Directed by Adam Robitel
No Spoilers ahead beyond what has already been shown in the trailers
‘They’re watching us. They know every move that we’re making.’
I’m going to start this review with a little bit of context about myself. For over a year now I have been a ‘Games Master/Events Supervisor/Room Runner/That bloke who just gave us the brief’ at a relatively popular Escape Room company in central England. My role is to monitor the players via CCTV, give clues when necessary, and to reset the room before the next group arrives, as well as some general maintenance and repairs. So, when I saw the trailer for Escape Room, a 2019 film where six strangers are locked in a room forced to solve a number of cryptic puzzles for their survival (Not to be confused with Escape Room, a 2017 film where six friends are locked in a room forced to solve a number of cryptic puzzles for their survival; or Escape Room, the other 2017 film where four friends are locked in a room forced to solve a number of cryptic puzzles for their survival), my curiosity was piqued.
Just how well would the idea of an escape room be represented? Would they bother to fabricate actual solvable puzzles, or would their focus be primarily on gore and spectacle? To delve into this, I put myself into the mindset of a hypothetical player of these rooms, to see how well the fictional rooms of Minos Escape Rooms would hold up as an experience…
I’ve done a handful of escape rooms, not enough to call myself an expert but I’m always up for one if the offer’s there. So, when I got an invitation from Minos Escape Rooms (Loving the reference by the way) to play their new escape room for FREE, with the potential to win a further $10,000 I was well up for the challenge!
I’ll start with some positives. First off, the production value is top notch. There’s some really nice room designs there, beyond even the ones I played in Amsterdam (and I thought they’d be insurmountable). I don’t want to spoil too much in case other people want to play it, but I’d happily pay the extra $15 for this, maybe even more. There’s one room that’s an upside-down bar, another where you feel like you’re actually outside in a forest, just top-quality sets, and a good number of them as well. I feel bad for whoever has to reset it all afterwards as they have a hell of a job to do.
At first, I was a little bit confused by what the general theme of the rooms were. There didn’t seem to be anything linking them together, cool as they were, they just seemed to be disparate ideas and concepts lumped together. It was about halfway through when one of the other players pointed out that each of the rooms were based on specific harrowing experiences from our pasts that it all came together. We did a horror escape room in Nottingham for Kevin’s stag do once where we gave them pictures of Kevin as a kid to hide in the room before we played, you know to freak him out a bit. This was a bit like that, except instead of pictures of us it was entire rooms dedicated to recreating traumatic near-death experiences that we needed years of regular counselling sessions to cope with. I admire the attention to detail and all the little hidden secrets and references around the rooms, but I’d have preferred a theme maybe a bit less distressing like ‘Bank Heist’ or ‘Egypt’.
That being said, it’s often the case that an escape room will have a 'ticking bomb’ sort of gimmick, you know, 'you have an hour before the tomb collapses', or ‘you have an hour before the missile fires’, but in the end all that happens is the games master comes in and says you’ve lost. It was nice to see that this time we were actually in a massive oven, it really added to the suspense of the situation.
Unfortunately, it was in this first room, the oven room, that the puzzles didn’t flow all too well. As far as I could tell, some of the puzzles we solved didn’t help us progress at all and only made the room hotter. This isn’t good game design, as it felt like we were being punished for solving things instead of being rewarded. On reflection, I can see a way we could have made it out of that room without turning on the oven whatsoever. It was only by chance that we solved one of the ‘bad’ puzzles first.
Aside from that, the puzzles were surprisingly decent and well thought out (well, for the most part at least). They were rational and well researched, and not too divergent from other puzzles I’ve come across, at least in concept. One outlier of a puzzle involved a lamp falling into the perfect position to light up a particular clue on the wall. It was a bit far-fetched that they’d rig a lamp to fall so spot-on but it sort of matched the clue we were given a second before so we went with it. As well as that, I’m pretty sure some of them we didn’t solve in the intended way; often our solutions at times seemed a bit bizarre and left field. For example, if you do play it, you’ll come across a key in a big block of ice at one point. There was no indication as to how we were supposed to get the key out, so we just put our hands on it and waited for it to melt which wasted a lot of game time. Maybe we were just dumb, I dunno lol! It was one of a good few bonding moments though, so I’ll let it pass.
Speaking of which, it was interesting to play with a group of strangers. I normally play with mates as I find most strangers to be absolute arseholes, but these guys were surprisingly likeable. They didn’t have too much depth of course but were certainly a lot more interesting and relatable than most strangers are. There was only one guy who was an absolute arse and another who was an occasional arse but a 1:5 arsehole ratio is pretty decent in my view. To tell the truth, I normally don’t care if people die in these sorts of situations, but I found myself murmuring in dismay fairly frequently as my teammates perished one by one. It’s a shame, we were able to work quite well together at points.
So yeah, I probably should address the elephant in the room at this point: A number of my teammates did die in quite horrible ways when playing this escape room. I get it, it’s a newly built room, you can’t build precautions for every single scenario, maybe we were just an unlucky group, but it unfortunately really did hamper our experience.
I’ve never seen the Saw films, but I have read all the synopsis on Wikipedia when I was feeling particularly morbid late one night, so I know those films aren’t for me. And I get the comparison that could be made between the Saw films and our own experience of this escape room, but they aren’t as similar as you’d think. Happily, despite the number of horrifying deaths that occurred, I saw minimal gore. My teammates deaths were tense and sometimes surprising without being needlessly vulgar or tasteless, which for my sake I am thankful for.
Overall, despite the unfortunate setbacks, I quite enjoyed my experience at Minos Escape Rooms. There was of course the red herring near the end, but it was satisfying and fun enough that I could overlook its predictability. That being said, there are better rooms to play at the moment. Lego’s new Escape room comes to mind; as well as the futuristic anime looking one with the big eyes; and I haven’t played it yet, but Dream-locks new Dragon themed room is apparently a must. But if you’ve exhausted all those and are looking for a thrill then Minos’ Escape Room wouldn’t be a bad shout. Once they’ve sorted out their kinks, I’d maybe see what more they offer down the line (though hopefully not too much more; I could easily see sequels going down-hill.) But yeah, quite fun in the end.
I give this film a 5/7 for being a fun, tense and thankfully not overtly crass horror romp