Another promotional escape game along the lines of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Escape the Bunker (Review: http://scareaddicts.com/bunker-escape) and Insight TV’s Dracula Escape Experience (Review http://scareaddicts.com/insight-tv-dracula-escape-experience-review). This event was set up to coincide with the release of the hotly anticipated Resident Evil 7 videogame. The attraction was modelled very closely on the game, which we had the opportunity to play before entering. This provided a better context for the insanity that was to unfold!
Ordinarily, we don’t discuss specific details as this spoils the experience for anyone intending to visit an attraction. However, this was a temporary room that has now closed so it can’t really be spoiled. If you want to hold onto the hope that it may return in the future, be warned that we’re going to get very detailed over the next few paragraphs!!
The experience started with an actor led scene – we were joining a small media company called Sewer Gators who specialised in documenting haunted houses. Unfortunately, the crew went missing on their latest shoot. Hired as interns (with the prospect of a fulltime job if we successfully located the missing crew), we were led to the house where the ill-fated shoot had taken place.
The door was opened by our chaperone and in we stepped. We were left to it with our first task being to go downstairs into the basement. Before we even got that far though we had to walk past a baby doll that was crawling across the floor, setting the tone immediately!!
In the basement, we found a TV and VCR which played a recording by one of the Sewer Gators crew, Clancy. He was being held captive in one of the upstairs bedrooms and needed our help if he was to break free. He explained what we needed to do and how to do it and, with that, we moved into the first room and the experience properly began!
Clancy’s recording warned us that we were likely to encounter the Baker family. If we did, our best hope of survival was to attempt to spike their food/drink. So it was serendipity that we started in the kitchen! Here our task was to create the cocktail that would incapacitate the Bakers. Of course, it wouldn’t be as simple as mixing a few different ingredients together would it? The recipe for the cocktail was hidden inside a morgue cold chamber in the room adjacent to the kitchen! One of us had to climb all the way inside to try and find the recipe. Upon entering it fully, a number of effects were triggered – the thing started vibrating and making noises which totally distracted from the task at hand!! We eventually got there and more or less made up the concoction before it was time to move onto the next room. As the door shut behind us, we realised that we’d left our torch behind!! That’s how engaged we were in the experience! The way the game worked, once we entered a new area, we couldn’t return to a previous one. So, sadly, the torch was gone!
The following room was probably the least engaging with a run of the mill riddle task to solve although it concluded with our first encounter with a member of the Baker clan, a severely infected Lucas. He quickly pulled hoods over our heads and dragged us into the next scene – dinner!
This and the room that followed were our favourites by a large margin. As well as being big set pieces, the gameplay styles varied in these two scenes, offering some variety to the ‘search for clues and solve the puzzles’ set up that you usually come across in escape games. Here we were invited to have dinner with Lucas and his father, Jack Baker. I made the mistake of wearing my hat to the dinner table, something that greatly displeased Jack who ripped it off my head and tossed it across the table, berating me for my poor table manners! After he’d cooled down, dinner was served and neither of us were particularly enthused about the offerings – a plate adorned with an assortment of dead insects. Our dismissal of Jack’s generous hospitality caused him to shout and gesticulate wildly at us before he eventually calmed down and a realisation hit the pair – maybe we just wanted some gravy to accompany the dubious comestibles! And the game was on!
Remember how our initial brief was to drug the family? Here was our opportunity as my teammate was excused from the table to go fetch the gravy. With his back turned, the drug was stealthily administered to the gravy before he returned to the table with the tainted ladle in hand. Jack dived right in scooping up handfuls of the stuff, smearing as much of it over his face and chest as he swallowed. He then took to leaning over us, dribbling the greyish liquid onto our faces.
And then I was ordered by Lucas to fetch him and Jack some whiskey. With a stealthy handover as I stood up, the vial was now in my hands. With my back to the room, I poured the drug into the glasses as inconspicuously as possible and swiftly added the whiskey. There was also a bullet on the table that I swiped (we were told to take any items that were marked with a yellow triangle as this one was). I was obviously taking too long though and before I knew it, Lucas was behind me, demanding to know where the drinks were. This put me in a moment of panic as I didn’t have time to stash the bullet or empty vial away; they were still in my right hand! Convinced that he’d see them, I shoved one of the glasses into his hand, distracting him long enough to allow me to drop the vial and bullet into my pocket. The other glass I passed to Jack. Much like the gravy, they didn’t really imbibe much of the alcohol. Instead, they paraded around the room, shouting all manner of threats and spitting the drink at us!
Eventually, the drugs began to kick in and they slowed, giving us the opportunity to escape, but where? There were stairs leading up to the attic but there was a motorised door blocking the way and we didn’t have the key. Jack did. Super cautiously, we removed the key from Jack’s now unconscious body and activated the attic door. The door began to lower, painfully slowly, and we made our way up the stairs as far as we could, desperate to exploit this opportunity of freedom! Problem was, Jack and Lucas were now coming around and they weren’t too happy with the fact that we were making a bid for the exit! And the door was still opening! Jack made it to the first stair and managed to grab one of our legs before the door fully opened. We wasted no time scrambling into the attic. Luckily, they were too weakened to follow us up although this next area was hardly a sanctuary!
There was a very simple puzzle to solve here, we needed to collect 4 cards that were scattered around the space. Once we had them all, we just had to order them in a way that gave us the combination to a padlock. A classic escape room puzzle. Except that it wasn’t that simple! Another of the Baker clan, Marguerite, was on patrol and this time, there was no food or drink to spike! So all we could do was hide…
As mentioned earlier; before going into the experience, they had several game pods set up where you could play demos of Resident Evil 7. One of these was called Lantern. This section of the experience was the lantern demo brought to life where death is guaranteed if you get caught. So stealth is the name of the game! The first time that Marguerite entered the room, we hid at opposite ends of the room, keeping dead still whilst she performed her patrol and, eventually, left the room. We then continued with the puzzle until she returned! I assumed the same hiding place as the first time, my teammate took this large wicker basket that, conveniently, had a lid. Now, this part was super tense as I wasn’t quite sure what would happen if we got caught. Consequently, I focused so intently on not moving a spot that I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening in the room. If I had been watching, I would have realised that Marguerite had circled around my hiding spot and was now standing right behind me! A quick jab to my back with her broom told me that the jig was up and she screamed at me to stand up. I’m probably one of the least audible people you’ll ever see go through a scare attraction but this got me shouting out! It was the combination of being so completely zoned out, fixated on nothing else but staying statue-still, and the physical jolt of the broom that proved to be a real shock to the system! She demanded to know if anyone else was with me and I was half tempted to tell the truth, anxious of how she might react if she learned that I lied to her but I shook my head. However, she knew. She made her way over to that basket, smashed the broom handle down on the lid a couple of times and then quickly flipped it open, revealing my teammate curled into the small space of the basket! Making him also stand up, she informed us that she was now going to get Jack and Lucas to sort us out and disappeared to retrieve them. This was really worrying – not only had we drugged them but I’d stolen one of their bullets – I did not want to encounter those two again! We quickly completed the puzzle, which revealed a classic Resident Evil item, a crank. Using this we lowered a key that was suspended from the ceiling. And then we got out of that room as quickly as humanly possible. Coming face to face with any of the Baker clan again was an undesirable situation!
The next room was actor-free but no less disturbing for it; every wall was covered in dolls! Here was another padlock puzzle with a simple clue – the padlock had three numbers and we had to count the number of dolls that were decapitated, blind and crying. The decapitated and blind dolls were fairly easy to spot but the crying ones were more difficult. For those, we had to discern which dolls were making a wailing noise. It sounds straight forward but there were so many dolls on the wall and more than one was crying; pinpointing the exact number became pretty difficult! This was a clever way of making a simple puzzle more challenging and soon were unlocking the padlock, climbing through a hatch in the wall into the final scene of the experience.
We located Clancy in this room, chained to a bed. As luck would have it, one of the keys that we found during the game unlocked his chain. He instantly lunged at us and we regretted freeing him immediately! However, it turned out he was just happy that we freed him and definitely did not want to kill us! With the other key that we had in our possession, he opened a small lockbox and produced a gun. I then gave him the bullet that I’d stolen from Jack and Lucas at dinner and, presto, we were armed. Albeit ridiculously inefficiently! Our final task was to find the key that’d get us out of the house. After a quick perusal around the room, we made our way over to the wardrobe. Opening that revealed the remaining Sewer Gators crew member although this dude was infected and crazy. He blamed us for what had happened to him when we were the ones trying to save him! Unfortunately, he also had the key we needed! He just wouldn’t cease moving towards us, his eyes brimming with murderous intent. Eventually, Clancy had no choice but to put him down with our solo bullet. It did the job and we were free! Although Clancy refused to accompany us as Marguerite wasn’t yet incapacitated, electing to remain in the house to take care of her. And as we left, the man that we shot reanimated in true Resident Evil fashion! We left Clancy to deal with it.
Everything. This was just an utterly fantastic experience that, for 45 mins, had us completely immersed in the world of the Baker clan.
The acting was brilliant – I loved the improvisation of Jack regarding my wearing of a hat at dinner. It was exactly the sort of thing that you’d expect that character to do and really gave the feeling that the actor had totally embodied that character. It was a small touch but we find it’s those little things that add the detail, proving that whilst there’s a script, these characters were living, not bound to words on a page! And, I have mad respect for the actress playing Marguerite, I really don’t know how she didn’t burst into laughter in her scene. From the undoubtedly comical reactions you’d get from people scared to death of being discovered to the ridiculous sight of people curled up in a four-foot long basket, I’d have not been able to contain myself! I bet she has some great stories from those four days!
The way that the game played with the immersive aspects was something that we haven’t really seen done before. Having to drug the Bakers and also my opportunistic theft of their bullet were elements that pushed the idea of immersive experiences to new places. It was more than the typical asking a character for a piece of information etc. The people behind this game had clearly given a lot of thought to making the world feel real. At no point did the experience feel scripted – even in the moments where it very clearly was. And on a more simple level, we could smell that dinner from two rooms away! Every sense had been catered for!
One final observation that we’d love escape rooms to consider – we were issued with a scorecard upon completion of the experience. This was a unique feature that we haven’t seen implemented before. For every element of the game, we were scored – out of a total of 75 we scored 48 but we’re told that we were in the top-ten with the highest being in the mid 50s. We imagine that this idea, if used correctly, could add replayablity to escape rooms. I definitely felt a strong desire to return and attempt to improve upon the areas that we underperformed in!
Whilst we’re completely in love with the experience, we found the puzzles a bit too basic. We guess that it’s something that you sacrifice when featuring multiple rooms and live actors. I’d rather be able to see the entire experience than run out of time halfway through and not see anything. Therefore, the puzzles were an acceptable compromise but this could be worked on if it returns in some form.
And, we know that it’s a promotional room to tie in with the release of Resident Evil 7 but the simple fact is that the game was unreleased at the time the experience was running. The Bakers, whilst fun characters, are not (yet) as iconic to us as Leon, Chris, Claire etc. An attraction that revisited the classic games would have been such an amazing experience. It’s a timing thing. We’re sure that if this returned in a year’s time, it would mean more to us!
What can we say? It’s over now but if a promotional game/experience pops up for a brand, make the effort to go! We’ve attended a few now and they’ve all been great although this was by far the best. It was worth the early hour queuing – by 9:30am on our day, the slots had all been filled.
Rating: ***** (Out of 5) – Must Go!
Ticket Price: Free
Address: The Dray Walk Gallery, 91 Brick Ln, London E1 6QL
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(***** Must Go!, **** Recommend, *** Flawed but worth checking out, ** Prepare to be disappointed, * Avoid!)