Esscape Room – The Real Kitchen Nightmare [Review]

Out of the frying pan & into the fryer.

Location:  Long Island City, Queens, NY

Date Played: November 25, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: starting at $30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set within a commercial kitchen with a horror twist… and it felt right because the creators of this game own a couple of actual restaurants nearby. The environment delivered with an authenticity that greatly exceeded the norm.

In-game: A frying pan on an restaurant stove beside a deep fryer.
Image via Esscape Room

Esscape Room’s gameplay was brutally hard. It felt like 2014-level difficulty, which was jarring after half a decade of the industry at large shifting to more approachable gameplay. But it was fair. Our team of 5 very experienced players finished the game with 5 minutes to spare and used 0 hints. It was winnable, but we were only the second team to do so. This was a shame because the best part of the game was, without a doubt, the cleverness of the ending… which most players never see.

Our biggest knock against The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a rule about “not making a mess of the kitchen” which ultimately ran contrary to the search-heavy nature of the game. Beyond this, there were a lot of smaller issues, which is common for a company’s first game.

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was an impressive first outing from a brand new company. The game was memorable. The New York City escape room scene has really aged and it’s exciting to welcome a newcomer. This is one of the stronger games that the market has. If you like horror, we recommend it. Bring a mighty team, or it will smoke you.

Who is this for?

  • Horror fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A realistic set
  • Tons of puzzle content
  • A fantastic ending – if you can get to it

Story

After mysteriously closing, 3 Michelin star celebrity chef Francois ‘Le Boucher’ (the butcher) Hellerstein had finally reopened his flagship restaurant. Hellerstein was world famous for his incredible food and intense rage. We were investigating him because the entire staff of his last restaurant had disappeared without a trace.

In-game: a portrait of a beautiful woman smoking, hung on a brick wall.
Image via Esscape Room

Setting

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set in an old, run down restaurant kitchen. It felt real. Essentially all of the props were originally from a restaurant kitchen, and the owners/ creators of this game also own a pair or nearby bars/ restaurants… so they have a pretty good idea of what a restaurant kitchen is supposed to look like.

In-game: A red tinged view of an restaurant kitchen.
Image via Esscape Room

Gameplay

Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a standard escape room with a very high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: A door covered in padlocks with an exit sign above it.
Image via Esscape Room

Analysis

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare felt real and raw. The set was a restaurant kitchen.

➕ Esscape Room used sounds and practical effects to amp the intensity.

➕/➖ The gameplay was solid, yet dated. The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a search-heavy, lock-heavy game, where much of the gameplay was in uncovering what props connected to which puzzle and which lock. Many of the puzzles were only there to give players a hint for another puzzle. The puzzles were thematic, but grounded primarily in escape room logic. Despite feeling dated, the gameplay worked. Connections became clear and each solve marched us forward.

➖ At times instructions and cluing felt at odds with the gameplay. For example, because of in-game cluing, we thought we’d encountered an order preservation puzzle. Everyone knew how to solve it, but nobody touched it for far too long because of misleading cluing. We’d also been instructed “not to make a mess of the kitchen,” but in a search-heavy room, those explicit instructions misguided us to gameplay errors that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.

➖ This kitchen didn’t have a timer. In easier escape rooms, we’d rather not have gameclock present because clocks don’t usually make sense, and we’d rather play for the experience than for our time. In The Real Kitchen Nightmare, however, the absence of gameclock was problematic. It was a difficult game where hints and time were a resource to manage. We knew we could easily lose, and without a clock, we had no way to gauge whether we should ask for a hint. Having seen this game through to the end and won, we think teams would have a better experience if they were armed with a kitchen timer.

❓ The Real Kitchen Nightmare was really hard. We won with 5 minutes to spare, having taken zero hints. We like challenging puzzle games, but they present a structural challenge. Since the linchpin of this escape room is near the end, if players don’t get to that moment, they miss out on a lot. At the time we played, less than a handful of teams had reached this moment, regardless of win or lose. Since Esscape Room doesn’t show players the rest of the game when they fail, losing teams can walk a way with a substantially lesser experience.

➕/➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a stellar introductory scene. It set up the experience. From a tonal standpoint, it delivered. From an experiential standpoint, it enabled the game to come full circle. That said, it primed players for a different type of escape room gameplay than they would experience in the next hour.

➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare needed onboarding. It had an intense introduction, in character with a horror game. That said, players will be able to enjoy the game more if they are presented with a fair onboarding that explains things such as where to find the the bathrooms, hint system instructions, and in case of emergency safety instructions.

➕ Esscape Rooms had a really interesting design aesthetic that is shared with their real restaurant. It was cool.

➖ There were legitimately dangerous, movable props in this escape room. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Esscape Room should strongly consider further dulling down these items. This was a horror experience and people will be jumpy.

The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a cool transition.

➖ While Esscape Rooms set up a story, they didn’t deliver it through play. There was opportunity to make the story resonate as we solved the puzzles within the main sets of this experience.

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare built up in intensity. Horror escape rooms typically struggle with players becoming comfortable as they get to know the space. Esscape Room didn’t fall into this trap. They were able to keep us on edge.

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare delivered quite the mind%&*#. Cheers to Esscape Room for pulling this off.

Tips For Visiting

  • Esscape Rooms is located in Long Island City, just off the Queensboro Plaza Stop – N,W & 7 train – and a few blocks from Queens Plaza & 21st Street Stops – E & F train.
  • The folks behind Esscape Room also own the The Huntress, a restaurant and bar on the same block. We recommend stopping by after your game.

Book your hour with Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Esscape Room comped our tickets for this game.

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