29/10/2017 – Room Escape Southend: Zombie Outbreak

After a handful of brilliant shows by Room Escape Southend and with only a year under their belt, this Halloween they decided to uproot their next and by far the biggest and riskiest escape room venture to date, as they move for one weekend only to Roots Hall Stadium just down the road. We all met up at Room Escape Southend as we always do for our briefing: after the scene is set and we’re armed with a notepad and pencil (with me writing the notes…), we were sent on our way in an attempt to save the world!

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Rather nervously, we all made our way to the stadium and as soon as we arrive in the car park the zombie onslaught began! For the next hour or so, we were given a mixture of both what you’d expect from an escape room such as mind bending riddles and puzzles, and physical activities you’d see in game shows like The Crystal Maze! It was exceptionally hard (especially the physical task!), and having the worry of having zombies burst into your area constantly nagging in the back of your mind really made this the toughest escape room the guys at Room Escape Southend has put on to date – whilst it was billed as a 2 hour experience, I’m glad that it wasn’t as it was definitely more mentally and physically demanding than I expected whilst retaining all the fun and excitement! A few more zombies would have gone down a treat, but despite the sparse numbers, they were very well spread out and there were a number of times they got a good scream out of our group!

Unfortunately, we didn’t escape: remember the physical task I mentioned? We failed there and missed out on one number – we could have cracked the code on the safe but in all honesty with the sheer panic that took place between that and the end of the show, we all completely forgot we failed it!

It was really a brilliant idea to move the escape room to Roots Hall as it really gave the team a brilliant space to play about and experiment with a few ideas – I’d love to see them do more here in the future, as running round a football stadium at night was brilliant fun even if we didn’t save the world!

29/10/2017 – Room Escape Southend: Zombie Outbreak

25/10/2017 – Fear at Avon Valley

Surrounded by a hell of a lot of hype with phrases such as “an event not to be missed” being thrown about by other haunt enthusiasts, I knew I had to make my way over to Avon Valley to see what the hype was all about: naturally I was skeptical as you can probably understand and I was concerned that it might have been over-hyped and really wouldn’t live up to it’s name. Did it? Well, read on and you’ll find out…

 

As with most of the scream parks I’ve visited this year, Fear at Avon Valley had this festival-like buzz in the air as you wander round, but where the other events felt more like Oktoberfest or V Festival, Fear felt more rough – almost like a drum and bass festival – thanks to the number of rides and the flashing lights, the crazy food choices (mac n cheese chips, anyone?), plentiful drink stalls and pub with music, but mostly thanks to the incredible fire show that turns into a drum and bass rave with each haunt being cleverly captured in with the fire and music while all the roaming actors dropping it like it’s hot (and it was)! I’ve seen plenty of flashmobs and roaming actors do performances over the Halloween season, but I never thought I’d see such a wide variety of characters go nuts like this lot did whilst continuing to portray their own individual character – it is truly something you have to experience for yourself (or scroll back through the Facebook page to watch it, but you’re missing out on the explosive atmosphere!).

 

The haunts themselves are very impressive seeing as Fear is still very much in its infancy at only four years this year – they offer four intense attractions each with their own personality and story: Purgatory, Phobia, Anarchy Live, and their top secret brand new haunt.

The first on our list was Purgatory, an intense and aggressive haunt themed around a prison in lockdown due to the inmates rioting, and they weren’t lying! As you enter, you experience what would be expected of entering a prison: scanners and photos are taken, then all hell breaks loose as the inmates take over and cause utter chaos! We snuck our way through bathrooms, cells, darkened corridors, and finally through a tunnel into the prison yard where a lone prison guard tries to keep the inmates at bay as floodlights sweep the smokey area – the haunt ends with a bang, literally, and we exit back into the real world with huge grins on our face as we try to re-cap what we had just left. Dark, tense, and aggressive (in a good way), everything worked perfectly! I’m really glad that the actors were able to touch and move you about as it really solidified the idea that the inmates were dangerous and unhinged, and they never overstepped the boundary with regards to aggressiveness. A brilliant haunt to start the night off with, and I was certain that given how this had set the standards high that the rest just wouldn’t measure up.

 

Our second haunt for the evening was Phobia, an extremely creepy scientific study into fears and the cure for some of the darkest fears which goes horribly wrong as you can probably guess. As a concept the haunt is absolutely brilliant, however the story needed a little more explanation in the “check up” scene part way through though as it wasn’t entirely clear what was happening the first time we went through (though it was cleared up in subsequent runs). There were a few elements that were used in Purgatory (such as the “Scooby Doo” corridor) but the way this was used was so different that had I not thought on the scene for as long as I did that I wouldn’t have noticed (this is a convoluted way of saying it was incredible). This was completely immersive – the use of scents was great, the dentist’s water gun thing was a brilliant prop, but the best and honestly most impressive element of this haunt was the actors, and I know I’m not gunna be able to do them justice with words: they played these AI bots that guided you through the facility and checked up on you at specific points, and each of them played them absolutely perfectly from the moment they stepped out to meet you right through until they/you left your/their line of sight, and it was absolutely mind-blowing! I honestly couldn’t get enough of their mannerisms, their tone, and their actions, and it really pulled the attraction together to create something truly special!

 

Third up was Anarchy Live, a cat and mouse gameshow where contestants are pit against a murderous team of… I’m not entirely sure what… where the aim of the game is survival, and the prize is their life! There’s one final twist: you are the next contestant! Whilst the premise is simplistic, it’s executed almost perfectly: lights strobe chaotically around you as the actors grab at and push you about as the gritty soundtrack blasts its way through the air, leaving a sense of pure dread hanging around in the air. The group gets split up at multiple points, either by choice of the victims or the actors, and whilst each route occupies the same spaces, they’re very different and the actors can be very creative with the way scares are executed – I really wasn’t expecting my head to be grabbed from above by an actor I didn’t see, which was hilarious and terrifying at the same time! It’s almost impossible to explain what goes on inside, but it really is pure unadulterated mayhem that leaves you screaming and jumping as you make your way round. The only criticism I have is that it completely lacked any sign of it being a TV show once you entered the maze section – I’d love to see a scare with a TV camera, or even night vision cameras set up at points that livestream specific areas into the queue area just to really sell the idea that it’s a TV show. Otherwise, a third strong attraction that never failed to deliver!

 

Finally, I survived The Fourth.

 

The hype surrounding Fear at Avon Valley exists for a reason – I was concerned that the hype was very much hyperbole, but having been and witnessed for myself, I very much agree that the hype exists for a reason: the four haunts, the roaming actors, the fire show, and Mama’s talent show were all absolutely brilliant! Each of the haunts managed to get a holler out of me and for those who have been through a haunt with me know how difficult a feat that is, the roaming actors were brilliant at remembering your interactions with them throughout the night and kept going back to them when your paths crossed later in the evening, and the fire show just blew me away! I’m honestly gutted that I couldn’t get this written up sooner as I very much urge you to get down to Avon Valley and experience the horror that is Fear. Well done to absolutely everyone involved, you’ve really set the bar high this year!

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25/10/2017 – Fear at Avon Valley

30/09/2017 – The MacGuffin Project

Back in 1865 the great MacGuffin circus was the talk of the town. It’s owner decided that he would step out of the spotlight and let his son take his place; however, much to his father’s dismay and disgust, the son had no interest in running the circus, favouring inventing. Sure enough, the son created this incredible machine that monitored the entire circus: the machine became too powerful and overthrew its creator and completely destroyed the whole circus, leaving it to rot. 150 years later and intrepid adventurers are given the opportunity to step inside the abandoned circus to figure out what went wrong…

 

From the moment you step inside The MacGuffin Project’s building, you are transported into their world: pipes and lights in cages line the wall, bunting hangs from the box office facade, jaunty seaside songs waft through the air, and the face of The MacGuffin Project all welcomes you not only inside the retail unit, but also their world – it’s very easy to forget that you’re in Bournemouth and not in this steampunk universe.

Once we had signed our lives away and stored our belongings we knocked on the entrance door, which swung open as an assistant threw himself out of, making us all jump, before welcoming inside. We watched a short video in the style you’d expect to see in early era of videography – sepia tones, warbled sounds, that sort of thing, before the video went wrong. The assistant excused himself and in his absence, the video continued though this was even more themed to the 1800s – muted sound, sepia tone, glitches from where the reel had burned and warped itself from heat, the whole lot.

Another door swings open, making us all jump once again, and we’re taken through to the room where The MacGuffin Project was created. We were told where to start, and the countdown began: 58.5 minutes later, we pulled the final lever: we succeeded in our mission!

Whilst this escape room isn’t inherently designed to be scary, there are definitely some jumpy bits throughout that caught us off-guard, and the whole atmosphere and story that developed throughout the show was definitely creepy: from skeletons of animals through to scribbles hidden throughout, through to the audio and lighting, it was incredibly easy to find yourself lost inside this universe for the time you’re in that room. The theming doesn’t falter at any point either – the artefacts found inside all have reason to be in there.

The detail I love about the puzzles is that it’s not all combination locks: without trying to give too much away, it’s almost like taking part in The Crystal Maze but all the mental and physical skill challenges are all rolled into this one room and you’ve got an hour to figure everything out. Cryptic, I know, but I really don’t want to detract from how clever the room is, especially as the puzzles all flow into one another and you’re constantly re-using

The little piece of detail that I really loved (that most escape rooms don’t do) is that small puzzles build up to a big puzzle, which then feeds into another puzzle somewhere else in the room which really added to the flow as everything fell into place. My favourite detail, and this is just me being a great big geek, is that the entire room runs itself: all the puzzles you solve are all monitored by a computer that lets you know when you’ve done something right and triggers the next part of the game, which is really incredible and honestly mind-boggling when it comes to some of the puzzles being solved!

If you’re ever in Bournemouth, or you want to try an escape room that blends puzzles and immersive storytelling into one, get yourself to The MacGuffin Project!

 

30/09/2017 – The MacGuffin Project

14/07/2017 – Southend Room Escape: The Cabin (Preview Night)

After the roaring success of its predecessor (Down the Rabbit Hole) and with a SCAR Award under their belt, the team at Southend Room Escape quickly began boasting about their brand new addition to the growing list of horror themed escape rooms: The Cabin. We were invited to a preview night to give the room a test run, and I’ve still not entirely decided who was tested more: us, the actors, or the room!

Inspired by the legend of the Blair Witch, participants enter a long forgotten cabin hidden deep in the woods where a number of people had been vanishing, and it’s down to the participants to solve the clues and save the kids from their impending doom!

From the moment we stepped into the building, it was clear to see why they needed two weeks to redecorate! The scenery was absolutely incredible and as soon as the front door opened, it was easy to believe that we were in an old abandoned lodge. A dead radio in the corner fizzled to life and explained the rules, and we left the starting line… albeit very slowly.

We spent the next hour sweating over the most easiest of easy riddles, trying (and succeeding!) to hack locks and clues (much to our detriment…), and even trying to appeal to the actors soft side in order to get a hint on how to solve the clues (you really need to have your thinking cap on for some of these), and screaming as we’re attacked by a benevolent force as the claustrophobic cabin and intense darkness were used against us.

Once again, the team at Southend Room Escape weaved their magic and bought their universe to life in their little pocket of Southend. This is truly not for the feint of heart, and really does require everyone in the team to be able to cope under stress. We will definitely be back later on in the season to see the full show (clues were being changed after we left, so don’t ask us for clues!) and to see if we can best our time!

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14/07/2017 – Southend Room Escape: The Cabin (Preview Night)

20/05/2017 – Down the Rabbit Hole

Bare with me here, it’s one thing reviewing a haunt where the theming is constantly changing in the 15mins or so you’re in there and a completely different ball game to review what happens for an hour in a room.

Going back a few years, I was lucky to get to take part in what I believe was the first escape room in the UK. it was tough and stressful, and whilst I had fun, I wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing again. Sure, since then I’ve done other events that had escape rooms, but they weren’t *pure* escape rooms – they usually had a piece of theatre which made up for the escape room bit for me.

Anyway, a friend won two tickets to Down the Rabbit Hole and invited me along, teasing that it was a scare escape room and that other reviewers had given their previous escape room fantastic reviews, so I rather happily accepted

We arrive at Escape Room Southend and had a chat with Wayne (one of the owners) about upcoming shows whilst the previous group finished up. Once they were out, we were ushered in and realised that we’d be trying to escape on our own – probably not the greatest idea seeing neither of us are any good with puzzles!

So the story is the White Rabbit got infected with a virus and, rather foolishly, escaped down the rabbit hole and back into Wonderland where he began to infect the other residents: it was up to us to solve the clues, escape, and release the antivirus! After a few nervous glances as we realise how screwed we were, we were taken through to Wonderland and the game began!

We started off like headless chickens, grabbing bits of random scenery that we thought might be of some help, figured out where all the puzzles were and what locks linked to what clues, then brainfarted as we looked at each puzzle. Bit by bit, and with a gentle push here and there, we slowly managed to digest and solve each puzzle, even whilst being tormented by the infected.

This single room escape is, without doubt, the best I have ever done. It was stressful, tense, challenging, and the things coming from both of our mouths as we were subjected to the horrors of Wonderland were utterly hilarious and cringeworthy at the same time! The puzzles themselves were a little above our IQ level, but we managed to escape with just under 90 seconds to go! I definitely had a blast in there, and will definitely be back to see what they have hidden within their walls over the next few months! A big well done to the team there for living up to the hype!

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20/05/2017 – Down the Rabbit Hole

30/07/2016 – Hide and Shriek’s Alien Escape

After the fantastic time I had at Hide and Shriek‘s Dead Centre where they had an entire shopping centre completely heaving with zombies, we headed back to Southend on Sea to see what they had in store with Alien Escape, the UK’s largest escape room!

 

We arrived at Hide and Shriek’s headquarters in the Victoria shopping centre where we met the rest of the team – seven of us in total. We were guided through an almost pitch black corridor before being left there. A fantastically cheesy and very quick witted usher leaped out from the darkness before leading us into a mini cinema theatre where we were treated to a Hide and Shriek style safety instructions (which we absolutely love!)

 

After leaving our stuff in the cinema (which is 100% secure and something I’d totally do ‘cos you’re not gunna want to be lugging around your bags everywhere) we were lead into the Spacebase – the first room of the event: the countdown was on!

 

We all instantly started scrambling for anything that could be part of a puzzle or a clue to something – there were some puzzles that were really easy and that we cracked within minutes, but a handful that took upwards of 20 minutes – there was a point where we were so stuck on a clue that it took us almost half an hour to crack it! We found ourselves running, crawling, and generally throwing anything that could be hiding clues out of the way, including a pair of soiled underwear from a previous group!

 

We flew through the rest of the escape room, and managed to escape with 8 minutes to spare!

 

 

As far as horror themed escape rooms go, this was by far my favourite – whilst zombies are fun monsters, the prospect of being on a doomed spaceship being chased by an alien creature really piqued my interest to begin with, and hearing from our competition winners who went through last Saturday only excited us more! Hide and Shriek managed to deliver a very well themed escape room that pays homage to some of the best alien horror/thriller movies out there, and a terrifying alien to boot!

 

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30/07/2016 – Hide and Shriek’s Alien Escape

15/04/2016 – Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later

I’ve heard a lot about Secret Cinema in the past with most, if not all, reviews being extremely positive; however, I had never wanted to visit them due to the movie selection… until now.

 

After its release almost 15 years ago, a new movie bought new life into the zombie genre by bringing Jim, a simple courier, out of a coma and into a deserted UK populated by the infected. Since then, it has grown so huge that it formed a cult following so big that Secret Cinema decided that they would explore the post-apocalyptic horror that is 28 Days Later.

 

After joining the official event, my facebook feed exploded with posts, pictures, and short clips advertising the event: I’ve followed several new pages set up just for this event that spoof some very British institutions, ran a “home test” to see if I had been infected, and even signed up on the NSH (that’s National Service of Health) website and watched (fake) news reports from the BBCC explaining what’s going on.

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The day of my appointment came around. I met up with my sister who also had an appointment at the same date and time, got changed into our costume (the best bit about Secret Cinema is that you must dress up) and made our way to Canada Water station, getting odd looks from the commuters as they headed home from a hard week at work.

 

We arrive and instantly join the crowd of patients as they trickled from the station to the event. We arrive to an army-controlled environment with speakers blaring out a repeated quarantine message as we’re sent from post to post, being asked for our appointment card, having our bags checked, and being asked to put our phones in a sealed envelope (we don’t want the illusion of the apocalypse ruined!)

 

We’re handed an appointment card and got told to remember it, else we wouldn’t be admitted to the treatment centre. We’re then led inside, and the experience, our treatment, begins…

 

Secret Cinema went beyond the movie with a very clever set-up that uses effects that I have yet to see be used in boo haunts. The scenery and the actors blended well together to create a fantastic atmosphere that was easy to lose yourself in, though the large groups definitely detracted from the experience, especially if the narrator is quiet. Despite this, the guys at Secret Cinema effectively took you through some of your favourite scenes from 28 Days Later and left us feeling rather happy and amused.

 

As this is a big event that needs to be accessible to everyone, do not expect anything extreme or challenging. There are some points where it can be very tense, but there’s nothing beyond the general immersive theatre/theme park horror mazes except running, there is a lot of running.

 

All in all, despite having high expectations of it being terrifying (we had a lot of ideas that would have made it scarier), it was still a fun and enjoyable night.

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I would also like to give a huge shout out to the army personnel that helped my sister find me at the safe house – it was an absolute delight that you went above and beyond in remembering her and her description of me, and calling out to us!

 

With endless love, we left you sleeping. Now we’re sleeping with you. Don’t wake up.

15/04/2016 – Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later