Escape rooms are a growing form of entertainment where groups of people come together to solve a series of mental and object-related puzzles with one sole goal in mind: escaping the room. I have been intrigued by the concept for some time, and jumped at the opportunity to tackle one when a friend suggested attempting it recently. This review/experience piece is entirely spoiler-free (beyond the basic premise/theme of the room, which is available online). I wouldn’t want to give away the game of the room!
When our group had assembled at Seoul Escape Room‘s Itaewon location, we were greeted by helpful staff, who gave us handouts detailing the story behind how we came to be trapped in the very particular room. Essentially, the story behind Murder at Apt. 404 is that we were framed by a serial killer, and the cops were arriving in one hour. We could either solve all of the puzzles and run away to freedom, or fail, get arrested and rot in jail for the rest of our miserable lives. I enjoyed that there was a narrative explanation for why we were in the room, and it helped me to feel very involved and tense even before we entered the room.
We were then instructed to place all of our personal belongings, including cellphones, into lockers where we would retrieve them once our hour was up. No checking Google for answers! Once we had all done that, we were blindfolded and led into the room, with very well-chosen music playing in the passage that led there. We were told to sit down, and start once we heard the door close. We sat and waited, the tension palpable between the bouts of nervous laughter. The door slammed, and our hour of madness began.
The first ten minutes began with frantically searching the room for anything that could resemble a clue. Mundane objects were gifted with deeper meaning. Could this be a clue? Could the exact placement of that be a hint at the answer to one of the many riddles we had to solve? No-one knew, and everything dissolved into a state of mildly organised panic, with people shouting new information at the two people trusted with clipboards, who took extensive notes with a system known only to them. All the while, a screen on the wall of the room showed our time as the minutes ticked away.
Once we had drained the room of all possible clues (or so we thought), we tried to solve as many of the puzzles that had been thrown at us as possible. Whenever we would succeed, it would open up another riddle or problem to solve. Again, again, and again. Whenever we thought that the end had to be near, it darted around a corner and laughed at us.
Along the way, we were allotted three hints from the staff watching us from the outside. We indicated our desire to use these hints by everyone getting up and dancing. If we weren’t enthusiastic enough, we wouldn’t get the hint. Luckily, they played very loose with what they defined to be ‘dancing’. We used these whenever we hadn’t made progress for a few minutes, and they prevented us from completely losing hope with a lot of time remaining. While a game purist might say ‘Well, if you beat it with hints, you didn’t beat it at all!’, I felt that they were a great addition to the game. They prevented the atmosphere from shifting to one of resigned despair, as every hint offered a glimmer of hope. However, they weren’t so numerous as to detract from the difficulty of the room.
Sadly, even with three hints and good group communication, we fell a couple of steps short of completing the room. The time on the screen reached 00:00, a police siren sounded, and the door crashed open. The lady who had briefed us declared that we had come close, but failed to escape. She revealed what we still had to do in order to escape, and we let out a collective groan as to how close we came. According to our guide, the room has a success rate of between 25 and 30 percent, and we weren’t quite lucky and sharp enough to count ourselves amongst that elite group.
Nevertheless, we had a fantastic hour of fun trying to upturn everything in the room, solve every conundrum thrown at us, and escape apartment 404. There are moments from our time in the room, particularly as the tension mounted towards the end, that will be joked about for a long time to come. I will most certainly try the other rooms that Seoul Escape Room has to offer, and would highly recommend the escape room experience to you all. Maybe you will be better than we were, and will taste the sweetness of freedom!