It’s a Sunday afternoon, and the sun above our heads has transformed London into an AGA oven; an AGA oven with buildings, buses, and Ray-Ban-wearing pedestrians trapped inside. It’s the kind of weather that saps the energy straight from your sweaty limbs, and makes your tongue feel like a strip of secondhand sandpaper.
With such beautiful, and unusual, British weather on offer you might be surprised to discover that Mpora was heading inside to try its hand at Lock’d. Lock’d, for your information, is one of many puzzle-room adventure games that have popped up in the capital recently.
"It’s the kind of weather that saps the energy straight from your sweaty limbs..."
The premise of these games, in a nutshell, involves you and some friends getting trapped in a room. Inside this room are multiple secrets wrapped within multiple mysteries...wrapped within multiple, slightly bigger, secrets. Taking part in the experience brings to mind the layered-structure of a Russian doll.
If you, and your comrades, wish to escape the room then a variety of challenging puzzles must be solved. Failing that, you can just sit in the corner and wait for your allotted time to end. The first way is enjoyable, the second way less so.
Forcing players to don their detective hats, and “crack the case" a la Sherledict Cumberholmes, it's a very nerdy way to spend a morning/afternoon/evening. On the other hand, we're always being told that "the geeks will inherit the earth" so why try and resist the inevitable; especially when the inevitable is as much fun as this.
"Forcing players to don their detective hats, and “crack the case" a la Sherledict Cumberholmes..."
It’s difficult to write about Lock’d without spilling spoilers all over the internet, so I’ll summarise my own experience in the following way. If you could bottle the unbridled sense of elation when you finally crack one of the room’s numerous riddles, and then sell that to customers at £10 a pop you’d definitely end up with a lot more than £10 in your till.
At Lock'd, the whole thing is weighted nicely so that things are challenging without being so difficult that the fun gets sapped out of the experience. To coin an old phrase about making fruit drinks, the juice here is always worth the squeeze.
The first game that we tried was called ‘Grandpa’s Last Will’. The premise involved being boxed up in the study of a deceased elderly gentleman, who has left his multi-million pound mansion and business entirely to your group.
"This race-against-the-clock pressure weighs on your mind throughout the experience..."
Unfortunately for you, and your companions, you’ve only got sixty minutes to find the will before the police come along and kick you out for trespassing. This race-against-the-clock pressure weighs on your mind throughout the experience, and will certainly strike a chord with anyone who’s dreamt of being on Crystal Maze or Keith Chegwin's Naked Jungle.
The second game we tried, which also had a sixty minute time limit, was called the ‘Museum Warehouse’. The narrative for this one focused upon the dastardly work of international super-villain, art collector, and all-round nasty-man Mr Bad.
Mr Bad has bribed the museum’s security guards to help him steal some priceless works of art. And it’s up to you, for some reason that isn’t made entirely clear, and your fellow puzzle-solvers to save the day and stop this from happening.
Both games were genuinely exciting, with secrets tumbling into bigger secrets like an avalanche; an avalanche of secrets. I’m happy to report that we successfully completed both games, but only just. We were cutting it especially fine on the ‘Museum Warehouse’ with our completion time coming in at about 58 minutes.
"...we genuinely weren’t sure if we were going to complete the room in time and foil Mr Bad’s criminal master plan."
The finale of this one was particularly nail-biting, as we genuinely weren’t sure if we were going to complete the room in time and foil Mr Bad’s criminal master plan. But just at the moment when all hope seemed lost, my friend Dave pulled a figurative rabbit out of the hat and dragged us over the finishing line. We high-fived each other out of sheer relief.
Escape-the-room games are becoming increasingly popular across the world. Lock’d is one of hundreds that have opened up in cities all around the globe. From London to Shanghai, via Bilbao and Warsaw, the world is now a proverbial oyster for puzzle-adventure enthusiasts everywhere. Budapest has seen the opening of more than 30 room-escape games in the last few years alone.
“People are sick of entertainment that isn’t real."
Each of these attractions varies somewhat, but they’re all filled with cryptic puzzles that have to be solved in order for you and your team to progress. It’s not exactly clear what is causing their rising popularity, but many feel it has something to do with the pure sense of escapism that lay at their foundations.
Alexander Shaf, one of the founders of Lock’d, has been quoted as saying that “People are sick of entertainment that isn’t real." There’s something about this statement that really hits home with Mpora.
We, as the human race, spend so much time looking at our phones, our iPads, our laptops, and our TV screens that we sometimes forget to engage with the physical world around us. And while Lock’d, and the many puzzle-room adventures like it, is all pretend; it connects with its audience because they can reach out, touch it, and be a part of it.
Online games like Call Of Duty, and FIFA, will continue to be popular but experiences like Lock'd offer a genuine alternative to that. They’re a chance to play games in a three-dimensional space, to submerge yourself in an alternative-existence and cut ties with the mundane aspects of modern living.
"...it connects with its audience because they can reach out, touch it, and be a part of it."
It might sound like a strange juxtaposition, but I found being locked in those rooms to be extremely liberating. It’s as if, for the hour that you’re in there at least, nothing outside the room matters. You are, for want of a better word, free.
I would like to extend my thanks to the people at Lock'd, for letting us having a go, as well as my teammates Lucy, Dave and Mercedes for agreeing to be locked in a room with me.