Nothing questionable about this game!
It’s the swinging 60s, an era of tree-hugging, flower-power hippies… But not everything is so rosy. Civilians are going missing. Free-spirited brothers and sisters disappearing every week. Anyone who points the blame on the government vanishes the next day. Join the protests, stick it to the man and expose the truth before you find out the authorities real intentions.
Hounds Escape opened their doors to the public in October 2020 and are conveniently located in Crawley town centre. If you consider yourself to be an escape room enthusiast in the UK (and elsewhere too), chances are you’ve heard of Crawley, if only because you’re familiar with Tulley’s Escape Rooms and their reputation for games with epic sets and loads of content, located a short drive outside of the town. So it stands to reason that if you’re a new escape room company looking to open up just down the road from a venue that’s reputation precedes it, you must have confidence in the quality of your own games. And I have to say, Hounds Escape’s confidence in their product is not misplaced.
It’s always exciting when we hear about a new escape game opening up nearby, and when Hounds Escape received nothing but positive feedback from customers in its first week of opening, we made a plan to visit immediately. Of course, that plan was delayed due to some car trouble, and after a most excellent customer experience, we rescheduled our visit for Halloween. And so, with a second lockdown in England looming in the not too distant future, and the car repaired, we made the drive to Crawley on All Hallows Eve and found ourselves outside the entrance to Hounds Escape for one last hurrah before being confined to our home for a month.
From the beautifully styled reception and licensed bar to the toilets that continued the styling, not to mention the themed entrance to Questionable Ethics itself, it’s clear that the team at the family-run Hounds Escape have an eye for detail. Everything about the venue from the moment we stepped through the door and climbed the stairs felt warm and welcoming, allowing the outside world to fade away. That warmth continued with the greeting we received, and the chat that followed with Julie and Brian, two of the three owners of the venue.
Covid Procedures: Masks were required in all public areas, and we were asked to sanitise hands upon entering. NHS Track and Trace check-ins are also in operation. Hounds Escape have left plenty of time between games to allow the room to air, and no other teams or bar patrons were present in the venue while we were there.
Although we received a short health and safety briefing shortly after arrival, our Questionable Ethics experience really began the moment “Marley” (AKA, David, our GM and the third member of the Hounds Escape family team) entered reception. Dressed in all his tie-dyed hippie glory, Marley proceeded to tell us all about the missing protestors and give us the lowdown on the government facility we were about to enter. And so, fully prepared, we stepped through the door.
Inside was a stark contrast to the warm and welcoming reception area, with the bright lights and stark white walls of the testing facility. With little in the way of set dressing, we didn’t need to take much time to orient ourselves and quickly set to work. The game began with at least two potential starting points and continued to have a rather open structure, with one or two chokepoints which then opened up again as the game progressed, making it ideal for teams of all sizes. But appearances are deceiving, and as the game progressed, the set evolved to help drive the narrative forward, and each discovery made only added to the delight. Indeed, just when we thought the game had finished, there was yet one more challenge in store, adding to a climactic finish.
With a superb set build, excellent and thematic puzzles, a strong story and integrated clues, Questionable Ethics couldn’t help but to be anything other than immersive. Of course, players are very much encouraged to turn up in their own costumes (best dressed even wins a free drink) to further the immersion, but even sans-hippie garb, the game flowed so well that it didn’t matter, and we found ourselves thoroughly engrossed in uncovering the truth and escaping the facility.
The game begins with a so-called intelligence test, designed to test everything from your powers of observation, perception, spatial awareness, and more. And while there are a few things in the “test” that make me cringe whenever I come upon them, Questionable Ethics managed to make them actually enjoyable – possibly because I wasn’t forced to struggle with a spatial awareness task indefinitely until I finally fluked putting things in the right position thanks to a timely intervention by our GM.
As we progressed past the above-mentioned intelligence test, the puzzles became more complex, providing some delightful moments of realisation. Yes, these puzzles were the typical sorts of fare we expect to come across in an escape room, with the usual sorts of logic problems, deductive reasoning, pattern recognition, observation, cyphers, codes, with some minor maths, and utilised a combination of clever tech and traditional physical locks. However, every task and puzzle we encountered was thematic and served to progress the underlying narrative, rather than simply being there to fill the space, making an already immersive game even more so.
Perhaps I’m picky, but how and when clues are delivered can make all the difference to me as to whether a game was simply good, or if it was excellent. Now I hate to have to ask for a clue – nothing is worse to me than being totally stumped on what to do next, and lose the flow of the game, only to finally break the immersion and ask for help and discover that the thing holding us up was not realising that a key piece of a puzzle was on the back of a door we left open. So for me, in order for a game to move from good to excellent, not only do I prefer an attentive GM that knows how to read the room and give subtle nudges at their discretion to keep the pace of the game flowing, but clues must also be delivered in a manner that is appropriate to the theme, thus maintaining the immersion. As I said, I’m picky.
Hounds Escape have struck the balance perfectly. From the moment we met David in the guise of our contact, “Marley,” it was clear that immersion was an important factor in the design of Questionable Ethics. It helped that the puzzles were so intuitive so we didn’t require much help, but the clues were so well integrated into the game that it felt as though they weren’t even clues. The system was two-fold, with Marley having hacked into the government facility to give more direct guidance, but alongside his nudges, was an AI system that gave me flashbacks to one of my favourite games, Venus, giving nudges, but also adding humour to the interactions.
Questionable Ethics is a superb game, run by a talented and passionate family team, and Hounds Escape have managed to take everything that I’ve loved about other venues I’ve visited and games I’ve played and put them all under one roof. The team has big plans for their future, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Team: 2 players – escaped in 42:52
Address: 12 – 13 Queens Square, Crawley, West Sussex, RH10 1DY