Escape Room Review - Omescape: The Penitentiary

 Omescape is a global franchise, and they’ve been in London since 2016.  When it arrived, it opened with three rooms, and the line-up there hasn’t changed since (although it has expanded to also offer a Virtual Reality experience).  We were there to play The Penitentiary, a game that features in multiple locations besides London, including New York and Toronto. 

The backstory that we were given before playing The Penitentiary is that the prison was designed to house the criminally insane.  Its creator believed that if the residents were able to solve the puzzles and escape, it would prove that they were rational enough to be allowed back into society.  It’s a solid enough backstory to a prison-themed escape room…but it’s not actually the room’s story!  Their website gives an intricate tale about a serial killer known as the Night Stalker, whose legend lives on long after his death.  One day you wake up in the cell that housed the Night Stalker at the end of his life.  That’s the official story, but then if you read other reviews they give a third backstory.  It doesn’t really have any impact, as the story has no bearing on the game, it’s just curious.

The game is for a minimum of 4 players, in order to make sure that when the team is separated into different cells at the beginning of the game there are at least 2 players in each cell.  Although we were a team of more than four, we were only provided with 4 torches.  This isn’t just a convenience issue, it’s actually a safety issue.  There were five people rushing about in a room that was painted black and had a staircase.  That’s an accident waiting to happen, if it hasn’t already.  Although I was the one without a torch, so it made it difficult to make out any bloodstains.

Exhibit A in the inevitable court case.

One area that Omescape have done well is that communication and teamwork is very important throughout the whole game, and you really do have to rely on each other if you want to be able to escape.  There’s also a lot of movement throughout the game.  You have to go move back and forth the whole time, rather than abandoning one area as soon as the next opens up.  It’s a good way to open up the space and get players moving around, and it leads to a lot of points where you can’t see your teammates and need to communicate clearly in order to get results. 

The puzzles are mostly based around logic, maths and observation.  A lot of them were quite physical as well, and again relied on teamwork for you to be able to complete them.  There weren’t any that were difficult enough to become frustrating, and in fact the puzzles that tripped us up were the ones that were deceptively simple.

Well, I’m stumped.

Hints were provided by walkie talkie, and they didn’t suffer from being overly cryptic.  At one stage I asked if we were on the right track with a puzzle, and in response I got the entire answer spelt out to me.  It really wasn’t needed, as we escaped with 20 minutes still on the clock, but again reading other reviews it seems like being over-enthusiastic with the hints is something that other people have experienced.

This is a fun game, but there are a few things that Omescape could do to tighten it up.  A lot of them are simple, such as deciding on one backstory to it and sticking with it.  Giving out more torches is another quick-fix, along with tailoring the level of hints they’re providing to match the team that are playing.  The other thing may be slightly harder to fix.  Omescape has been in London since 2016, and The Penitentiary has been around for longer than that.  In an industry that moves as quickly as this one, something that may have had some ‘wow’ factor a few years ago is in danger of starting to look a bit dated.  The room is competent and enjoyable enough, and if it’s one of your first few escape rooms you won’t regret booking it, but London has a lot of other companies out there who have set up in the last couple of years and have some new and fresh ideas.

Price: From £33 per person for a team of 3 at peak time, decreasing from there
Players: 4 – 7
Strengths: Communication, physical puzzles
Weaknesses: Slight safety concern, hints