Escape room games, which involve a group puzzle-solving experience contained within a few rooms, have been riding a wave of popularity ever since the original Escape Room burst onto the indoor activity scene a few years back. While Lockdown KL is (by Creative Director David Szecsei’s own admission) a relative latecomer to the field, by no means has it missed the boat – in fact, it may very well be a new contender to watch.
Originating from Singapore, the KL premises of this escape game are found on the third level of Lot 10, nestled among shops displaying sport equipment and gear; a colleague comments that it’s a peculiar place for an escape room game to be, but we’re soon to find out that though the exercise here will be mental rather than physical, it’s no less of a workout.
Each escape room company is the same in base concept, but they all differ in the fine details. While their competitors concentrate on sophisticated props and creative storylines, Lockdown KL is focused on the psychological aspect of the games, particularly in relation to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory:
“…the feeling of pure concentration and energised focus in an activity, which results in high enjoyment and fulfillment.”
Basically, Szecsei explains, our brains enjoy being challenged, but the balance has to be just right; too easy and we get bored, too hard and we get frustrated and discouraged.
He soon moves on to explaining the four rooms available for players, which can all be played with two to eight people (but online bookings must be done with a minimum of three to minimise cancellations).
Kidnapped! sees you trying to escape an abduction, Bail Out has you trapped in a sheriff’s jail facing execution, Top Secret has you performing corporate espionage and The Chairman’s Office has you trying to find and defuse a bomb before it explodes.
Szecsei gives us some interesting facts about the rooms: all save The Chairman’s Office were designed in Singapore, while the Chairman is an European-designed puzzle. Kidnapped! and Bail Out are comparatively easier, both rated 4/5, and come with a correspondingly higher percentage of completion that ranges around 30 per cent at time of writing.
However, Top Secret and The Chairman’s Office are both 5/5 in terms of difficulty and average around 10-15 per cent completion; we’re told that Asians typically fare better with Top Secret, which involves quite a lot of technical skill, whereas The Chairman’s Office - our choice - benefits those with greater creativity. Europeans tend to do well here, Szecsei says. We’re creative types, so surely we should fare well too...right?
All games run for 60 minutes and while you can’t bring your own phones or bags in to prevent pictures being taken or Googling for answers, as well as facilitating total game immersion, Lockdown provides a special phone through which you can request for direct help – or it can be given through a call – via a push of the INT button (we like to think this means ‘intelligence’).
As with most of these games, activity is monitored through CCTVs for assistance purposes (visuals only, no audio) and a disclaimer has to be signed by all participants to indicate consent - in case some participants take the ‘lockdown’ part a bit too seriously.
Szecsei warns us as well that any items that need to be removed or shifted should be able to be moved easily and smoothly; anything that we need to force probably means we’re heading down the wrong track. This is true of most escape games – brute force won’t win any prizes here. Belongings stuffed in lockers, we watch in equal parts excitement and trepidation as another pair of players are handcuffed and sent into their room (Bail Out, for the curious).
But they’re left to their own fate now, and so are we, thankfully sans handcuffs. With a smile, Szecsei ushers us into our own room - purportedly the most expensive room out of the four to put together - bids us good luck, drops the phone in a basket inside, closes the door...and locks it. A countdown begins on a wall-mounted TV screen, and as soon as the hour starts to tick down, we burst into action.
While we can’t disclose the details of the room so as not to ruin the experience for others, we can offer some tips for the first-time escapee:
1. Search EVERYWHERE. In things, under things, on things. Uncover everything and anything, leave no stone unturned - literally. You never know what might be relevant. We missed a few things simply by virtue of not looking thoroughly enough.
2. Take note of everything that looks important, but be careful of trying to assign too much meaning to things. Sorting out the meaningful from the not is a skill in and of itself, particularly with the amount of ‘dummy’ props lying around; our only advice to you is to…
3. Try everything. Anything that occurs to you, any sequence of numbers (for there are usually a good deal of codes involved in these games) that seems meaningful, just give it a shot. Your hunch may be right. Unless you have limited tries, which we did for some things, in which case you’ve got to be confident about your guess.
4. Work together. Don’t hog an item if you’re not making headway with it - give it to someone else for a different perspective. Let them try out their ideas too. If you’re stuck on something, try moving to something else and working on that - maybe you’re missing an element or a clue that’s located somewhere else.
5. Don’t all crowd together - split up, particularly in the beginning, as you’ll cover more search ground. Too many people hovering over one part wastes time. Keep track of your items and clues - what seems useless now may play a key part later. Decide what you’re going to work on and focus on that; don’t split your attention between too many things.
6. Don’t let pride ruin your game. If you find that you’re just wasting too much time and you’re not making any headway, don’t feel ashamed to pick up the phone and ask for help. Unlike some other escape games, Lockdown has no limitation on asking for hints - but they will never give you the answer outright. However, this should not be used as a crutch to get out in time and ‘win’, only when you’re really stuck.
Szecsei, who was our gamemaster, was very good at calling us when we were taking a little too much time and the game could not progress to give us hints - the Lockdown staff are trained to do the same to ensure that you can give the puzzles a good shot but not be held back to the point of frustration. After all, it is a game in the end and the experience should be enjoyable.
If the worst happens and you do not manage to ‘escape’ in time, the Lockdown staff will give you a little more time to solve the puzzles and help you out more with hints so that you still get to finish the game. Even if you don’t get the jubilation that comes with beating the system, at least you get to see how it ends.
How did Team EL do? Well, we solved it, of course! Admittedly, we solved it with some help from Szecsei at crucial points...and unfortunately we solved it in 65 minutes. So yes, the bomb did go off and we didn’t save the world. But we came close - not bad for a mostly first-timer team of seven as too many heads aren't always better.
When we finally emerge from the room, adrenaline still pumping through our veins from the experience, Szecsei congratulates us and asks some interesting questions: did we notice anyone emerge as a ‘leader’ and direct others to do tasks? Did we find that certain types of people tended to stick together? Was anyone hanging back and not engaged? While that wasn’t so much the case for us, he notes that the disparity tends to be most obvious in corporate parties, who use it as a team-building exercise between very different types of people.
“You’ll sleep well tonight,” he promises as he bids us goodbye after a group photo, and we think so as well. Everyone reports varying degrees of mental exhaustion, the sort of tiredness you get after a long day of work; or, in our case, an hour of high-intensity mental activity.
Our only critique would be that we never found out exactly why the bomb was planted or what happened to the Chairman; that wasn't revealed in our playthrough, and in all our excitement we forgot to ask at the end! Lingering plot questions remain; after all, the key to an immersive experience is a good story.
But we’re pleased with our accomplishments in the problem-solving world, and there are already calls for another game. Round 2 is but a matter of time; we’ve just got to lock it down.
Lockdown KL is open 10am to 10pm every day, with a current promotion of RM38 per person at off-peak hours (weekdays before 7pm) and RM42 (after 7pm on weekdays, plus weekends and public holidays). Think you've got the chops to crack the code? Then visit their website at lockdownkl.com to put your skills to the test.