THE BASEMENT – The Basement [Review]

“Do you want to play a game?”

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $34 – $46 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

We were abducted by cannibalistic serial killer Edward Tandy and locked in a SAW-like puzzle room. The objective was simple: escape and live, or lose and be eaten.

After nearly three years of hearing, “room escapes sound like SAW,” this was the first one that kind of felt like SAW. The set was a large, dark, creepy, and occasionally gross basement. Aesthetically, it looked perfect, with many intricate details.

A pair of hands holding open a book on an old table. Four plaiyng cards and a bone rest on the table.
Image via THE BASEMENT.

Puzzles

In stark contrast to the set, the puzzles felt remarkably tacked-on.

The bulk of The Basement’s gameplay centered on finding little bits of laminated paper hidden in all manner of obscure places.

When the puzzles weren’t based on collecting a set of laminated scraps, the game was still all about finding items in dark corners and determining how to use them.

It’s worth noting that The Basement has two sets of puzzles so that players have the option of returning to replay the game. I experienced “version 2.”

Standouts

The Basement employed an actor in-game. This isn’t a spoiler; our gamemaster beat the rules of interacting with the actor into our heads repeatedly before entering. Our actor was superbly convincing and managed come across as both nerve-wracking and bizarrely adorable.

The set. It was awesome and incredibly over-the-top.

There was a point in The Basement that was pretty damn vile and they pulled it off. To their credit, they did this in such a way that the more jittery players didn’t need to be involved. The whole interaction was completely ostentatious, yet artfully executed.

Between the set and the actor, The Basement felt more intense than most escape rooms. This was especially true in the first half of the game, while we were still exploring the unknown.

Shortcomings

The puzzling in The Basement was incredibly weak. The game derived challenge from insanely well hidden clues that turned the game into a scavenger hunt. There were things that we never would have found without the assistance of our actor. This seemed a deliberate design decision to ensure that the team interacted with the actor, but it was nevertheless eye roll-inducing.

The latter half of the game became considerably less intense because we had fully explored the space and eliminated the unknown and the fear that comes with that. All that was left was scavenging and basic puzzling, which did not maintain the otherwise high quality of The Basement’s experience.

*** Spoiler Warning***

***This is a slight spoiler. Skip ahead to “should I play” if you don’t want to read this.***

The Basement and The Study (the third installment in the trilogy) contain the two most spoiled puzzles in escape rooms, in my experience. Literally dozens of people have written to us or spoken to us about The Basement’s haphazard use of electrical outlets for gameplay.

We have repeatedly taken an absolutist stance against the use of electrical outlets in interaction design. We take this stand not because we think it’s impossible to create good, safe, and interesting interactions using electrical outlets, but because we take a broader view of the escape room industry. We are concerned about ignorant players (we all know there are a lot of them) thinking that screwing with electrical outlets is fair play in escape rooms. It usually isn’t.

So, while The Basement and The Study include well-clued, entertaining, and safe uses of electrical outlets, this was still a terrible idea.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Basement?

The Basement offered among the strongest immersive sets and best acting that I’m likely ever going to find in a room escape game. From the sights and sounds, to the odors and textures, The Basement was on point.

From a puzzling standpoint, The Basement left a lot to be desired. The puzzling was categorically weak and felt like an afterthought.

If you’re in reasonably good health and don’t mind (or better yet, are excited by) dark and creepy adventures, then The Basement is a must-play. If you’re drawn to escape rooms specifically because you want to test yourself against puzzles, then you can skip The Basement; it’s not going to be your game.

Do remember that you’ll be playing with an actor, and the quality of your experience will largely depend upon how you treat your actor. Checkout our 6 Rules For Playing Room Escapes with Live Actors to make sure that you make the most of your time in The Basement.

If you feel like seeing video of The Basement, there are more than a few on the internet. It’s spoiler-y, but seeing the video will not ruin your experience even though it depicts many of the most dramatic moments. Living it was very different from seeing it.

Book your session with THE BASEMENT’s The Basement, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.

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