The best escape room in the world? Maybe
This is the only place of worship in Lockhill. Even though it is supposed to be a place of peace and quiet, my skin crawls whenever I go near it. Maybe it’s just the catacombs next to it, or maybe it’s something else…” – Excerpt from the diary of Professor Nathan Jones.
We played a number of excellent and highly regarded games throughout our time in Athens, but the one we were perhaps most excited to play was Chapel and Catacombs by Lockhill. Chapel and Catacombs is the fourth game by Lockhill, and it emerged at #7 in the TERPECAs after opening in 2021, before claiming the top spot in the world in 2022 (where we had the absolute pleasure of introducing it in the awards ceremony).
Lockhill market themselves as “The most thematic escape games in Europe.” But what, exactly, does that mean? Well, we were about to find out. After an impromptu warm-up game across town (The Dark Side of the Elements at Exit Plan Escape Rooms, in case you’re curious), our team of four made our way out to Lockhill’s second venue, conveniently located just a short walk away from Perissos (on the M1 line). From there, Lockhill was just a short stroll away and the building was easy to spot. We made our way inside, walked up the stairs and found ourselves… outside another train station.
Seeing that the next train to Lockhill was due soon (i.e., our booking slot), we knocked on the window, and just a few moments later the station master, whom we later discovered was named Bathilda (and is also the baker in the little town of Lockhill), slid open the window and sold us our tickets. Bathilda promptly disappeared, and we boarded the train to Lockhill. As we settled in for the journey, a screen flickered to life and it quickly became apparent that we had arranged our two games with Lockhill in the wrong order. As our train carried us on to the town of Lockhill, the video recapped the events of the other mysteries we should have solved in the town of Lockhill, none of which we had actually played at that point. While it didn’t make any difference at all to understanding the subplot of Chapel and Catacombs, playing the games in the order in which they were built (Lockwood Manor, The Voodoo Shop, The Sanitorium, and finally, Chapel and Catacombs) might have tied the underlying narrative together better and avoids any potential story spoilers for those that are sticklers for continuity. But Lockhill themselves don’t insist on visitors playing in any particular order, so don’t worry too much if you skip the older games, or play them in no particular order. It certainly had no effect on our enjoyment of the experience, nor did it tarnish The Sanitorium when we tackled that just a few hours later.
Eventually the train came to a stop, and we found ourselves in a little village, complete with houses, streets, a pub, a few other businesses, and of course, the ominous looking Chapel at the edge of town. We wandered aimlessly for a bit until we encountered William, who, thankfully, was able to give us a little more information about the strange happenings in Lockwood, and most importantly, what we were to do once we went inside the Chapel and down into the Catacombs.
We realised quickly that our visit to Lockhill would be something special, but the scale of what they have achieved here doesn’t really hit you until you enter the Chapel. I’ve been in a fair few houses of worship over the years, and even a few catacombs, and that first peek around the corner once we were inside gave me a moment of pure awe. That awe only grew as we ventured further into the depths of the Catacombs underneath the Chapel, with the scale of the set punctuated by perfectly timed moments of breath-taking practical effects, and pure cinematic-style magic.
If you’ve read this far, then you know that the world building surrounding their games ensures that players become immersed in the Lockhill universe before the game even begins. But really, it was so much more than the incredible set design that made this happen. From the moment we boarded the train, there was an almost tangible atmosphere surrounding us. Everything is shrouded in mystery, there is a sense of dread permeating the air, and every new encounter or discovery only served to fuel those feelings of anticipation and unease. The set, lighting and sound design all played their part, but it was the character interactions that really solidified this experience as a must-play. Despite the fact that we all know we’re there for a game, not one of the people we encountered within Lockhill ever once gave any indication that this was anything other than real, from the greeting at the station to the farewell as we were ushered out the door. This made it so incredibly easy to suspend our disbelief and just roll with it, allowing ourselves to become fully immersed in the adventure.
And what an adventure it was! From the infiltration of the chapel to the frantic chases through the catacombs, or the minutes of respite in vestry followed by panic in the graveyard, there were moments of total delight combined with those of sheer terror as we followed the trail of breadcrumbs to uncover the story that permeated everything we found within Chapel and Catacombs.
While they were excellent, and some were exceptionally clever, in reality the puzzles throughout Chapel and Catacombs were not the highlight of this experience, and that is in part what makes it so immersive. The puzzles we encountered emerged almost organically out of the settings, practically blending into the background, as the overwhelming awe from the scale of the set and the events that took place within it became the centrepieces of the experience. The puzzles blended so well with the narrative and were so intuitive that they never actually felt like puzzles, but instead simply things that must be done to escape with our lives (just kidding…kinda.)
Pattern recognition, observation, logic, deductive reasoning, some searching, a keen sense of direction, communication, teamwork, and keeping your cool in the face of terror were all necessary skills to escape the catacombs. While the puzzles progressed in a linear fashion, none of the team were ever shut out of the solving, because each puzzle had layers that required different skills and provided each of us an opportunity to shine. And if anyone wasn’t actively involved in solving, they were instead, very much on the lookout for the next thing that might creep around a corner.
We were greeted upon arrival in Lockhill by the enigmatic William, but he wasn’t necessarily our GM, since we also encountered a number of the other residents of Lockhill throughout our adventure. But once we were inside the chapel, we discovered that, unlike many escape rooms that have a single method of clue delivery, help was available in a variety of forms throughout Chapel and Catacombs, and was provided in such a way that the immersion in the game was never broken. The way in which one received assistance was as varied as the spaces we encountered throughout the vast expanse of the Chapel and the Catacombs, but rest assured, if you need help, you will receive it… probably.
On another note, this is the most logical place to give a shout-out to the actors and the cast of characters within Chapel and Catacombs. I have no idea how many people were actually present to give life to the characters and entities we met throughout Chapel and Catacombs, but we directly interacted with no less than four different characters and at times it felt as though we were terrorised by an entire host of what we lovingly began to refer to as “Spoops*,” in addition to the other people we encountered. The performances by the actors were incredible and are really what pushed Chapel and Catacombs from exceptional to extraordinary.
In a city full of world-class escape rooms, Chapel and Catacombs stands out and was nothing short of incredible. I guess there’s a reason why it’s currently ranked by enthusiasts as the #1 game in the world. While I hate to add to the hype, if I were asked, “What should I play in Athens if I only have time for one game?” There is no question, it would be this one. I cannot wait to see what happens next in The House on the Hill. (Good thing Athens is pretty easy to get to from the UK.)
*SPOOP noun: An entity that appears from nowhere and causes unease, surprise or alarm. Like “Spook” but makes you poop. The appearance of a Spoop requires the team to shout “Spoop!” in terror and Scooby-Doo shuffle rapidly in the opposite direction.
Team: 4 players – escaped in around 1hr 38mins (and loved every minute of it)
Address: Averof 30, Nea Ionia, 14232