15 Locks – Call of the Ancient [Review]

The Call of Cthulhu

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Call of the Ancient, a game rooted in the lore of H.P. Lovecraft and centered around the rise of the elder god Cthulhu, was an especially challenging escape room with an optional roleplay element and a “sanity” game mechanic.

If a player lost all of their sanity points, then there were unknown consequences. And we lost sanity… frequently. This completely shifted how we played the game. This was approximately our 690th escape game… so it’s saying a lot that Call of the Ancient made us immediately shift our approach to gameplay.

In-game: a cryptex an unrolled scroll, a locked box and an idol.
Image via 15 Locks

Looking back, I found myself wishing that one or two puzzles were a little clearer, and that the sanity system was more refined. I wanted to feel more consequence.

In true Lovecraft fashion, Call of the Ancient was difficult, with some deliberately frustrating puzzles. This was brilliantly in-narrative and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

This was a really interesting game for Lovecraft fans and puzzle nerds. It was challenging and steeped in its source material. If that sounds like you, then this is a must-play. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, this game might drive you to madness. 15 Locks really went crazy on this one.

Who is this for?

  • The Lovecraft-familiar
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People looking for something challenging and different

Why play?

  • Unusual gameplay that forced us to change the entire way we approach playing escape rooms
  • Optional roleplaying opportunity
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Connection to the source material

Story

A secret society had summoned a great evil. They had arrogantly believed that they could control it and harness its power for their own gain… but they were wrong.

We had to investigate the ritual that they had conducted and determine how to contain the menace that they had released.

In-game: A bookcase filled with old books and trinkets.
Image via 15 Locks

Setting

Call of the Ancient was set in a study-like room with a decidedly creepy Lovecraftian feel.

15 Locks included a beautiful animated painting and an animated portrait. The former served as an elaborate game clock, the latter as the hint system. These embellishments added a ton of atmosphere.

In-game: A faux rotary phone on a desk in an old study.
Image via 15 Locks

Gameplay

15 Locks’ Call of the Ancient was an unusual escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Call of The Ancient introduced character cards, special abilities unique to each character, and “sanity points.” If a player lost all of their sanity, then they triggered a new, adverse effect within the game. The fear of losing sanity was real. It quickly shifted how we approached playing.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, unraveling complex problems, and making connections.

In-game: an old study with a bookcase, phonograph, and a mesmerizing clock.
Image via 15 Locks

Analysis

➕ The animated clock and hint system were fantastic.

➕/➖ The puzzles in Call of the Ancient were intense and in a few instances, a bit maddening. They felt at home in a Lovecraft game, which was amazing. For those who didn’t like or appreciate this stylistic choice, however, it was a bit maddening.

➕ There were some really unusual interactions that completely belonged within this strange, chaotic world.

➖ We were pretty sure that one puzzle had an incorrect solution.

➕ The sanity system was really cool. All sorts of normal escape room actions could result in a loss of sanity. This quickly changed the way that we approached puzzling, which was so damn amazing.

➖ The sanity system functioned on the honor system. If a player didn’t want to go insane, they could simply pretend that they hadn’t triggered a sanity loss. On the one hand, this meant that an individual player could have whatever experience they desired. On the other hand, it meant that a big portion of the game could be essentially ignored, and one player’s decision did impact everyone else’s experience. It was also possible for players to honorably follow their own interpretation of portions of the sanity game. The mechanics weren’t entirely clear.

➖ Partway through the game, I decided to try to go insane while following the rules. There were too many powers at play, however, that allowed my teammates to “save” me. I wish that I could have fairly triggered insanity; it would have been a jolly good time… for me.

➕/➖ The character cards were an interesting addition. The characters’ powers injected another dynamic to the game. Unfortunately, nearly all of the powers were focused on preserving sanity points. This turned the entire power section of the game into a sanity preservation side-game.

➖ There was variation in LED color in the final puzzle, which lead to a fair amount of unnecessary confusion.

➖ We didn’t have enough light. This was maddening… and maybe rightly so… but we much preferred that feeling to come for the game itself.

➕ 15 Locks used space in crazy ways.

➖ The initial spatial reveal was clunky. We loved the concept, but the execution needed more work.

➕ The environment looked and felt designed. 15 Locks chose appropriate locks, which added a lot to the aesthetic.

Call of the Ancient rewarded familiarity with Cthulhu and Lovecraft in a profound way. If those names mean nothing to you before you enter this game, you’re missing out on a significant chunk of the experience.

➕ The conclusion was brilliant and perfectly fit the narrative.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This is a challenging game. Bring a team that is ready for it.
  • At least one person will have to crawl.

Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Call of the Ancient, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

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