered during a visit. While normally it looks as though there are some nice touches to the experience involving food and drink, these were suspended for the time being.
Thanks to the introduction to the game, it’s a bit difficult to say when the briefing ended and the experience began, but from the moment we stepped through the door into the space it was clear that Extinct would be no ordinary escape room. Houdini’s have spared no expense, and no detail is too small, from the lighting to the flooring, and even the Ferrox Industries branded hand sanitiser available throughout the game. All of these little details may seem quite minor, but what they add up to is actually an incredibly immersive experience.
As our eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the room, and we collected our torches, I had a brief déjà vu flashback to The Panic Room’s Dino Land, although slightly more compact. The similarities quickly disappeared as the game took on a much darker feel, with an incredibly strong, and intricate narrative, full of twists, and jumps (but nothing too scary). The game felt quite linear in places, although there were a number of more open moments, which allowed our tiny team of two to split up on occasion, and ensures no one will ever feel left out of the action.
And there was certainly action to be had, with the need to climb, crawl, and evade. The set was a joy to explore, with surprises to be had, including cameo appearances from some familiar names to us, and just when we thought we had finished, Extinct threw us a curve ball, extending the mission, and finally driving us toward the finale, with a completely unexpected (but really cool) climax.
The puzzles incorporated a wide variety of skills, including, but not limited to observation, critical thinking, deductive reasoning, communication and more, even incorporating some of the same tasks that have become so prevalent in the online escape rooms. But with the physical nature of many of the puzzles, some of the biggest challenges came from trying to figure out exactly how to interact with your surroundings. One puzzle was actually modified for our game because of broken equipment but although making it a little more complex, didn’t detract from the experience and worked so well, that I didn’t even known it had been modified until we were informed after the fact.
The puzzles themselves were so intuitive and well sign posted, that there was rarely a question of what to do next. Even when we found something that initially felt as though it may just be set dressing, as we moved through the game, suddenly things became apparent to us, resulting in some really wonderful moments of realisation. Many of the tasks throughout the game were more tactile, or computer based, and any physical locks were only present on things that would logically have them, allowing us to forget that we were solving puzzles, and instead become immersed in the mission and the story. But every task throughout the game was so thoroughly ingrained into the narrative, that even solving a more “traditional” escape room-style puzzle for a four digit padlock code felt as though it progressed the story forward.
In our initial brief (prior to our “journey” to the island), I was selected as the “communications expert” and handed a standard walkie talkie, for communication with our helicopter pilot, James, as well as his assistant Mads (our GM from Alcatraz), who was there to learn how to wrangle dinos. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of clues that are delivered via walkie talkie. Unless of course, a walkie is a perfectly logical communication device in the given situation. And when the scenario involves a helicopter drop into a dinosaur-infested island, well, I can’t really think of a more immersive or realistic way to contact the rescue team than by radio.
The puzzles were so intuitive that we never needed to directly contact James to ask for help, although he did chime in every now and then with a bit of exposition, or a comment to ramp up the adrenaline. Given that James knew when to jump in with that, it’s clear that he and Mads were keeping a close eye on what we were up to, and had we needed help, I’ve no doubt it would have come through quickly and, given our entrance to the island, possibly even in some sort of character.
We’ve played a number of good games, and even a handful of truly great games. Extinct is a must-play game. From the moment you start, it’s an adventure, straight through to the heart-pounding conclusion. With an awesome set, tactile and pleasing puzzles, and an intricate narrative, Extinct (Escape from Jurassic Island) is everything I want an escape room to be.
Team: 2 players (escaped in 42:09 minutes, with no clues – at the time the fastest team of two)
Address: Tenpin, Southampton, SO15 0SD