A Traditional Escape Room Experience
Jack Armstrong – the world’s most unfortunate detective – is relying on you to clear his good name. In a world steeped in drama and intrigue, in an office full of codes and puzzles lies a sinister tale of betrayal and danger. Sharpen your wits and steel your sense, enter the world of 1940’s film noir and solve the mystery to earn your freedom!
Given the pretty excellent saving we received by booking with the Escape Game Card*, and the fact that we don’t make it down to the South West that often, it was a no brainer to book both rooms at Red House Mysteries’ Exeter location. After successfully completing The Heist, we took a brief walk down to the Quay for a beverage before heading back the venue for The Shadow Darkens. As before, we arrived and were buzzed through the door, and again asked to wait in the foyer until our GM was able to come down to collect us. I suppose this practice provides an opportune moment to use the toilets, as they’re very conveniently located to the right of the entrance.
Once we were back up in the lovely art deco waiting area, we received our briefing. It was a wonderful surprise to realise that the Heist and The Shadow Darkens are actually linked, as Jack Armstrong, “the world’s most unfortunate detective,” has been framed for stealing the very item that we had just made off with in The Heist, and it’s now up to us to clear his name (How convenient…). I do very much enjoy it when venues have rooms that link together this way, and I’m pleased that the timings worked out in a way that allowed us to play the Heist first, although they would still link together well with the order reversed. With our mission fully understood, we entered the door to Jack Armstrong’s office.
We needed to find the evidence to clear Jack Armstrong’s name, and identify the person that set him up, amongst other things. The tasks throughout The Shadow Darkens were pretty typical for the sorts of things I expect to see in escape rooms, with a bit of searching, some decoding, and a hefty amount of logic. The game does well to avoid an abundance of anachronistic padlocks, instead relying on some tech and clever mechanisms, helping the game to feel a bit more immersive.
Gameplay was relatively linear, although I often found myself working on something independently from the team. But this may have stemmed from the volume of written material we needed to sift through. Following the narrative here is key to actually successfully completing the room, and as Gord would much rather work on a puzzle than worry about the story, sorting through the written material to determine what was useful fell to me. With this in mind, I would say that, particularly for experienced players, playing with more than four will see some of the team a bit at a loss for what to do, and suggest playing in smaller teams.
It’s hard to go wrong with an office setting, and Red House Mysteries have done well to give the office a ‘40’s film noir feel, not unlike the set of The Maltese Falcon, with solid, heavy wood furniture, period props, and beautiful wallpaper. There was plenty of set dressing, but the set was pleasantly free of red herrings.
We did find that the game does suffer some from a bit of wear and tear.. Along with another issue that I’ll detail further a bit later, Gord was able to completely bypass one puzzle simply by looking at the mechanism closely and following the logic. It wasn’t until two others in the team were trying to solve the only remaining puzzle that Gord realised the mechanism by itself wasn’t the puzzle, and that it had already been done.
20 minutes into the game and we had found everything we needed and identified the correct evidence to clear Jack’s name without any assistance, but the door refused to open. We were told from the outset that if we needed any clues we would use the phone to reach our GM, so after a few minutes where we could see nothing else we would need to do, we picked up the phone to check that everything was working as it should. At this point, we needed to describe to our GM exactly what evidence we used to clear Jack’s name. We were then told that the mechanism could be a bit temperamental, but I could see nothing in the evidence that we had hung up on the wall to indicate that there were sensors that would be triggered when the correct evidence was put into place; I can only assume that we were actually meant to phone our GM with this information so that the final mechanism could be turned on, as we had everything in place for over five minutes (and had even already tried “wiggling it a bit”) and it wasn’t until we contacted our GM that this finally opened.
I’m fine with needing to relay information like this to the GM in order to progress the game, but if that is the case, then Red House Mysteries needs to revisit the policy of one GM running reception and two rooms simultaneously and we should have been told that we would need to phone through with the evidence from the outset. Of course, it could just be that the mechanism was actually faulty, and just wasn’t clicking in until after we phoned through and tried again.
My gripes regarding the staffing aside, our GM was just as friendly as she was earlier in the day, and was able to offer guidance promptly when we did run into the issue, although she did seem taken aback by the speed of our escape.
The strangest thing about Red House Mysteries is the “one team at a time in the reception room” rule. After we escaped The Heist so quickly, we were asked to wait in the hallway while the team that was about to go into The Shadow Darkens completed their briefing. This time, we finished so quickly that the team that had just arrived for The Heist was sent back to the hall while we had our debrief. It’s probably down to the fact that there is only one GM for the two rooms, and I understand wanting to avoid spoilers, but it just felt a bit odd.
Team: 4 players – escaped in 25:06
Address: Red House Mysteries, King Street, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1BQ
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