The Franklin Institute – Intergalactic Escape [Review]

“Holy pop culture references Captain Kirk!” – Pete Townshend, Stranger Things

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date played: June 25, 2017

Team size: 4-14; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket, $399 per private game

Story & setting

Our team of intergalactic explorers ventured through a wormhole in a desperate mission to save a missing captain.

In-game: white computer console with three multi-colored keyboards. It looks like a dated vision of the future.

An exhibit within the iconic Franklin Institute science museum in Philadelphia, PA, Intergalactic Escape was built around a spaceship and sent us on a mission into the unknown.

The Franklin Institute with it's new Escape Room sign out front.

Puzzles

Intergalactic Escape regularly swapped between straight puzzling and immersive adventure. It was not an escape room to take lightly; there were many things that seemed as if they should have been easy, but were deceptively challenging.

Standouts

Intergalactic Escape had a playful, sci-fi vibe. It was an exciting, fun, and family-friendly space adventure.

In-game: A mysterious location filled with fog. A rock sits on a pedestal.

There was a lot of variety in Intergalactic Escape. We experienced different environments, puzzle types, and puzzling interfaces.

Many of the puzzles in Intergalactic Escape forced teamwork. In multiple instances, we had to collaborate to push buttons, type answers, move items, or perform other interactions. Teamwork was crucial to mission success.

Although we were working together, we were each assigned a specific role as crew aboard our spaceship. These set up the team so that players could have their own mission-critical moments.

Intergalactic Escape didn’t take itself too seriously. There were many funny moments.

Shortcomings

While there was a lot of puzzle variety, not every type of puzzle was fully thought out:

  • The choice of opening puzzle will make getting started extremely difficult for some teams.
  • Mid-game we derived a lot of information through a common escape room design trope that was sloppily and tediously implemented.
  • One main physically interactive puzzle was plagued with construction inconsistencies and poorly hidden tech that detracted from the experience and continually led us astray.

Intergalactic Escape included a lot of doubled information. We spent substantial time deriving incomplete information, trying to keep it all straight, only to find that we’d derive it more completely later from other puzzles. This was misleading at best and frustrating at worst.

While we appreciated having roles aboard our starship, they were ultimately meaningless, as we each gravitated toward our own strengths as players, regardless of the assigned roles. Additionally, I cannot imagine that 14 actively engaged players could participate the entire time.

Given its location at The Franklin Institute, we expected Intergalactic Escape to teach us something. There was some science, but it felt bolted on rather than integrated into the puzzles. Intergalactic Escape prioritized pop culture references over learning. While I think that’s fine – sometimes even encouraged – for typical escape room companies… The Franklin Institute is not a typical escape room company.

Both in the moment, and upon reflection, I am baffled by Intergalactic Escape’s commitment to an obscure Twin Peaks reference.

Should I play The Franklin Institute’s Intergalactic Escape?

Intergalactic Escape was challenging, humorous, exciting, and fun cooperative entertainment. It was an excellent escape room that would be a standout in many markets, including Philadelphia.

In-game: Some sort of security scanner device. It reads, "TFI 1138: Begin Joruney"

For most of the museum goers and escape room newbies checking out this game, it will be incredibly challenging, but a lot of fun.

It’s worth playing for experienced players as well. The escape room looked cool and we had to work hard to see Intergalactic Escape through to its conclusion.

So… we absolutely recommend it. End of review. Right? No.

Intergalactic Escape will be an ambassador of escape rooms to the general public by virtue of its location at The Franklin Institute, a popular destination for educational, family-friendly entertainment.

Bluntly: We expected more.

  • More thoughtful puzzle design
  • More refined set and prop implementation
  • More educational components

Intergalactic Escape was a lot of fun, but if it’s going to be an ambassador for escape rooms through its location in The Franklin Institute, it ought to be more than that.

Book your hour with The Franklin Institute’s Intergalactic Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Franklin Institute comped our tickets for this game.

 

6 thoughts on “The Franklin Institute – Intergalactic Escape [Review]

    1. Lisa, I think the expectation raised by it being in a museum probably sets the wrong tone. It is not designed to be educational – just fun. And it is. They have not one but two game masters, actively tweaking the experience and game play to match the needs of the group, through clues (given in character, which was nice for a change), the sound level and choice of period ’80s music, and more. It’s a very linear puzzle, which can be difficult (aka, boring) for some type of escape room players, but if you’re into a strong theme (pop ’80s & SciFi) and connecting with your group, this room is strong in this area. Also, we found the wrist bands a welcome innovation – have not just a role to play but directing one certain of us to certain puzzle stations was both fun and helped to organize us throughout (the person on Coms had to say one bad joke every 15 minutes to earn us extra time – Fun!). There is a strong focus on technology (which is in synch with this particular Museum’s focus) and it was a blast to handle old tech, like 8-track cassettes, and pretend sci fi tech, like the rock scanners. And ALL escape rooms should end with welcoming applause and victory photo session complete with props and costumes (and available immediately on Facebook). So overall, I think it’s well run, well designed, and perfect for groups who like to play well together and appreciate production value and theme. If the main goal is innovative and ingenious puzzles, this will disappoint. But if it is indeed an entry point into the world of Escape Rooms, I think it will serve people well.

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  1. Barry, I absolutely agree with you that it’s a good game and a fun entry point for newbies. I know you read us regularly, so you know that we rarely write the words, “we absolutely recommend it” in reference to a game.

    That being said, I have to disagree with you that having elevated or different expectation for a renown science museum “sets the wrong tone.” As an advocate for the growth of escape rooms, I don’t love the idea of a future where museums are producing more fun escape rooms that completely depart from the institution’s raison d’être… even if they are good escape rooms.

    I’ve been similarly baffled by renown haunted house companies who have produced serial killer games that are “family friendly.” They missed the point of their own existence.
    https://roomescapeartist.com/2017/05/26/bane-escape-captive-review/

    Professor Scott Nicholson detailed a model for producing games that are fun, grounded in their own fiction, and teach the player something that they can transcend the game in his paper, Ask Why: Creating a Better Player Experience through Environmental Storytelling and Consistency in Escape Room Design.
    http://scottnicholson.com/pubs/askwhy.pdf

    I am firmly of the opinion that a museum is the perfect place to design games like this… I’ve seen it done in games that aren’t built in institutions that share and spread knowledge.

    There was a lot of love in this escape room. And we’re thrilled to read about how much you loved it. Our review isn’t to say the museum goers won’t have a lot of fun, but there’s a big difference in expectations for an escape room in a science museum with a giant, walkthrough model of a human heart.

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    1. Lisa, I couldn’t agree with you more. I firmly believe that education design and game design can work hand-in-hand. It takes more work, but it’s possible, and our civic and cultural institutions are the ones who need to put in that work (and I speak from experience, having produced a number of analog and digital games where I work at the American Museum of Natural History, as you know but your readers might not). And yes, when we developed a prototype for an escape room last January (http://www.mooshme.org/2017/03/jan-update-gamifiying-science-data/), we included educational objectives (about manipulating astro data) while avoiding unscientific content (like space aliens). And I’ll be addressing just that topic at the upcoming Games For Change Festival on July 31st (http://sched.co/BDCX) with other informal learning spaces who are also developing games for learning. So yes, thank you for holding out high expectations for us in the museum space. I give major props to the Franklin for being the first to take this on and for keeping the bar high enough; now the rest of us in the Museum space have the challenge of make one as good as theirs AND achieve educational objectives at the same time.

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      1. I really wish I could come hear your talk.

        And I too agree with you. The Franklin nailed the fun factor, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next from the museum space (them and others).

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