The Crux Escape – Dead Air [Review]

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

Location: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Date played: January 22, 2017

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: 21-26 CAD per ticket

Story & setting

The rock n’ roll zombie apocalypse had arrived. Most of humanity had been transformed into herds of mindless brain eaters. A local radio station had become the last stronghold of humanity. To earn our safety, we needed to prove that the zombie virus hadn’t impaired our cognitive abilities by solving puzzles.

Our gamemaster accurately described the game as more Scooby Doo than Walking Dead. The playful take on zombies was devoid of frights and filled with playfulness and impeccable worldbuilding. We were playing a rock n’ roll room escape with the idea of zombies functioning as the game timer.

In-game: Door art of a zombie at a turntable. It reads "DEAD AIR"

The radio station set looked awesome. Loaded with posters for bands, concerts, and promotions, every little component of the escape room had been custom made for the game world. The album art and band names were particularly memorable. The room escape’s rock n’ roll soundtrack made sure that we never forgot where we were.

In-game: Album art shows 4 zombies and read's "Assist! Please Dearest"
The album cover we had to hold up to call for a hint.

Puzzles

There was a little something for everyone in Dead Air. There were plenty of puzzles available in largely open spaces with minimal searching required.

While each puzzle offered its own challenge, Dead Air went out of its way to make sure that we could easily identify puzzles and related puzzle components. This allowed us to keep our focus on the overall experience without having to constantly search for obscure connections.

Standouts

Everything made sense. And I mean everything. The story built a world. The set was the embodiment of that world. The hints were delivered by the radio announcer over the radio station. When the hints weren’t coming in, the station was playing music or plugging upcoming events. Above all, it actually made sense to be trapped in a radio station solving puzzles in the midst of Armageddon.

In-game: A studio with an "On Air" sign illuminated. Band art hangs on the walls.
Image provided by The Crux

The set was fun and compelling.

The game was legitimately funny.

The puzzling was satisfying.

The custom album art was fantastic. The custom art and bands kept our focus on the game world. Had there been album art from real bands, the game would still have been wonderful, but this added detail kept our minds from drifting back to the real world.

Shortcomings

The name Dead Air, while brilliant, implied that the game was frightening. The Crux’s description of the game on their website doesn’t do much to dissuade anyone of that judgment:

“The dead have risen up and are roaming the streets. You and your small band of survivors discover that the local radio station is still broadcasting, so you brave your way down to the studios to investigate. Will you find shelter or will the zombies overtake you? Test your wits in a rock’n’roll apocalypse!”

I am willing to bet that they are losing customers who think that this game will be scary.

Dead Air was missing a satisfying climax. It had so many great little moments, but I wish that it had that climactic moment that no player would ever forget.

Should I play The Crux Escape’s Dead Air?

Absolutely.

If you’re a newbie, Dead Air would make a fine first game. If you’ve played a few hundred escape rooms, Dead Air feels fresh, fun, and grounded.

Game design professor and escape room community celebrity Scott Nicholson put out a paper titled Ask Why: Creating a Better Player Experience through Environmental Storytelling and Consistency in Escape Room DesignDead Air was the living embodiment of “ask why.” Everything was grounded in the fiction of the game. Mix that with some great puzzles and the result was a phenomenal experience from start to finish.

Book your game with The Crux Escape’s Dead Air, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

 

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