Strange Bird Immersive – The Man from Beyond [Review]

“I am a great admirer of mystery and magic. Look at this life – all mystery and magic.” – Harry Houdini

Location: Houston, TX

Date played: October 7, 2017

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

Duration: 90-120 minutes

Price: $40 per ticket, $34 per ticket on Thursdays

Story & setting

Medium Madame Daphne had invited us to a séance for the magician Harry Houdini. All previous attempts to summon the spirit of the legendary performer had failed. On this night, however, something unexpected happened. It fell to us to unravel the mysteries of life and death.

Madame Daphne, dramatically lit, sitting in a large chair at her seance table. Her arms out stretched and eyes closed.
Image via Strange Bird Immersive

The Man from Beyond was a hybrid of escape room and immersive theater. It began and concluded with untimed immersive theater and seamlessly sandwiched a full escape room in the middle.

A large seance table with a tambourine, and handcuffed. A locked chest in the background.

The set was that of a séance parlor. Having seen a few in the past, it looked exactly like the staging of an early 20th century séance. Like the Houdini Séance Chamber in Los Angeles’ Magic Castle, this room was also filled with Houdini’s belongings and mysterious creations.

Puzzles

At times there were puzzles and at times there was theater. Either way, there was magic.

A straight jacket is affixed around a bow tied mannequin.

As we investigated the Houdini paraphernalia, we found the puzzles therein. These were primarily mechanical and observational, which supported the context. The puzzles were fantastic as standalone challenges and came together cohesively as well.

Standouts

Strange Bird Immersive masterfully combined theater with escape room gameplay. The Man from Beyond was an escape room wrapped in context, narrative, and performance. It was engaging, moving, humorous, and thought-provoking. It was so much more than a puzzle game and so much more than most theater.

The actors were incredible. They followed a script that branched according to our responses. They also improvised their own reactions based on our responses. Their characters were convincing and intriguing.

A large old safe that reads, "The Houdinis. Triumph Safe Co. New York."

Strange Bird Immersive incorporated minute details into this set. While unremarkable in their own right, together these brought authenticity to the set and props. This made the narrative that much more believable. Having previously attended a Houdini Séance at the Magic Castle, amongst true Houdini memorabilia, I appreciated the attention to detail that Strange Bird Immersive built into their own creation.

The puzzles in The Man from Beyond leveraged the set pieces and props, all of which belonged to a previous era. We particularly enjoyed the mechanical puzzles crafted into these items. These mechanical puzzles were actually mechanical and were brilliantly reminiscent of The Room video game series.

We’ve encountered few hint systems that were as completely a part of the experience as this one. It greatly enhanced the piece by making hints feel like they were part of the ride.

Minor Spoiler: Game Structure Discussion

The Man from Beyond gave one player an individual scene, apart from the rest of the group. Unlike so many similar moments in other games, the rest of the team remained actively puzzling and entertained. We each enjoyed this time, despite the differences we experienced.

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There were some great sounds cues.

Strange Bird Immersive created an air of mystery around the entire experience. The room reacted. The actors reacted. And we reacted. Sometimes in unpredictable ways.

It has proven challenging for many escape rooms to deliver story and gameplay in a single hour with a ticking clock. In The Man from Beyond, Strange Bird Immersive avoided these pitfalls by removing the countdown timer entirely during storytelling segments and allowing the team to puzzle with little interruption during the gameplay segment. This elongated the length of the experience and worked magically.

At the onset of the experience Strange Bird Immersive served us small Prohibition-era cocktails; they were fantastic. They will also serve beverages without alcohol or sugar if requested.

Shortcomings

The Man from Beyond started with an onramp interaction, to help newer players learn how to interact with an escape room space. While this introduction tactic was clever, it never resolved; it simply got us exploring a little. Throughout the experience, we continually wondered whether this opening scene would factor into something or whether it would unravel into a plot twist. This part lacked closure.

One visually loud prop looked like something that it was not. This created some confusion and burned a fair amount of time. The prop seemed like a really bad puzzle, but it wasn’t. It just looked like a familiar bit of bad design. Ultimately this was a distraction and The Man from Beyond would have been better with something else in its place.

Hiding a few cables and tubes would improve the overall game and reduce the risk of players screwing up their own experience.

While the important narrative elements came from the experience itself, there were additional details to be gleaned from written texts. These were too small and wordy for everyone to enjoy.

Should I play Strange Bird Immersive’s The Man from Beyond?

Without a doubt, if you’re anywhere near Houston, Texas, you should visit The Man from Beyond, and bring everyone you know.

The Man from Beyond was fun, beautiful, moving, puzzley, and somehow managed to be both intense and approachable at the same time.

A navy blue room with the walls covered in stars. Strange tagged cages hang above a pair of antique chaise lounges.

Strange Bird Immersive’s first experience was masterful. It stands out among escape rooms. It stands out among immersive theater.

At $40 per ticket, for up to 2 hours of immersive theater and escape room gaming in a beautiful environment, with great puzzles and actors, Strange Bird Immersive is one of the highest value experiences that we’ve encountered to date.

I left The Man from Beyond feeling incredibly emotional because it was a beautiful story…. and because Strange Bird Immersive created an experience that realized what I’ve hoped to see from the escape room medium.

Book your hour with Strange Bird Immersive’s The Man from Beyond, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Strange Bird Immersive comped our tickets for this game.

 

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