Something about the room seems wrong. We are caught in between sleeping and waking, and feel a creeping anxiety settle in. We must escape from the “Dream Catcher” or we risk remaining suspended in eternal slumber.
Fort Locks, 12/887 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley
3-6 players allowed
Listed difficulty: N/A
How We Played
23 May 2016
“Dream Catcher” is Fort Locks’ premium room, attracting a $30 surcharge above their usual price, but also providing an extra half hour with which to escape. In many ways, that premium extends to the experience of the room itself. Though the decoration is as sparse and simple as in their other rooms, they have used the more abstract theme of dreaming in order to incorporate some really intriguing and exciting surprises. The method used to transport you from one space to the next, for instance, is the best I have seen in any room so far.
Although you are never under any pretension that you are simply in an apartment, the individual props and ways in which they are used are often interesting, unique and exciting. Technology is integrated in interesting ways, though the technology is rarely invisible. Though one or two effects retain their magic, you can usually see the wires connecting everything. Despite the abstract theme, the puzzles do a good job of connecting with this abstraction, with many referring to sleep or with a touch of the surreal about them. Fort Locks could almost have gotten away with anything with the theme used for “Dream Catcher” so I am pleased that they clearly put some effort into giving everything a sense of cohesion.
Early on in the room there were allusions to a central, developing narrative, with certain elements suggesting that you would need to figure out the purpose of the dream in order to escape it. Unfortunately, this aspect fizzled out, leaving a nicely themed room with no narrative drive.
My group had some trouble with some of the locks. One type of lock used regularly in “Dream Catcher” seemed to be stiff every time, occasionally requiring an excessive amount of fiddling to open. I suspect this is a problem with the type of lock used rather than the maintenance of the locks, but problems like this can cause a great deal of confusion.
One final area I would like to see some improvement on is the method Fort Locks uses to give hints. In “Dream Catcher” you are given a buzzer to press whenever you have problems, and the gamemaster enters the room to provide assistance. While immersion is not a central concern in any of Fort Locks’ rooms, it would be nice to see them bring the inventive flair they give their puzzles to some of the other design elements of their rooms.
The puzzles in “Dream Catcher” are some of the most unique and inventive I have seen. Fort Locks, in my mind, is the company to beat in Brisbane when it comes to puzzle variety and design. Familiar elements are given a new twist, and some of the puzzles are custom built marvels.
There is plenty of opportunity for teamwork, and groups that struggle with communication will flounder here. It should be noted that the extra length to “Dream Catcher” comes mostly from the fact that the puzzles require a greater amount of busywork than normal, as most require some process to be completed rather than being conceptually challenging. However, for the most part these processes are extremely enjoyable, including dexterity, communication and spatial tasks. One or two of these are a bit frustrating, but they do not sour the experience.
Our gamemaster informed us that the room was designed with four players in mind, and I think this is the number I would recommend. Unfortunately, the overall structure of the room was a strange mixture of linear bottlenecks and parallel paths. Some puzzles were designed to be performed by multiple participants (in fact, one requires at least four based on my experience) while others can only be done by one person at a time. I would have liked to see a little more opportunity for following multiple paths to support larger groups. The maximum number of puzzles available at any one time tended to be around two, and these branching paths cohered very quickly, leading to occasions where some participants had little to do. Team size will therefore have a relatively sizeable impact on the experience.
One final minor criticism I have relates to the room’s flow. After “Locked Locker” (review here), which I consider the best example of complex puzzle interactions and structure disguised by exceptional flow, I have come to expect great things from Fort Locks with regards to the overarching structure of their rooms. In “Dream Catcher” there are a few puzzles for which the effect is a little ambiguous, and there are others that seem solvable but actually require the completion of other puzzles in order to obtain missing elements. This is never gamebreaking, as it never impedes progress by requiring strange leaps of logic, but it can be a little frustrating to be working on a puzzle for a while only to have a teammate unlock the secret by completing a completely different puzzle elsewhere in the room. In a way, though, it does balance out the problem of having certain points where there is not enough for everyone to do.
The Bottom Line
Though there are some issues with the overall structure of “Dream Catcher” that make the optimal team size a bit difficult to ascertain, the individual puzzles are some of the most inventive and creative I have seen. The room has a DIY feel that might be a little off-putting to those expecting a sleek, immersive experience, and the room’s inner workings are often quaintly obvious. However, the DIY approach also allows Fort Locks to incorporate homemade prop and puzzle designs into “Dream Catcher” that are functional and unique. This is a room of big ideas and ambition, and it is worth the asking price simply on the strength of some of the individual moments it offers