[At the time of this review, this escape room was called Paradiso – Chapter 1. Today it is known as The Escape Test, and it has improved significantly.]
A divine comedy.
Location: New York, NY
Date played: July 29, 2016
Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-6
Duration: 55 minutes
$60 per ticket $50-$55 depending upon booking time
Story & setting
Paradiso: Chapter 1 had us investigating a secretive organization. The story was heavily influenced by Dante’s Inferno. Without giving too much away, the game began far earlier than our ticket time via a handful of text messages sent to every player on the team. There was quite a bit to take in prior to the game; although most of it wasn’t mandatory.
Billed as an “immersive theatrical escape room experience,” Paradiso was staged in a large – very large for Midtown – office space and traversed a number of different settings. A different actor presided over each of these intricate sets. The actors carried the detail-heavy narrative and pushed us through the game.
For a game with so many large and intricate set pieces, Paradiso: Chapter 1’s puzzles felt small and simplistic. The puzzles harkened back to earlier era in escape rooms. There was one puzzle that had depth, scale, and gravitas. The rest were forgettable and the low point was literally a crossword puzzle on a small piece of paper.
Beyond that, most of the game centered on finding the right components at the right time.
The actors were superb. Each presented a different character. They were engaging and in control.
The actors also created dramatic tension and sustained the intensity while improvising with us.
The staging and integrated technology looked excellent and functioned perfectly. This was a tech-heavy game that did tech the way I prefer: invisibly. The technology was seamlessly integrated into the sets.
Each set was completely different from the ones that came before and they each had something special to offer.
The story of Paradiso: Chapter 1 created a reason for being in the game. Not enough escape rooms do this and it was an excellent artistic touch.
Paradiso booked by the ticket and capped out at 10 people. Ten is far too many players for the puzzles in the game.
$60 per ticket, double the industry standard in NYC, was a decadent price point.
After ticket purchase, Paradiso asked the purchaser to input each player’s phone number through a web interface. The system was clunky. We ended up submitting our teammates’ numbers at 1AM. They each immediately received a text, which was unwelcome at that hour.
The story, while interesting, overstayed its welcome. The actors delivered a captivating story; however in doing so, they monologued away a good portion of the game clock. It was difficult to stay focused on the actors while knowing that every second mattered for the escape. Additionally, as the game wore on, the story became convoluted and lost its meaning.
The pre-game story provided so much content to explore that those of us who did spend time with the pre-game materials were more disappointed with the narrative than those who hadn’t read much before entering the room.
Paradiso was also pushing an existential story meant to make us contemplate our place in the world in a different way. Having experienced immersive theater like Then She Fell, which a year later still creeps into my thoughts, Paradiso: Chapter 1 didn’t produce the desired effect.
There were a few attempts to personalize the game for the individual players. These attempts, while admirable, were generally dissatisfying for reasons that are too spoiler-y to expound upon.
The aforementioned puzzles weren’t worthy of the setting they were placed in.
Should I play Paradiso: Chapter 1?
Paradiso: Chapter 1’s set, technology, and actors were brilliant. It was created by a group of people with truly impressive credentials. The game was billed as a premium experience and the price per ticket certainly reflected that.
The Paradiso website boldly proclaimed:
“Paradiso: Chapter 1 is the next level of the escape room genre. Part immersive theater, part escape room, part existential game, this unique attraction takes you into a world that is not what it seems.”
It was impossible to approach this game with anything short of the highest expectations. For all that it got right, it could not deliver on its claims of superiority, nor its price.
There were too many people paying too much money for an immersive puzzle experience that spent too much time on exposition, and too little time on quality gameplay.
The irony of Paradiso: Chapter 1 was that it was a lot of fun. The setting was magnificent and the actors who brought the game to life were wonderful. However, far too much of the brilliance was buried under excessive speeches and mediocre puzzles. At half of the price and half of the hype, Paradiso’s game would have had some faults, but it wouldn’t have been a sour experience. After all, we enjoyed ourselves.
I’m willing to bet that Paradiso: Chapter 2, should they create it, will be a masterpiece. The talent and passion exists. Paradiso lacked an understanding of what makes for superb escape room gameplay. If they put in the work to master that piece of the experience, I think we’re going to see something truly special.
In the near term, Paradiso: Chapter 1 is only worth it if you go in knowing that it’s an expensive and flawed experience that does offer quite a bit of brilliance in spite of those flaws. If you’re on a budget and wondering, “is this worth the price of admission to two top-tier NYC escape rooms?” the answer is no.
Book your hour with Paradiso’s Chapter 1, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Paradiso provided media discounted tickets for this game.