Awwww, The Crystal Maze.
How I loved settling in on a Saturday night to bask in the tension, the adulation and the suspense of a contestant from Luton dressed in an unflattering boiler suit, trying to escape a themed room with a shiny hexagon ball. How I admired the off the cuff comments and harmonica playing of Richard O Brien. How I strongly questioned his relationship with his ‘mumsy.’
Not only did each themed zone look delightfully fun, but I knew, with absolute certainty, that if I were playing I would solve every puzzle, win every crystal and escape every room.
More fool me.
Puzzlair, the live escape game recently opened in Bristol, proved to me that I was so very wrong about that. That solving riddles under pressure is hard.
In Puzzlair, which dubs itself a ‘4D puzzle game,’ you are invited to either solve the murder of John Monroe, or find the blood serum of Dr Lev Pasted, working with your teammates to solve clues, open doors, unlock padlocks and boxes, and generally run around screaming ‘DOES THIS MEAN SOMETHING,’ whilst brandishing a plastic mouse.
I was delighted to be asked*, with four of my chums, to try out one of their game rooms and investigate the secret hideout and laboratory of the mysterious Romanian geneticist and biologist Dr. Lev Pasted.
Myself and my buddies entered a blood stained nutty room (or ramshackle science lab) to be faced with the brutal knowledge (delivered via voiceover) that we would be ‘gasified’ in 60 minutes unless we found Dr Lev Pasted’s blood elixir. And then a monitor on the wall started to tick down those minutes. We all panicked. Someone asked ‘who is this Lev Pasted, and why does HE WANT ME DEAD?’ Having been on the website and done some background research, I knew who Dr Lev Pasted was, but to an outsider the preamble isn’t all that clear or even explained.
But I suspect that’s the point – to enter the room cold and focus on every single inch of wall, floor and ceiling, because anything and everything could be a clue, and part of the fun is uncovering the mystery behind the dozens of newspaper clippings pinned to the wall, the fake blood on the walls, and the various bits of science paraphernalia in Mr Pasted’s nutty room.
As myself and my team desperately searched for clues, trying out codes around the room (which could just have been measurements for unfinished building work) on the various safes, padlocks and briefcases dotted around the rooms, I understood what it felt like to be a character in a LucasArts game like ‘Day of the Tentacle,’ trying out the stick with the hairdryer, or the battery with the padlock. It was both thrilling and stressful.
But good stress, not like, filling out your tax return stress.
Luckily Puzzlair are on hand to give you clues via the monitor, serving as your online walkthrough whenever they feel you need them, or more likely when they spot the tears in your eyes as you madly dash from one spot to another, randomly shouting out letters and codes and staring at the manufacturing information on the undercarriage of radios whilst screaming ‘WHO CAN SPEAK FRENCH!’
Puzzlair told us not to worry about making a mess of the place as it was in keeping with the spirit of the game and necessary due to time pressures, and the rebellious joy of turning a room upside down is something not experienced when playing a computer game, like the similarly themed ‘The Room.’ However in the virtual reality world of ‘The Room’ I always feel a little smugger and smarter by the end of it. I don’t make clumsy mistakes in the last two minutes, preventing everyone from completing the game and leading to us being gasified.
I killed us all. And for that I am sorry*.
Puzzlair is very different sort of night out – a role playing game mashed up with Cludeo, where you have the chance to be both detective and old school Lucas Arts character as you attempt to put your brain to good use after years without schooling. I would recommend Puzzlair to any and all who crave a little bit of escapism, to companies who want their employees to work on their team building skills without having to build a bridge over a river and to anyone who wants a immersive distraction from the everyday.
I would especially recommend it to those who are trumped on where to take a potential regular sex partner on a future date.
My only criticism of it is the price – it might put some people off as £17-25 each is a little steep for an hours worth of fun. I would also love love love to see some more mystery built into the entrance to the game – some sort of spooky actor greeting you perhaps?
Overall I look forward to returning and trying out the other escape room. And not fucking up in the last two minutes and ruining the game for the other players.
*Yes – they totally gave me a free game in exchange for a review, which, like the barely- functioning-in-the-real-world escapist fun junkie I am, I took. Plus the idea of Puzzlair is the epitome of my wet dream – a chance to become a first person computer game character (but with the ability to see your own feet,) as you spend 60 minutes attempting to solve a mystery and escape a room using only your wits, cunning and ability to tear said room apart to find clues, codes and riddles. What a treat.