Escape Woods – The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab [Review]

Stranger Things was filmed here.

Location: Powder Springs, GA

Date Played: March 24, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab was an atypical, endlessly interesting, and deeply flawed escape room that I will never forget. The untamed environment was beautiful and gross. The game design needed a lot of work. As frustrating as it was at times, it was exhilarating.

During this escape room, I was strangely ok with stuff that would normally drive me nuts. Buyer beware.

This adventure argues for why we don’t give number ratings. If we had to rate this game, we’d have to average a lot of emotions and give it a 3. But that number doesn’t capture this game. For some folks, it will be a 5. For others, it will be a 1. It was magnificently good… and bad. If this sounds super exciting, it’s absolutely worth traveling far out of your way for. If this sounds like a nightmare, stay away.

In-game: An interior of the bunker. A wallhanging holds paperwork, the bunker looks rundown.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Stranger Things fans
  • Any experience level
  • People with at least basic agility
  • People who aren’t germophobic
  • Open-minded escape room players

Why play?

  • Detailed, raw, and real set
  • There’s nothing else like it, that we know of.
  • Unforgettable

Story

In this Stranger Things-themed game (created with permission) we had to sneak into a secret subterranean bunker under Hawkins Lab and retrieve a creature from the Upside Down, then escape.

In-game: An old broken typewriter on a desk beside a Brownie camera, and rotary phone.

Setting

Escape Woods was the escape game corner of Sleepy Hollow Farm, which operates as a real farm, corn maze, farm zoo, and playground, among other things. It also happens to be the real life set of Bob Merril’s pumpkin patch as well as Hopper’s cabin from Stranger Things Season 2.

A sign pointing in many directions towards escape woods, parking, a corn maze, and the exit.

We drove onto the farm, past the farm zoo, beyond the ‘Merril’s’ pumpkin patch and arrived at a makeshift office. We also took a few trips down the slides on their playground. (The long one doesn’t let you build up momentum and the short one is fast; land with caution.)

The rusty hand painted Escape Woods sign.

From there, we took a brief hike out into the woods and approached The Bunker.

The exterior of the Bunker. It looks incredibly detailed, rundown, and militaristic.

Then we descended into The Bunker.

The stairway down into the bunker. It's made of assorted metal components.

It was a mixture of wood, metal, and according to our game master, cannibalized portions of the Hunger Games movie set.

The set was a massive series of chambers and long corridors. There were a lot of things to step over and low ceilings to duck under (if you’re tall). This labyrinth just kept going.

When the floor was made from metal, it felt strong. When the floor was made from wood, it usually sagged a little underfoot. The Bunker was damp (it had rained the week preceding our arrival), dingy, contained insects, and almost certainly contained some mold.

The Bunker was quite literally wild. It captured the abandoned underground lab vibe with a level of authenticity that exceeded any expectations that we could have had.

Gameplay

Escape Woods’ The Bunker was an unusual escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, parsing real clues from the numerous red herrings, and navigating the game environment.

Analysis

+ The set was insane. It was massive, sprawling, detailed, and it looked and felt real.

? While we found this wild and untamed set exhilarating, some of our teammates were very uncomfortable in it.

? The set was dimly lit and we needed to bring our own flashlights (phones worked). On the one hand, it was annoying that the game wasn’t self-contained. On the other hand, my phone is usually a better flashlight than the junk that most escape rooms provide. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

+ There were absolutely no “do not touch” flags in this game.

– There were far too many exposed nails. Parts of the set looked like The Pit in Mortal Kombat.

– The clue-to-red herring ratio was staggeringly in favor of red herrings. There were tons of things to look at and turn over (and what you’d find underneath wasn’t always pretty).

– The puzzle design and gameflow were subpar and at times felt downright broken. Throughout this game we had to search, take a guess at what was relevant, and then pull some strange detail out to derive an otherwise unclued solution.

+ There was a strange purity in having to go in and figure stuff out for ourselves.

– One sequence required the team to recall something from Stranger Things Season 2 and make a strange logic leap or take a hint.

– When we needed a hint, we needed to ask a specific question as there was no mechanism for our gamemaster to watch us or have any idea where we were or what we were stuck on.

+ The final exit was cool.

+ This was one of the most incredible adventures that I’ve had in my escape room playing career. I felt like a kid in this alien environment. I will never forget this escape room.

Tips for Visiting

  • Bring your own flashlight. Flashlights will not be provided and you will need them.
  • You will drive down a dirt road to get to the parking lot.
  • Escape Woods’ facility is primarily outdoors, including their lobby. There is an indoor restroom available.
  • You must be comfortable walking on uneven surfaces and on paths through the woods.
  • Wear clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty. We recommend closed-toed shoes and long pants as well.

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

Disclosure: Escape Woods provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

2 thoughts on “Escape Woods – The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab [Review]

  1. Very insightful and honest review. I am based out of Atlanta and have been very curious about this outdoor escape room experience. I have heard mixed reviews that are similar to this review. I suppose with this type of ER, there is a real sense of “it is up to me to escape” that may not be found in a traditional escape room. Perhaps a real thrill comes with that. I wonder if an experience like this was created with an attention to a solid game design and clear flow, but these element of a “wild adventure” still there – would be an awesome game?

    1. I think the wildness came from the outdoor setting, the incredible scale, the mind-bogging set… and yeah… to some extent the raw grossness of some of it. I have to admit that last bit is a factor, not one that I think would be great to see broadly used, but in this instance it added to the adventure.

      The exposed screws, volume of red herrings, shaky hint system, outside knowledge, weak puzzles, and game design, these things subtracted. In the moment we reached honest frustration that removed us from the game.

      Fixing those things would make this game epic. It’s totally doable and I hope that Escape Woods does it.

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