OutIn60 – Insane Asylum [Review]

I learned a lot about madness.

Location: Hoboken, New Jersey

Date played: July 3, 2017

Team size: 3-12; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

While observing a dangerous patient’s therapy session, a horde of zombies broke out in the asylum. We had to escape before the zombies reached us.

The set was fairly nondescript. It was a large space with some basic furnishings and the occasional bloody handprint and blood spatter. If I hadn’t been told that I was in an insane asylum, I probably would not have been able to guess the theme.

In-game: A typewriter on a desk in a dark room. A large maze hangs on the wall in the distance.

Puzzles

Insane Asylum was a tech-driven search-and-puzzle game.

OutIn60 produced a series of puzzles that usually put an interesting twist on a standard puzzle or interaction.

Additionally, Insane Asylum had an automated hint system that delivered new information based on a combination of sensor triggers and timers. The hints essentially made the puzzles easier over time, whether we wanted that or not.

Standouts

I loved one massive puzzle that honestly occupied all 4 members of our team. I love a good oversized puzzle that necessitates teamwork.

There were a number of smaller, nuanced interactions that offered a novel take on things we’ve seen before.

Shortcomings

The story and set didn’t work at all. We never felt like we were in an insane asylum. We never felt like we were in the midst of a zombie outbreak. In fact, we’re still not sure why those two themes were amalgamated in Insane Asylum.

Over time, the automated hint system, which had intrigued us in OutIn60’s first escape room, made us feel rushed, frustrated, and annoyed. It continually pushed us hints while we were actively solving the puzzles. It also tended to do so in the most condescending tone possible. Then at the end of the game, when we truly wanted a hint… silence.

In-game: a TV depicting a doctor speaking with a restrained patient in a padded cell.
These two “guided” us through the room escape.

One puzzle was missing an entire section of clue structure. We solved it because we had teammates who could read music. Without that knowledge, we would have had to wait until the automated hint system pushed the solution to us.

Insane Asylum had a serious lack of feedback from the set. The puzzling was linear. Accomplishing one step made the next one possible, but the set didn’t do much of anything to indicate that something new had opened. We were continually stuck waiting for the hint system to tell us where to focus.

There were a few broken and loose components that really threw us off. This issue was magnified because our gamemaster made a big deal in the pre-game briefing about how “everything works really well and if it’s meant to open, it will be easy to open.” We were delicate with the set and props, but there were at least two points in the Insane Asylum where we needed to not be so delicate.

Should I play OutIn60’s Insane Asylum?

Insane Asylum was a tragic escape room. It was honestly innovative and it was made up of many interesting puzzles, moments, and technology. The problem was that it didn’t come together into something cohesive. It felt like less than the sum of its parts.

The hint system, in which OutIn60 has clearly invested their effort and money, solves a problem that they don’t have, while whitewashing their real problems. OutIn60 operates 2 escape rooms; they aren’t operating at a scale where this level of automation is saving them massive amounts of money. The automated hints, however, cover up flaws in puzzle design. Instead of having the gamemaster watch teams be baffled, they simply wait until the computer pushes the teams more information than they need to solve the puzzle in a satisfying way.

It’s a shame to look back at a room escape that innovated in so many ways, yet felt like it didn’t amount to its potential… but that’s Insane Asylum. I love that OutIn60 focused on creativity, but that should not come at the price of constant player frustration.

Full disclosure: OutIn60 comped our tickets for this game.

2 thoughts on “OutIn60 – Insane Asylum [Review]

  1. This review is an excellent example of why REA is so valued. It is courageously honest in a constructive way. Sound explanations as to why something is not found to be “awesome” are always included, if applicable. And, potential solutions to the shortcomings are offered with the reasoning as to why/how they would solve the issue(s).

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