D.O.A. Room Escape – The Basement [Review]

Murdered expectations.

Location: Addison, IL (metro Chicago)

Date played: August 12, 2016

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Price: $29.50 per ticket

Story & setting

H.H. Holmes, one of history’s most notorious serial killers, conducted his gruesome work in Chicago in the latter years of the 19th century. Holmes was a physician, entrepreneur, and brutally efficient murderer. To facilitate all of his work, he created “The Castle,” which Wikipedia efficiently describes:

“It was called the World’s Fair Hotel and opened as a hostelry for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure devoted to commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a labyrinth of rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and deceptive constructions. Holmes was constantly firing and hiring different workers during the construction of the Castle, claiming that “they were doing incompetent work.” His actual reason was to ensure that he was the only one who fully understood the design of the building.”

All of this and much more was brilliantly told in Erik Larson’s historical novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. It’s one of my favorite books; I highly recommend reading it.

Book cover for Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City.

The Basement was set in the basement of Holmes’ Murder Castle. We had to escape before he killed us and sold our skeletons to local medical schools. (The dude seriously did that shit… I wasn’t kidding when I said he was a killer and entrepreneur.)

The setting of the game felt more like a cheap haunted house than the Holmes Murder Castle. It was dimly lit with minimal props, most of which we couldn’t interact with. The low lighting was at times dramatic, but mostly just made it difficult to see. If I hadn’t been told that this was a Holmes-themed game, I never would have known.

In-game: A red digital countdown clock illuminates a dead body
This was as good as it got.


The Basement had very few puzzles. These were based on searching, guessing, and parsing relevant items from red herrings.

Literally every puzzle had a muddy answer.


The concept. Oh boy do I love the concept. Can you tell that I loved the concept?

I also love that D.O.A. Room Escapes deliberately creates their games based on historical murders. It’s a brilliant source of inspiration that doesn’t run into intellectual property issues.


The Basement was weak across the board. The execution was weak. The puzzles were weak. The staging was weak. The game never even flirted with being fun. We lost and when our gamemaster insisted on us taking extra time to solve the final puzzle, we didn’t want to (but we did it anyway).

Should I play D.O.A. Room Escape’s The Basement?

My expectations were high. I’ve wanted to play a game set in the monstrously brilliant world of H.H. Holmes for a long time. I imagined all of the different interactions that could be created to tell the story of the Murder Castle… and this just wasn’t it.

Even if I had gone in with normal expectations, The Basement would have failed to meet them. I felt truly sorry for the folks who met us for dinner after the game because our team was mighty crabby, not because we lost, but because we didn’t have fun.

I love the concept that D.O.A Room Escapes played with and I truly believe that there is a wonderful escape room within the world of H.H. Holmes. This game wasn’t it.

Harsh as it sounds, skip the game and read the book. It costs 1/3 the price of a ticket to the game.

Full disclosure: D.O.A. Room Escape comped our tickets for this game.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will get a very small percentage of the sale).

Allow your thoughts to escape

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