13th Gate Escape – Death Row [Review]

Ride the lightning.

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We were scheduled for a seat in the electric chair in one hour. Due to overcrowding in the prison, the warden moved us to the old and previously abandoned Cell Block E. Some say that it was shutdown for safety reasons; others because there was an unexplainable escape. We were hoping for the latter because we had to find a way to break out.

In-game: An incredibly realistic of an old, rundown prison cellblock hallway.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

Death Row nailed the concrete and steel prison aesthetic in another of 13th Gate’s hyper detailed sets. Death Row looked like someone had turned the set of The Green Mile into an escape room. It felt real.

Puzzles

Death Row combined keen observation with mechanical interactions. We needed to parse out which components of our unadorned gamespace would enable us to work the various machinery we encountered.

Death Row included one difficult strength and dexterity challenge… and it was luck of the draw who’d needed to execute on it.

Standouts

We’ve seen a lot of prisons, but 13th’s Gate’s Death Row overshadowed the others. Its high ceilings and deliberately barren walls rendered the cells dramatically unwelcoming. In its depths, we found heavy metal bars and pipes, which completed the aesthetic.

We used the few tools we had to craft an escape with the objects we found. This felt thematically appropriate. One late-game use of a standard item really drew us in.

The final action was fantastic. 13th Gate combined lighting, sound, and other effects to deliver a dramatic and exciting prison ending, unlike any other we’ve played to date. It was a little unsettling, as it should have been.

Shortcomings

Death Row started with each of us in a different cell. There was only so much we could accomplish before freeing ourselves from the cells. Unfortunately, due to the physical layout of the space, the gameplay came to a halt as we all waited for the player with the appropriate vantage point to complete a challenging action. Our inability to help each other, or do much of anything, was frustrating.

Death Row leaned a bit too heavily on journal reading. The gamespace was exciting and engaging and we would have liked to uncover more from the space itself and less from the written word. The most engaging puzzles were those that were fully integrated into the set.

In one instance the cluing in Death Row led us astray, down a frustrating and time consuming path.

All of 13th Gate Escape’s rooms use Escape Room Boss for automated hints. If you’re curious about the details, feel free to read this post on the subject. Beyond that I’ll say that 13th Gate’s gamemasters were fantastic and I wish that they had more direct control over the experience.

Should I play 13th Gate Escape’s Death Row?

Death Row looked and felt like a prison. Creating hyper-realistic environments in large scale is 13th Gate Escape’s bread and butter. They make it look easy… like they hadn’t so much built the set as found it.

I’ve said many times that prison escape games are not my favorite because they generally look and play the same. Death Row was very much a prison escape game, with a lot of the tropes that come with it, but it also had a look that was undeniably cool, and an ending that was anything but common.

The puzzling in Death Row was a little bumpy, but it all came together.

Regardless of your level of escape room experience, Death Row is playable. Some parts pack a lot of challenge. Just approach it calmly, observe what’s at your disposal, and an answer will present itself.

If you’re into the prison escape game concept, you won’t find many that can rival the stunning visuals and feeling of Death Row.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s Death Row, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

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