IRL Escape – The WW2 Bunker [Review]

Let’s go kill mess with Hitler’s things!

Location: Edina, Minnesota

Date played: August 21, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

It was the closing days of the World War II’s European Campaign and we were given one last mission: break into Adolph Hitler’s bunker and escape with his plans.

The WW2 Bunker’s set looked 1940s bunker-esque with a decisively Nazi flair. There was a historically accurate world map along with a portrait of Hitler and a red Nazi flag. There was a fair amount of attention to detail, but it was clear to us that this escape room was absolutely NOT celebrating Hitler or Nazi Germany. (I feel like it’s important to definitively state this.)

In-game: An old jukebox illuminated by flashlight. The bottom of a Nazi flag in the background.
Image via IRL Escape

Puzzles

IRL committed to producing a room escape that explored history through puzzling and they largely achieved that. The puzzles were challenging and deeply tied to both the environment and historical facts.

Standouts

In The WW2 Bunker, IRL Escape paid close attention to the historical accuracy of many of their props and puzzles. This included maps from the era as well as reasonably accurate means of communication and cryptography for the time.

I kind of respect IRL Escape’s boldness in designing a game around Hitler’s bunker and not visually sugarcoating it. Literally the first thing that I saw upon entering was a swastika. It wasn’t welcoming, but in a strange way, I greatly preferred this to being in a generic and sterilized “dictator’s bunker.”

Shortcomings

This section is long. It isn’t because The WW2 Bunker was horrible so much as because its flaws were interesting. 

Parts of the set needed more upkeep and maintenance. A hot maglock that was attached with an adhesive literally ejected from its housing when a door popped.

Minor Spoiler Warning

This is also revealed by imagery on IRL Escape’s website: The WW2 Bunker used a functionally accurate recreation of the German Enigma machine. This beautiful piece was one of Mark Tessier’s Enigma replicas. He let me borrow one for an evening last year at the Room Escape Conference in Chicago and I saw firsthand how incredible they are. This device was not ideal for an escape room environment. It was complicated. While I think that IRL Escape implemented it almost as simply as they possibly could have, it still came with a lot of written instructions which we misinterpreted… probably because I knew how the thing worked going in. The other issue here was that in simplifying it down so much, the device also lost what made it special in the first place. If you didn’t know how it worked going in, it was just a cool-looking and finicky keyboard cypher tool.

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It’s time to address the Reich in the room. I’ve written previously on the subject of politically sensitive topics in general and concluded that if an escape room creator was committed to conveying history, I think that it would be possible to create something special with the escape room medium. The WW2 Bunker got halfway there. IRL Escape built a lot of accurate history into this escape room’s story, but they fixated on incredibly strange minutia about people like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, as well as Hitler’s bunker itself. All of those factoids about their personality quirks were strangely humanizing, but I am 99% certain that this was an accident. All of these nitpicked details were carefully conveyed at the expense of the larger historical context. We were spies seeking to learn Hitler’s plans, which in the game were of global domination… but by the time he was battening down the hatches of the bunker in which he eventually killed himself, he had no global plans. He had already lost war, was under the influence of heavy narcotics, and was giving orders to armed forces that no longer existed.

This is all to say that IRL Escape had and still does have an opportunity to use The WW2 Bunker to show the scale of the damage that the Third Reich did to their own people as well as enemy forces in the final death throes of the war.

Additionally, a number of the puzzles for The WW2 Bunker were buried deep in historical minutia. There were many times where we absolutely could not tell whether we were looking at facts for facts’ sake or in-game puzzles.

Should I play IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker?

Neither Lisa nor I found The WW2 Bunker offensive. It was clear to us that IRL Escape created this escape room with devotion to conveying history. There was nothing malicious about it whatsoever and it has potential. It needs a ton of editing and a little rethinking about the larger historical context of Hitler’s bunker at the end of the War. I believe that IRL could get there. There is value in using gameplay to explore dark periods in history.

In its current state, The WW2 Bunker is an interesting game for experienced players who are not turned off by the subject matter. This was an escape room loaded with unique design decisions, some of which worked and some of which could use some work.

The puzzle flow, subject matter, and quirks of the game are a little too rough to recommend that new players visit The WW2 Bunker.

Choose your team carefully, as there are people in our lives that we know for certain would not be thrilled to play a game in the shadow of Hitler and a swastika.

Book your hour with IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: IRL Escape comped our tickets for this game.

 

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