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Locked in a Room at the ExCeL Centre
24th May 2018


Publicity image for Timelock

Photography provided by Locked in a Room

Escape rooms have been springing up all over the place with increasing frequency over the last few years as nostalgia for The Crystal Maze and old school point and click adventure games continues to thrive. Taking the best of the 1990s, the theatre and a skill for making the most out of tiny spaces, escape rooms generally make for an hour of brain-challenging fun. Locked in a Room, a company that have also found success elsewhere in Bristol and Milton Keynes, offer two of their games, Invisibility Gene and Timelock, here in London. With most of our large group relative novices, we opted for the easier of the two, Timelock.

On beginning the game, players take on the guise of respected scientists working on secret government-funded projects in an abandoned warehouse in the Docklands. One of our peers, Professor Samuel Pottenger has just been carted off, leaving us to figure out who has taken him and why. I'll be perfectly honest - so focused were we on escaping the room, I still have no idea what Pottenger's deadly secret was... Still, a win is a win and we have a certificate that proves as much...

There are eight identical Timelock escape rooms, allowing for groups of up to 48 people to compete against the clock in the same challenge at the same time. There are a further five identical (harder) Invisibility Gene rooms, allowing for another 30 players to battle the clock at the same time. The sheer volume of rooms is the venue's biggest selling point - it's unusual for any London venue to have so much capacity.

In actively targeting the corporate market, Locked in a Room have admittedly become impersonal. Despite arriving early, our pre-game brief was delayed by 15 minutes because our host was waiting for other groups to show up. You literally are treated as a number, with each team arbitrarily named based on all the combined bookings for that time slot. A small point, but asking each team what they would like to be called would help take away from the factory line feel.

Whilst our host was friendly enough, it was bad form for him to loudly discuss a discount offered to another group in clear earshot of us. No one likes to feel ripped off and combined with the additional wait, we weren't made to feel particularly special. Post-game photographs were limited to each corporate booking, as opposed to each team and were poor quality and unflattering. A shame, given that the post-game reception area is the most impressive part of the venue. We really should have taken advantage of all the props and taken our own snaps with smartphones, but we were too busy basking in our success to think anymore.

Publicity image for Timelock

Photography provided by Locked in a Room

Locked in a Room are apparently proud of how many media companies have asked to used their facilities as a film backdrop, however given each escape room is shrouded in mystery, it's clear this is a reference to to the post-game reception area only. The rooms themselves are rather less extravagant and in comparison to other escape room games in London, quite low key and low tech. Low key of course only being in terms of the decor - it's quite high key when it comes to the number of padlocks in the room, with lots of key locks and code locks. If you're not feeling confident about getting out, just recruit a locksmith to be one of your team mates and you're sorted...

All three of our teams managed to solve the first puzzle without actually reading the first clue. However, it soon became apparent a calmer, more methodical approach was needed to really succeed. (The one team that didn't realise this ended up trapped!) Paper is provided for making notes and although all of our teams merrily ignored this, with the benefit of hindsight, there were times when using the paper would have helped speed up our progress. Use what you are given! Each room does also have a games master remotely feeding additional clues to the players by means of a monitor and from time to time did give us a cryptic nudge back on track.

Most of the clues are logical and reasonably straightforward. There were however a couple of stinkers; one half-way through and one just before the end. In both cases, it wasn't the mental aspect of the clue that was difficult to solve, rather physically they were both a bit awkward and fiddly. Our fastest team battled through anyway, our second team were spoon-fed the solution by their games master and our third team were seemingly left to their own disorganised devices, with limited additional help.

A good option for corporate escape room beginners, mainly due to the ease of booking and number of rooms available, yet unlikely to impress those with more experience. The increased competitive element of simultaneously playing the same challenge was definitely what appealed to us the most. Not necessarily one to bring your mates along to for a night out, but definitely one for large businesses in and around Canary Wharf to enjoy.

Timelock is currently booking until 31st January 2019 at Locked in a Room at the ExCeL Centre.

Nearest tube station: Custom House (DLR)

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