Price Range: £16 – £30 Per Person
Duration: 60 Minutes
Inquisitive soul that you are, you’ve stumbled across the long-abandoned lab of the (considerably unhinged) Dr Wellington. Here, in what was once the city gaol, the erstwhile doctor conducted a series of crude experiments into the application of capital punishment. Electricity was his tool of choice, and he used it in a way that almost certainly wouldn’t be approved by the Health & Safety Executive. It’s entirely possible, if you don’t find your way out of his laboratory pretty sharpish, that you too could meet a rather grisly high-voltage fate. Eeek.
Yes, it’s the classic escape room premise of a mad scientist’s lab… but this one distinguishes itself by having a dash of history thrown in. And, because it’s extremely well done, I don’t begrudge it falling back on a classic trope. Besides, once the door clangs shut you’ll soon come to realise that Dr Wellington really was a quite unique variety of mad…
Considering that the room is built into a genuine prison, it’s actually rather spacious – once you get going at least. Certainly it’s bigger overall than you’re picturing when you think of an old-timey cell. It’s roomy enough to accommodate the recommended number of players. While it is largely linear, there’s more than enough to play with at any one time to keep a team of five busy for the full allotment of sixty minutes.
Crime And Punishment Lab excels when it comes to theming. In part that’s due to the fact that it’s built inside One Pound Lane – a squat, castle-like structure that’s been part of Canterbury since 1830, and was at various times the city gaol and the police station (but which is now a trendy bar/café, just like everywhere else).
The foot-thick walls, genuine graffiti left by one-time prisoners, and the general dark and dismal nature of the place lends this escape a fantastic atmosphere that you feel from the very moment you step inside. When I left I found that my hands were dusty from touching the walls – a layer of (literally) gritty reality that you won’t find in other rooms (but which you may want to rinse off in the toilets nonetheless).
The quality of the props that supplement this setting is every bit as strong. They are, for the most part, heavy, chunky, wooden things. When you flip a switch or throw a lever there’s real weight behind it. The clunky quality of the props reminded me of the first TV set I ever got to play with – buttons plunk home with a solid, satisfying chunk. Dials turn like they’re attached to hidden winches. Often it’s hard to tell what is a genuine antique, and what has been purpose built for the game.
Even the use of sound is top-notch, introducing both a sense of heightened suspense and some neat little audio hints. The many mechanical props – despite looking convincingly ancient – all work seamlessly well. Within minutes of the door being locked behind you, you’ll easily forget that you’re mere feet above a crowded bar, and instead lose yourself in a grisly, semi-fictional past.
From start to finish, this room was a joy to complete. The puzzles flow smoothly from one to the next, and are pleasingly well-balanced. While hints are available, the clever design of the room means that this is one escape where you genuinely might never need one. You’ll be able to see a way out from fairly early on, but the process of getting there will require you to use your full gamut of skills.
There are a few red herrings scattered along the way. You may be convinced that you’re on the right track, when actually you’re barking up the wrong tree altogether. These aren’t too malicious though, and most of the time they add a little extra detail to the narrative world of the room, and so can be forgiven for leading you astray for just a little while. And besides, the room is well-designed enough that you shouldn’t really be falling for them in the first place.
While Dr Wellington’s lab isn’t short on arcane devices, most of them look as though they belong exactly where they are. Whatever circuitry works the various puzzles is well-hidden… or at least well-camouflaged. There’s also very little hunting around for items here – instead you’ll be applying your brain and solving puzzles from the very start of the game.
While most of the tasks you’ll have to complete are cerebral in nature, there is a tiny bit of physical exertion involved in getting around. Don’t panic – it’s only just demanding enough to keep you warm in the chilly environment of the cells. If you make it up the stairs to the venue, you’ll already have completed one of the most exhausting bits.
Special effects are used brilliantly in this game. Sound and lighting combine to create an eerie atmosphere, and the clunky, thunky machinery of the room provides the occasional well-placed jump scare. You also begin the experience by being marched into your cell while blindfolded – something that seems like a familiar gimmick at first, but which actually gets you quickly into the right mindset, and allows for a really cool surprise later on.
Timing is achieved by means of a standard screen, and hints are offered via the same. Modern for the setting, perhaps, but the system works well. The hints are helpful enough without giving too much away, and come only when asked for, frequently in picture form. This is ideal, as it clues you in to what you should be looking for without directly spelling things out for you.
This room is situated above a bar and café, where you’ll be asked to wait before your chosen game time. It’s considerably more pleasant than the usual waiting room, and has all the things you might expect: tea, coffee, toilets and beer. It also has ordinary people, so if you’re as antisocial as me this could be considered a downside. Once you head upstairs there’s a place to leave your stuff, and after your game is done Canterbury city centre isn’t far off. Say what you want about Dr Wellington and his insane human experimentation, but at least he understood the importance of a nice, central location.
A great room that more experienced players will definitely enjoy. Its authenticity is one of its strengths, but it also has some fabulous puzzles and a metric tonne of atmosphere. If you’re in Canterbury, check this one out.