Precisely how much mileage you get out of Laser Quest Stourbridge’s The Cellar will depend heavily on your existing familiarity with the burgeoning Escape Room world.

The past few years have seen the concept explode in the UK, with industry heavy hitters such as Escape Live! and Clue HQ setting up shop up and down the Country. Being their entire raison d’être, it’s been fun to watch their ambitions (no to mention budgets) grow over the past 18 months in particular, with outings such as Captain Riddle’s Forgotten Fortune in Birmingham really pushing production values, challenge and diversity of experience to the max.

It was exciting, then, to see Laser Quest throw their hat into the escape room ring, bringing Key Quest: The Cellar to their longest-running venue in the heart of Stourbridge.

As was perhaps to be expected, Quest lacks the budget and production values of many of its competitors, despite being a franchised experience used elsewhere within the Laser Quest family. With years of development, visitor feedback (and coin!) in their pockets, many of the aforementioned competitors easily outshine what is presented in The Cellar in terms of execution and design. In a way, though, it’s a moot and unfair criticism, what matters here are the puzzles, but in others - such as finishes including cheap LED candles and in places a calibre of accessories not a million miles away from mass produced Halloween fare - it comes across a tad underwhelming if you’ve been privy to Cellar’s much slicker and showier cousins in the big Cities and beyond.

That being said, strip away the slightly makeshift, improvisational finish, and there’s actually a solid escape experience at the heart of The Cellar. What it may lack in variety and scope - there’s no tilting floors, special effects or real physicality at work here, for example - it makes up for in its demand of attention to detail, and a particularly welcome streak in offering up sometimes multiple different paths to get to the same outcome.

It necessitates real teamwork, co-ordination and communication in a way many other escape games fail to - whereas in other rooms a team of 6 can generally split up to tackle different puzzles and sections of an escape by themselves, here if you are not regularly communicating and keeping abreast of what your fellow team members are doing you can easily find yourselves desperately trying to find a nugget or clue to a problem they’ve already solved, mixing up physical evidence, or crossing paths and hindering each other without even realising.

As mentioned, The Cellar is more cerebral than it is physical, testing logic and observation, mostly by dint of its production limitations. To go into any detail about the challenges that await visitors would ruin the experience unduly, but as mentioned keen eyes, quick wits and lateral thinking will all come into play.

For the most part, Cellar rises above its fairly crude foundations. The method of communicating with your game’s ‘host’, for instance, is rudimentary but works perfectly given the situation, and is actually a lot more engrossing and interesting than simply shouting out to an omniscient presence as per other escape games. Stourbridge also have made a shrewd choice in location; use a suitably remote and foreboding area of their venue to house the room, even if the sound of others playing the main Laser tag game above was a little jarring at the very end of the experience.

For those who have not experienced some of the more ambitious and extravagant escape rooms out there, The Cellar will likely prove itself a fun, challenging and engaging introduction, and a fantastic group experience for friends, families or colleagues (escape rooms are the perfect team-building go-to’s). It helps that the host who conducted our game contributed significantly to generating real buzz and enthusiasm for the experience, so extra kudos to Laser Quest there.

As mentioned, there’s a real onus on collaboration here - not least of all because lighting is limited and you’ll need to co-ordinate your use of the few light sources on offer. It’s a mostly thinking and observational based affair, with little-to-none of the gimmicks, surprises or set pieces that define the big names in the field, but that doesn’t mean it is any less involving a trip.

For those more seasoned and experienced, there’s a challenge here, to be sure. It was the first escape room (of several) that our particular cadre of escapists failed to complete (by the narrowest of margins), but the delays and complications weren’t always of our making or for the right reasons. It isn’t just a case of being a sore loser, either - at one point the audio quality of something we needed to listen to was muffled and poor, meaning we repeatedly misheard the clue being spoken and ended up having to outright ask if we were hearing it wrong, whereas elsewhere the limitations of the surveillance on offer in the room meant at one pivotal point the host was not able to see we were in fact using the wrong item as she attempted to aid us.

Thankfully, though, most go to escape rooms not solely in the interests of rushing out as quickly as possible, but for the overall experience, and Laser Quest have, for the most part, pulled this off well with The Cellar. The general premise - you are trapped in the basement of a serial killer and must try and escape - isn’t exactly breaking any new grounds, but it is a suitably ominous and eery concept to wrap the experience in.

In regards to cost and value, it depends massively on your group size. You can book for a maximum of 6 players, and even disregarding the fact that you’ll likely want as many people as possible to try and crack the challenge of The Cellar, it becomes decidedly better value the more players you have. From 4 players and up, it equates to £15 per head, which admittedly puts it at the same price bracket as its more polished and sophisticated competitors in Birmingham, but it is still a reasonable and fair price for a unique, fun and challenging hour of entertainment.

Drop to 3 players, though, and it jumps up to £20 per person, and for a lone duo you’re looking at £30 per head, which, despite how much we genuinely enjoyed it, is not really solid value for money, particularly given Cellar’s slightly rougher edges and more makeshift approach.

So book a big group, leave expectations at the door (particularly if you’re a seasoned escape veteran) and knuckle down for a challenging hour of frantically trying to escape The Cellar. It may not be the most ambitious or polished affair, but it’s a fun, creepy debut from Laser Quest, and one that puts teamwork, co-ordination and communication front and centre, putting even the most ardent sleuths and code-crackers to the test in the process.

Now excuse me whilst I retreat to my own cellar to punish my teammates for their failure...

Booking for 'KEY QUEST: THE CELLAR', as well as further information on Laser Quest Stourbridge, can be found on the official website, or by calling direct on 01384 443939​.

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