Nottingham Escapologic: Heistakes Review

Our first attempt to rob Lloyds bank was perhaps doomed from the start.

We nearly died several times just walking up the hill to on a bitterly cold, icy night. And worse, usual team genius Matthew was offered a job interview in Oxford the next morning, and wasn’t able to make it to the heist.┬áBut John is a starving student so the idea of robbing a bank still appealed, and we arrived to tackle the room together. The look we got from the staff member who greeted us said it all: the sort of look you might get from your teacher when you, a solid B student, say you’re applying to Cambridge University. is a difficult room and not well suited to two relatively inexperienced players.

It’s not a spoiler to mention that there are two rooms in Heistakes. The briefing makes this clear, and is likely the longest you’ll spend in the starting area, with most of the game taking place in the second room. The game master was lovely, and laughed at our stupid jokes that she no doubt hears from every single group that try the room. I’m sure she’s ready to shoot herself every time a group comes out with the same lines but despite probably being dead inside she was very enthusiastic and upbeat.

John was on form and we immediately found some hats to wear. Also, he solved the first set of puzzles by himself, which was a promising start. We were quickly into the main game, and as this is an Escapologic room, naturally the atmosphere is on point. John described it as “peng”, and then immediately offered to drown himself in the Trent, mortified at his own choice of word. But “peng” or otherwise, it’s really cool when you first get to see the vault. Escapologic managed to make it feel slightly futuristic with blue lighting and some other nice little effects and decoration, even a clearly present day setting. Suitable music plays in the background and although the room looks a little compared to some escape games, the sparse design is in keeping with the theme.

Having marvelled at the look of the room, we got to work solving the puzzles…. actually no, we immediately got stuck. Two of the early puzzles aren’t much fun and there were a distinct lack of hints to help us out. Initially, there’s no direction on where to get started and we made an assumption which turned out to be incorrect: we are, as noted in our review of Curio, not the best at thorough searching. A very lengthy part of this puzzle also requires outside knowledge, but that isn’t actually made clear and we wasted a lot of time on it. The clues within the room appeared to be Easter eggs for those “in the know”, and were set amongst other details which actually were Easter eggs, which I don’t feel is good puzzle design.

In defence of the puzzle, we should have realised after stumbling across the first solution or two how it was set up, and we actually did have the requisite outside knowledge, but by now we were a little panicky over how much time we were already wasting and frustrated over the slow start to the room. With a third player we would perhaps have worked this out more quickly but I would still be unhappy about needing any form of knowledge outside the game. There were no hints provided and we ended up brute forcing the puzzle.

There is also a safe on one wall with a keypad on which cost us a lot of time. If you enter the code incorrectly, you have to wait to try again. At one point, stuck and again without hints, the keypad here was beeping, and we tried a lot of codes thinking that was when we were supposed to open it. It wasn’t.

Later we hit another big blocker. While we did get through some short and enjoyable puzzles by ourselves, one of the coolest looking areas of the room didn’t seem to be doing anything. Eventually we got a hint, which we followed, but still nothing. Confused as anything we kept playing and eventually apparently progressed to the next puzzle but whether it was skill or luck or… no, the puzzle had malfunctioned and the room was broken. We skipped several short puzzles without realising, and reached the last one presumably by way of the game master listening in to realise we had verbally solved the puzzles we could see, and moving us ahead. We were never told the puzzle had broken, either in the game or afterwards, and it is apparently quite a common issue with this particular puzzle.

The final puzzle in the room beat us – only just – and here we really we missed the patience and logic of regular team member Matthew. Unlike any other puzzle we’ve seen at Escapologic so far, this required a whole bunch of reading and some minimal math skills, and already tired and frustrated from the other issues with the room, we missed an important clue. Having solved the rest of the puzzle we simply didn’t have time to re-read the text for the missing detail, and the timer ran out to show us a video to end the game. This also wasn’t fun. Nobody likes seeing a wall of text, especially when much of it is filler to disguise the clues you need, and as the last puzzle in the room it was especially disappointing.

This was the first room either of us had failed and it was quite deflating, less because we’d failed but more because it didn’t ever feel we’d made progress by ourselves. Had the broken puzzle been functioning, we’d perhaps have felt better about it (it apparently opens up several smaller, quick puzzles, which were what the room was lacking for us). However, unlike any other room I’ve played, we found ourselves standing around unsure what we were suppose to be doing several times, and the hints were few and far between.

We did enjoy the room despite the issues, and I should talk a little about what went well. The opening is fun, and there were hats. Getting into the bank vault is a cool moment and the lighting and decoration were great. There were quite a few puzzles which were fun, although they kind of sunk in comparison to the ones we didn’t like so much. There are some other neat moments around the room which I won’t spoil and I got the impression that with a full team and a fully functional room we would have had a good time and escaped with time to spare. That might sound like hopeful speculation but we almost beat the room regardless of the issues we encountered, so another day might have brought better results!

Escapologic did offer us a free return visit for a different room after learning about the broken puzzle. This was much appreciated although they weren’t pro-active about it: we left never realising there had been an issue, and simply confused about what had happened. It took a TripAdvisor review and an email followup before they mentioned the faulty puzzle.

So I will say that we had a good time regardless of the difficulty or the issues with the tech. In the end though, looking back and thinking about the puzzles and how they were supposed to be solved, I feel the room relies too much on how long many players will take to find the early challenges, rather than the puzzles themselves being interesting or difficult. Experienced teams will breeze through while new teams will likely struggle.

Matthew didn’t end up getting the job he interviewed for so the idea of breaking into Lloyds still seems like a possibility…

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