The Locked Room: The Heist | Review


Join a team of bandits as they attempt to pull off one of the most audacious heists you’ve ever seen! But will you make your getaway in time?

Rating: Fun
Completion Time: 1.5 hours
Date Played: 29th of May 2020
Party Size: 1

The Heist is a new play at home game from family run escape room The Locked Room. It’s full of charm, has some fantastic puzzles (and fantastically tricky ones too) and clearly has a lot of love poured into it. The best part? With every purchase £2.50 (or £5 if you complete the game) is donated to a local charity (The Eastbourne Food Bank). What a lovely touch!

In terms of gameplay, The Heist is played via a Google form, which is an interesting medium, but makes sense as it’s a tool a lot of creators have at their fingertips. What this means for gameplay is that at the end of each page of the form, you’ll be required to input the correct answer as you navigate through the plot. Case sensitivity matters, but there’s clues on each page and a soundtrack you can click on to boot.

For a heist theme, you can expect a mix of traditional puzzles (think mazes, ciphers and logic puzzles) combined with having to step out into the real world such Google Street view and scouring real life websites for small details to help you crack the case. A detail I love during quarantine – it almost makes you forget that everything is shut and we can’t leave our apartments!

As such, it’s nicely immersive! I reckon if I were to pull off an audacious heist such as this myself, I’d so more or less the same things the game encourages you to do, but in real life – which is another cool touch. They’ve thought about it a lot! First, scout the location, pick up your gear, travel there, time your escape, and drop your van off… Yeah I’ve watched a lot of heist documentaries! Haha.

I will add that whilst the puzzles aren’t the best examples of each of their types I’ve ever seen, there is enough in the game to keep you involved and excited for well over an hour. Similarly, the graphics aren’t incredible – but then not everyone is a photoshop wizard and this should never stop an escape room company from releasing their game!

A final note, I played this game solo and it worked well. I think this game would be best for smaller groups (or indeed solo if you want a mini adventure of your own for an afternoon!).

The Heist can be purchased for £10 on The Locked Room‘s website.

Unlock!: The Island of Doctor Goorse | Review

The day had started off well. After weeks of hesitation, you finally accepted the invitation of Archibald Goorse, the eccentric billionaire, archaeological rarities collector. You’d been flown to his private island, located a few miles from the Bahamas, in an old twin-engine.

Rating: Different
Completion Time: 65 minutes
Date Played: 23rd of May 2020
Party Size: 2

The Island of Doctor Goorse is one of many in the Unlock! series. It’s also probably one of the more well known play at home escape rooms out there as they’ve been around for some time. Throughout this lockdown I’ve pestered my friends with questions of which I should try next and you bet Unlock! has come up again and again, so we couldn’t wait to get stuck in!

This game takes you to the mysterious island in the Bahamas that strangely has both a Greek and Mayan temple on it, despite the fact there’s no logical overlap in those historical cultures. I’m not even mad though! It was funny. Your plane crashes, marooning two separate teams in two different areas of the island. You must work together to reunite and find your way to safety.

We played it with just two people, which (given you have to split into two teams) was a little tricky at the start – we weren’t exactly sure what we could and couldn’t say to each other, or who had to make the next move. But the game play was massively rewarding with “Aha!” moments throughout and a huge feeling of satisfaction when we finally did reunite towards the end.

To those who haven’t played any by Unlock! yet, the flow of all their games (as far as I’m aware) is by drawing cards from a deck. You use red and blue cards to connect items and make a puzzle (for example, plugging a plug in will power up a TV). So lots of common sense. These come to a head when you reach points in the game where a code has to be entered to proceed. In this one, some parts all players can be doing things at the same time, in other parts there’s a roadblock until one thing is done and the whole game opens up.

A couple of very obvious bits cost us a lot of penalties and we definitely used more hints than we needed – resulting in a not-so-great score of 65 minutes (we actually took around 50 to finish the game but… penalties!), but since we did this over dinner with a bottle of wine, it’s safe to say we weren’t trying to be competitive with this one. It was simply a joy to play!

We’ve rated it 4 stars!

The Island of Doctor Goorse can be purchased on Amazon, or at your local games shop for approximately £12.99.

Mystery Locks: Dream Hack | Review


In 2083 things are quite different from today. The simple things in life were sacrificed for time efficiency. There was no time laugh, to love or to dream.

Rating: Different
Completion Time: 29 minutes
Date Played: 17th of May 2020
Party Size: 1

Dream Hack by Mystery Locks wins my award for most interesting (and creative) theme! I love it! Often with escape rooms I see the same theme come up over and over again. It makes sense, there are only so many exciting themes out there. But credit where credit is due for this game and it’s fantastic setting!

It is the distant future and modern technology has enabled human beings to get as much as 10 hours sleep in just 10 minutes. Fantastic, right? We can be so much more productive. Just think about all the free time you’d have to play escape rooms!

But it all goes wrong, such technology should never be in the hands of one corporation. What’s more, a corporation that’s suffering a major security breach. Enter you, the player!

So here’s my review: I say ‘you’ singular, because I did play this game solo. I think I was just so excited about it I had to dive in right away. Plus my partner is all escape room-ed out after a 4 hour marathon this morning. So I raced through it solo. As such, that probably affects my review, so take this with a pinch of salt. Escape rooms are inherently social, and here is me being antisocial.

Being social aside – this one was good fun! Creative, hacking based puzzles that require you to step outside of the boundaries of the game and immerse yourself in real-life internet puzzles. You download ziplocked files, head onto Google Maps, even head onto Instagram to try and solve one particular puzzle.

It’s exciting! And it works… Mostly. I encountered just the one technical difficulty which did impact game play a little (Note: I’ve already relayed this to the owners and they’re assured me the issue is now fixed!). I’d say these puzzles are also on the harder side. Better for veterans with a keen eye for detail, patience, and knowledge of existing cipher systems. Or at least, able to google them!

Maybe surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly as I didn’t need to discuss the puzzles – I finished in good time under 30 minutes! The ending was satisfying. I saved the world, all whilst my partner napped in the next room. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon!

Dream Hack can be purchased for €9.99 on Mystery Lock‘s website.

Escape Kit: The Mysterious Murder

“On Sunday, November 15, at around 9 p.m., the Berkshire police received an alarming call from an anonymous guest who stayed at the Thompson’s Mansion where wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson took place. Mary Thompson was found dead in her room. Cause of death : unknown. No signs or break-in….”

Rating: Exciting
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 12th of May 2020
Party Size: 2

I absolutely love a good murder mystery – I think I’ve been a fan of true crime since I was a young teenager, and obsessively listening to podcasts such as My Favorite Murder and Serial has only grown this fascination! So finding and playing this game was an absolute gem to me and ticked all the boxes.

The Mysterious Murder from French company Escape Kit, I have to caveat, is not what I’d call a traditional escape room. You’re not (really) on a timer, there’s no room to escape from, and the puzzles aren’t typical. But none of these are negatives. In fact, the ‘constraints’ of a play at home escape room do not apply, and The Mysterious Murder really thinks outside the box of what is possible.

Once you’ve downloaded the game, you’re encouraged to set up different pieces of evidence in different rooms. Some in the bathroom, one in the living room and so on. This turns your whole apartment into the crime scene, which is a very cool addition.

From therein, you work through each evidence in turn – evidence 1, 2, 3… At each stage, a little bit more of what happened on the fateful night of the murder of Thompson is revealed.

I would say it’s of medium difficulty – good for beginners or families for sure! Nothing too challenging in there and we only needed to use a clue once. More importantly … Was it good fun? Absolutely! Hercule Poirot, eat your heart out!

The Mysterious Murder can be purchased from Escape Kit‘s website for $22.

Clue Cracker: Escape from Extinction Island


“Extinction Island is a man-made island, near to Mongolia, created especially to breed dinosaurs using old fossilised bones and a whole lot of science!”

Rating: Hilarious
Completion Time: 25 minutes
Date Played: 9th of May 2020
Party Size: 2

I LOVED THIS GAME SO MUCH! No seriously, let me repeat that louder for people in the back. It was fantastic. It’s got dinosaurs, mysterious islands, more dinosaurs, and great puzzles!

Escape from Extinction Island begins with a mysterious broadcast from your mentor, Professor McDougall. Something terrible has gone wrong on the island, dinosaurs are loose everywhere and you must go to his house to discover co-ordinates and send help before it’s too late! It sounds a little bit like a popular dinosaur themed franchise which I won’t mention here, but heck, I love Dinosaurs. There aren’t enough escape rooms themed around them.

It’s an escape room in every classic sense and has buckets of charm! We played on a sunny way with our window wide open – I just can’t get the sound of sirens from Extinction island blaring out onto the balcony and Professor McDougall screaming “LISTEN” out of my head! I’m sure the neighbours were confused.

In terms of puzzles – Escape from Extinction Island follows quite a linear flow and is aided by the computer interface. To proceed, you must enter a code or a password at the end of each stage, all whilst guiding your character through the environment of puzzles. With each stage ‘gatekeeped’ it feels quite natural to input a code before you can proceed – both pacing the game out and providing a sense of positive feedback when you get something right!

Thankfully, we didn’t need to use many clues, so I’m pitching this game on the slightly easier side. That combined with the theme makes it fantastic for families – I actually wish I could go back and play this with my parents and little brother! But there’s always next time – Clue Cracker has many more to try!

Overall, another easy 5 star game with a bonus shout-out to how brilliant Professor McDougall’s character and acting was. The enthusiasm and caricature brought the whole experience together. McDougall Voice: “LISTEN!” I want to see more McDougall in future games please!

Escape from Extinction Island can be purchased for £9.99 from Clue Cracker’s website.

The Panic Room: My Dearest Emily | Review


My Dearest Emily Review | Months go by and John sends his letters back home to his dearest Emily...

Rating: Fun
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 7th of May 2020
Party Size: 1.5

Nick’s Thoughts:

This online experience is really like nothing else. You will not be disappointed!

My Dearest Emily is based on the love letters between John and Emily, as John departed to secure their future during the 1889 Land Rush in America. You follow their relationship during their separation with an ever evolving love story and series of riddles. Not the kind of story line you would expect with an escape game, however stop your judgement right there! 

Being so used to being pressured in escape room games this was a refreshing break from the norm. The calm, relaxed atmosphere of this game, provides a sense of empathy with the characters. As a player you become attached to their story. Never did I think that you feel a real sense of emotion playing an online game, but the guys at The Panic Room have really nailed it.

In addition to their love letters, further emotion is applied by a beautiful soundtrack which provides for an atmosphere like no other. Sitting calmly in the background, this well written orchestral acoustic score accompanies the puzzles perfectly. In addition, you have the option to listen to Emily reading the love letters which is a lovely touch.

The puzzles in this game vary in complexity, however fit very well with the story and stay strictly on theme. First timers may find a handful of the games tricky, however well placed hints sit nicely at the bottom of each page and provide the right level of guidance without spoiling things too much. If completely stuck, you can reveal the answer in order to move on, however please only do this as a last resort! The sense of achievement in answering the riddles will add to your joy in this game. 

In terms of who I would expect to play, this is really not aimed at big groups of friends. I would expect this to be for couples wanting to sit down, enjoy each others company and exercise the grey matter! Likewise, newcomers and experienced gamers alike will certainly enjoy this ever-evolving love story. 

As ever for an online experience, I was worried that their would be no real pay-off at the end of the game. No spoilers, however, I am pleased to say in this game I was wrong. The finale completes this experience beautifully and leaves you with that warm fuzzy glow that I didn’t think possible with an online game. 

Its safe to say, I was hugely impressed with this experience and there was very little I could fault. A beautifully appointed, atmospheric experience, with well placed puzzles, great flow and very individual yet interesting theme. 

Mairi’s Thoughts:

My Dearest Emily really surprised me – it feels less like an escape room and more like a beautiful story told through the medium of letters.

John, separated from his sweetheart Emily, ventures off to the USA during the Oklahoma Land Rush in search of a place where the two of them can be happy. John writes her one letter a month and includes a little puzzle for his dear to solve. Skip to today, you come into possession of these 12 letters.

There isn’t really an ‘end goal’. The goal is very self-driven, if you want to learn the story you just have to play. For this reason it reminds me more of videogames like Dear Esther, or Whatever Happened to Edith Finch. Sure, you can ignore the plot. You can whiz through it and solve the puzzles and go “yes I’ve finished!” but the beauty in games like this is taking time to listen to the story. And let me tell you, it must be hard weaving puzzles into letters without ruining the integrity of the story, but The Panic Room does it very well!

The puzzles are clever and enjoyable! At least two of them were enormously tricky, but there’s a good balance in there for everyone.

You’ll notice at this point I noted the number of players as 1.5 – we started the game as a couple but Player 2 soon got distracted by a phone call and so I powered on without him. It was still just as fun playing solo as it was in a couple and not too challenging in either case.

If I had just one tiny negative it would be that this game is best played on a screen, not printed (don’t let my photographs mislead you!). This is due to the need for passwords at each stage. But that’s definitely just a personal preference. My tiny laptop screen makes it hard to crowd around, so any more than 2 players I’d recommend plugging into your TV to play together!

But any negatives are easily redeemed by how lovely the ending was. Did I mention there’s a beautiful little song you get to keep? Album launches of the future should be like this! “My Dearest Emily” (the song, this time) was recorded by a professional musician based on the story. The whole game’s soundtrack was then worked by a composer so that when you finally hear the end tune, it’s comfortingly familiar, even though it’s the first time. This time, effort and attention to detail deserves all the praise in the world!

Overall, I’m rating this 4 stars!

My Dearest Emily can be purchased for £15 on the Panic Room website.

STL Fantasy Maps: Escape the Empire


*dun dunnnnn dun dun dun deee dunnnnn*

ESCAPE THE EMPIRE! An play at home adventure from STL Fantasy Maps set in a galaxy far far away!

Rating: Outstanding
Completion Time: 2 hours (over 2 days)
Date Played: 2nd – 3rd of May 2020
Party Size: 2

Since Escape the Empire took us about 2 hours over 2 different days – for that reason, I’m not calling it a classic escape room. It’s an adventure-come-party-game.

First you choose your character from a selection of booklets … Each character has different skills and different secret information that will help them in the game.

Then, in character (and costume if you fancy!) you and your crew have 5 missions to complete, with two fun ‘bonus missions’. The missions aren’t too long apiece, maybe 15 or so minutes between them – which is a nice pace to go out and enough in each to keep everyone busy!

The bonus missions by contrast are just brilliant. One of them has you attach little light sabres to your thumbs and take on a thumb war to determine the champion (who gets to wear a badge for the rest of the game). The other has a player blindfolded as you guide them through an asteroid belt.

And how was it? Brilliant!

I’m so inspired and wish I could play it again after the quarantine with a larger group. So if you’re ever planning a Star Wars themed party this game is an absolute must!

But most of all, I loved this game because it’s so obvious how much love has gone into making it. It’s a real enthusiast’s dream and sparks joy in really unexpected ways. Refreshingly different, it goes to new levels of immersivity and more than anything is really, really accessible to the non-escape room player market too!

Escape the Empire can be purchased for $19.99 – $26.99 USD on the STL Fantasy Maps website.