Great Escape review: Prison/Break

In brief

Location: Auckland CBD
Date played: 29 November 2014
Players: 2 (Great Escape recommends 4-6)
Hints: Unlimited (delivered via a screen in the room)
Escaped: Yes!

Our rating: Review 4 and a half locks
An arrestingly immersive escape room experience. 

Escaping the slammer…

Credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr
Prison bars by Michael Coghlan /CC

We stumbled onto this new escape room during the last day of our holiday in Auckland. We were lucky enough to get a spot to play Prison/Break later that evening.

New Zealand is great for escape rooms because there doesn’t seem to be an issue with actually locking people in a room. There’s always an emergency escape, however the grin on our host’s face as he slammed the cell door shut, closed the entry door and left us to our own devices was one of pure joy.

Once on our own, we did nothing. We took in our surroundings, looked at each other and smiled. In our cell, we could hear wardens patrolling the corridor, inmates heckling and banging the bars of their cell. Not only did the room look the part, it sounded real, and knowing the bars taking up one whole wall were locked gave a sense of realism. If it weren’t for the countdown clock and the monitor that gave us hints, you could imagine you were in a real prison.

The Great Escape gets a lot of things right. The atmosphere was spot on, as was their approach to monitoring rooms and providing hints and helpful suggestions throughout the game. We solved a few of the first puzzles to find the combination locks already had the right combination keyed in, however without solving the puzzle we wouldn’t have known it was the right combo to try. We came across one really difficult puzzle that was possibly too clever for its own good, however we were deftly guided through it via written hints on the screen. Despite us clearly asking to be told how to do it, we were being given clues rather than instructions, preserving the experience. The difficultly of that puzzle came down to fixable errors in room design rather than a fatal flaw in its design, and may already be rectified.

Prior to completing the final step and exiting the room, we had a real ‘wow’ moment when, upon completing a puzzle and revealing a code, the lights cut out and we heard the sound of prison guards with dogs closing in on us. Little details like this really added to the experience, as did the exit point of the room. Perhaps there is a clear and easy story for escapees to follow in a prison break room, but the execution of this narrative was superb.

When we next find ourselves in Auckland, we will definitely be back. Until then, we will continue trying to find an escape room in Australia that comes close to what we experienced in Prison/Break.

The breakdown

Escape Room Hunters finding our freedom @ Great Escape, Auckland
Escape Room Hunters finding our freedom @ Great Escape, Auckland

Puzzles: Review 4 and a half locks 

The riddles we faced were logical, straight-forward and clever. We hit one major snag, requiring help to join together two elements we’d deduced into a pose, alignment and location. It was made more difficult by the set-up of the room, with glare from the light making it hard to identify what we were meant to locate. It’s an easy fix, and hopefully it has been implemented already to aid future inmates.

This room used puzzles well in that it made you think about what the game-master would have you do, while still requiring you to investigate obstacles and locate clues. The support and guidance provided throughout the game allows harder puzzles to be set, accommodating for a wider variety of players.

Atmosphere: Review 4 and a half locks

An amazing atmosphere is created using sounds, lighting, clever puzzles and expert prop theming. Being our first prison break themed room (there are many others out there), Great Escape have set the bar high. The only suggestion we would have is that the walls of the rooms could do with some sound insulation as we got a bit distracted during our game from coughing we could hear in the foyer.

Customer service: Review 5 locks

Tibor, our host and owner of Great Escape, was friendly and keen to chat to us about our previous escape room experiences. At the end of our game, he was also eager to get our feedback so that, we hope, he could tweak the room for future inmates. By observing the room via cameras and microphones, the hints we received were tailored to where we were in the game in real-time, and also meant that Tibor could redirect our focus if he thought that we were going off track for too long. Having a screen to deliver the messages meant that our experience wasn’t broken by someone entering the room mid-game to help us along, even if the bell sounding made us feel a bit like Pavlov’s Dogs waiting for our next hint/reward.

Want another opinion? Read another review from the New Zealand Herald.

About Great Escape

Great Escape: The Live Escape Room in Auckland, New Zealand, has been open since November 2014. There are currently two rooms that you can play; Prison/Break and Psych Ward, with a third due to open early 2015. Bringing his ideas from his native Hungary, Tibor runs an extremely refined room escape business.

You are monitored during your game, with a screen providing your communication to the outside world. If the host thinks you are stuck, you are looking in the wrong place, or ask for help. hints are provided on a screen to prod you in the right direction without giving the puzzles away.

28 Lorne Street, Auckland 1010

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