Price Range: £20 – £25 Per Person
Duration: 60 Minutes
Escape Attempts Foiled: 14/14
Alcatraz. Is there any more famous prison outside of wizard-related children’s fiction? This one-time military fortress stands isolated on an island in San Francisco Bay just over a mile from the mainland. For twenty-nine years it operated as a federal penitentiary, designed specifically to house difficult and dangerous inmates. During these years there were fourteen escape attempts – not a single one successful. Prisoners were caught and sent back to their cells, or shot as they tried to flee. Several managed to get beyond the walls of the prison, only to drown in the freezing waters of the Bay.
Fortunately for you, Escape From Alcatraz by Houdini’s Escape Room Experience doesn’t (despite the name) make you take on the impossible task of escaping the infamous prison. Instead, in the space of sixty minutes you must break free from your cell, infiltrate the warden’s office and secure a pardon for your crimes (you’re accused of multiple murders, but you totes didn’t do it). Succeed and all will be well. Fail and you’ll still be permitted to leave Alcatraz, but only after chilling out in the electric chair along with a seriously uncomfortable number of volts.
Your prison cell, appropriately enough, is situated in the basement of what was once a high street shop. It’s surprisingly spacious once you get to grips with it, and a team of six should have no trouble all fitting inside. The room is fine with as few as two people as well. As a bonus, it comes with a bed, so if one of you is feeling a little tired you can get a nap in no problem.
The quality of the props and scenery is excellent throughout. The aforementioned bed is a genuine prison antique, complete with an array of dings, scratches, and graffiti. There are several more items throughout the game that are either genuine articles or as close to being genuine as makes no odds. The room is decked out to a high standard. You may be just feet below pavement level, but the chilly atmosphere and darkened space will make you feel as though you’re miles from freedom.
Despite being named after San Francisco’s most infamous gaol, there’s nothing in the game that couldn’t fit any generic prison. In the latter parts of the room you come across some artefacts that hint towards a connection with Alcatraz, but unless you’re a history buff you likely won’t get the references. Oh, and if you are a history buff, you’ll probably be overwhelmingly irritated by the lack of historical fidelity in other areas (Alcatraz didn’t have an electric chair, for starters [more fun facts here]). Assuming you’re a regulation, non-buff player, however, this will be a standard-issue prison break.
In the early stages of the game the puzzles are tightly linked to the narrative. As you wangle your way out of your cell and attempt to infiltrate the warden’s office every task you undertake is congruent with your role as a prisoner sneaking out their cell. As you chew through the puzzles, however, the logic becomes a little looser, and you may start to wonder what the impetus is behind some of the things you’re doing. Cleverly, the logic behind the puzzles declines in proportion to your remaining, draining time… so when you do reach the stage where your tasks become a little questionable, you won’t have time to think too deeply about it.
Logic aside, the puzzles are always beautifully made and perfect for the theme. There aren’t any that stand out a mile, but they’re generally at least as original as a custom birthday cake and always of a pleasingly high build quality. Even the near-compulsory blacklight hunt is done to an excellent standard.
The puzzles flow in a mostly linear fashion, and you’re usually equipped with enough to indicate where you should be heading next. Only once or twice was the proffered link to the next course of action a little bit tenuous. The room makes use of fairly simple technology, and manages to give the impression of being electrified rather than computerised, despite the fact that there’s no doubt some clever jazz going on behind the scenes.
This game doesn’t use any technical special effects, but the build quality of some of the features is worthy of note. There are one or more hidden things to open in this room, but they’re so well hidden that you’ll be surprised when you find them even if you think you’re a pro.
There’s initially no way to keep track of the time you have remaining before your execution, but after clearing a few hurdles you’ll gain access to a clock, which should give you a fair idea of whether or not you need to hustle. Clues are readily available, and are obtained by hammering on the door of your cell and asking the guard outside for guidance. He’s a good chap – not only does he seem keen to help you prove your innocence, he’s also exceptionally polite for a guard in one of the most dangerous prisons in history.
Houdini’s has one of the nicest waiting rooms of any venue in the area. There are mini-puzzles, optional hot drinks, and comfortable chairs to hang out in. The briefing is in film form, and takes place in a miniature cinema, complete with folding seats and (if you’re exceptionally well-behaved) popcorn.
Basically, the same care and attention that has been put into Escape From Alcatraz has also been poured into the peripheral areas of the venue as well. These high production values even extend to offering each successful escapee a tiny, shiny souvenir of the kind that’s cool enough to want to keep and flat enough to tape into your scrapbook.
The venue is outside of the city centre, but close enough to be walkable if you don’t mind a stroll. There’s plenty of parking nearby, and a few places to grab a bite to eat. Elsewise, though, the area is primarily residential, so if you’re doing this room as part of a night out be prepared to hop on a bus at some stage.
One of the best rooms in Southampton, with amazing attention to detail and strong puzzles throughout. Escape From Alcatraz might be a little sticky in places for beginners, but will be fun nonetheless. Experienced players will have a blast.