(Editor’s note 2019-04-24: I have revised this down from the original 3-stars to 2-stars after further consideration. The bottom line is that I don’t recommend The Game is Now given the price, expectations from Time Run, and the experience evaluated as an escape room rather than a Sherlock amusement.)
|Rating:||★★☆☆☆ (Not recommended)|
|Team:||Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb|
|Date:||10 February 2019|
|URL:||The Game is Now|
Front & Briefing
Masquerading as an extremely convincing opticians within a shopping centre (though the surrounding Sherlock-themed walls rather give it away), The Game is Now starts with you buzzing in for your team’s “group eye examination”. While there are no toilets before the game, there are some available afterwards, and Time Run also note that there are toilets right across from the opticians in the shopping centre – though not, as we found out, before our slot at 10:15am on Sunday, so you might want to keep this in mind when choosing a time.
There was one other group here for their eye test at the same time as us, and after signing the expected waivers we were lead to our group’s individual “eye test room” to be briefed. We did see the other group again, which unnerved me a little as I wasn’t expecting cross-team interaction; fortunately this was just a matter of saving floor space and the two teams went their separate ways afterwards. Mentioning much more starts to move into spoiler territory in my mind, especially for Sherlock fans, but needless to say there are appearances by recognisable faces during the lead-in and during the game. As we now expect from Time Run (see Lance of Longinus (#5) and The Celestial Chain (#7)), the staff and GMs were also fully in character the whole time.
Naturally the theme was based around the BBC’s Sherlock series, though this started to become somewhat more abstract as the experience progressed. The sets, as you would expect from Time Run, were of a high quality, particularly in the first section. There was a Sherlock storyline to the experience, but it was extremely loose and honestly a bit confusing – and not in the usual Steven Moffat way, more that it just didn’t hang together or particularly relate to what we were doing; it felt shoehorned in despite a sizeable amount of the preamble to the room being occupied with it. As with all the Time Run series, the game is serialised into areas to increase throughput, which worked fine in their previous two games but here felt like we were basically playing a series of mini-rooms.
Also surprisingly for Time Run was that a lot of the puzzles had a large reliance on finding codes or getting the next key as a reward for solving a puzzle; there were no grand interactive set pieces like in Lance of Longinus and Celestial Chain. I wonder if this was some restriction imposed by some outside force; with the exception of decoration the actual interactive parts of the experience were very focused on almost free-standing props that could have been put into any space of an appropriate size, rather than really using the space of the room creatively.
The puzzles themselves were fairly standard fare for escape rooms these days, with some reasonably high tech ways of presenting puzzles that were not especially logic based; more trial-and-error as far as we could tell. There were also not a lot of parallel threads going on; one section was very linear, and another was a bit of a shopping list.
Mostly text on a screen, some of which was presented as being from Sherlock Holmes – this worked fine and I imagine Sherlock fans would enjoy being snarkily talked down to by The Face of Cumberbatch.
Whereas in a lot of escape room there is some question or opportunity for the GM to gauge a team’s experience or ask about quantity of hints, there wasn’t here (unless the eye examination room section counted, but it felt more like filler), especially since we were handed between staff quite a lot and weren’t exactly sure who our GM would be in order to discuss it with them – in fact I’m still not sure if we ever met our hint-writer, who seemed extremely trigger-happy on the hint system. We were getting hints come through before we’d even had a chance to properly examine some puzzles, which rather took the fun out of solving them. We finished with four minutes to spare so there was definitely time for us to have a bit more of a fiddle before jumping in, and at any rate it felt like we were being guided rather than actually given a chance to figure something out.
None to speak of! Without a visual countdown we didn’t have much of a sense of how close we were to the end, and what turned out to be the final puzzle, while involving three of the team – the most any puzzle had so far – didn’t have the feel of a final event to us. The escape room therefore finished quite abruptly, with a short video wrapping up what storyline there had been, and we were lead out into the debriefing room.
While the hints and commentary from Sherlock and Mycroft before and during the game had been quite disparaging (this is in character for them, so that’s not a complaint) the actor debriefing us (another person we hadn’t met before and who had been given notes from our unseen GM) was very upbeat.
We’d been categorised under a certain label like with Celestial Chain, though it wasn’t really obvious why this was necessary here. The process seemed to be there to reassure us that we’d done okay, which makes me think the excess of hints we’d received had been designed into the game too.
The box with our belongings had been moved here and after leaving the debriefing area there was, oddly, a bar reserved solely for finished players, serving drinks (and providing a surprising number of toilets). I imagine Time Run are expecting a lot of people to be using it because it was huge, but we were only people there until the other team that had started at the same time as us emerged a few minutes after us.
I didn’t like having to write this review and perhaps I have been overly harsh in places compared to some other rooms, but I think expectations matter and we did expect a higher standard of room, both given that Time Run have put their name to it, and for the price as probably the most expensive escape room I’ve done. The target audience may be different from the average escape room – it is definitely more of a “Sherlock Experience” than an experienced escape room player’s room – and I’m sorry to say I can’t recommend it.