Escape Games Canada – The Ark [Review]

Ark Deco

Location: North York, Ontario, Canada

Date Played: May 1, 2022

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.98 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: notify your gamemaster if you have concerns about the set shaking

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Ark was an aesthetically pleasing experience with a fantastic opener. Taking overt inspiration from the first Bioshock game, we found ourselves in the beautiful, abandoned ruins of an undersea, art deco city.

A dark hallway with a tall art deco statue holding a key at the end.
Image via Escape Games Canada

I’ll be honest, there was a lot of story, and while I usually follow that sort of thing closely… there was a bit too much going on in the narrative for me.

From a gameplay standpoint The Ark was a good time, but undermined itself with cramped quarters. We were constantly in each other’s way.

The last act contained a number of decisions that felt frustrating – not in understanding, as it was clear what needed to happen – but in execution.

I enjoyed The Ark, but the deeper we pushed into the game, the more a singular question kept popping into my mind: “What do the creators of this game want me to feel right now?” All too often, I found myself frustrated with myself and my teammates (which isn’t a common response for me). We were always in each others way… or someone wasn’t executing perfectly and so the grind continued.

I’ve long waited to experience a proper Bioshock-inspired game… and aesthetically The Ark got there. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re in the area. From a gameplay and environmental storytelling standpoint, however, there is still opportunity to fully realize the grandeur of Rapture.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A strong game entry
  • Some beautiful set-pieces

Story

In the aftermath of an undersea earthquake, a mysterious signal began broadcasting from the bottom of the ocean. Our team was the first to reach it, and we found an opulent lost utopia. We set off to explore the strange place trying to learn how this place came to be, what happened to it, and most importantly, how can we get out?

Setting

The Ark had a strong art deco-meets-mysterious undersea base aesthetic that looked grand, but felt cramped. The contradiction in the way The Ark looked and the way it felt was as interesting as it was pronounced. It felt genuinely strange to see something and think “Metropolis” but feel like the interior of a submarine.

Arc exterior looks like a weathered submarine
Image via Escape Games Canada

Gameplay

Escape Games Canada’s The Ark was a standard escape room with a higher-than-average difficulty.

Gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, communication, and exact execution.

Analysis

➕ The first sequence was excellent. It was a fun introduction to the game, culminating in a surprising reveal.

➕/➖ The set was impressive. Escape Games Canada created a BioShock set through and through. It looked great… but everything felt too cramped. I respect building games in a small space, but building a game with grand architecture without the space to pull off the grandeur seemed off.

➖ Lack of physical space was a continual issue. One early interaction gated access to the majority of the gamespace. Stalling on this action, which was different in style from the rest of the gameplay, really thwarted our momentum. Later in the game, all the available interactions were on top of each other in one small room.

➕ We especially enjoyed the layered puzzles that engaged multiple props across different areas of the set and required coordinated teamwork.

➖ The Ark consistently presented props without satisfactory payoff. For example, Escape Games Canada made a big deal of one old-timey prop… that didn’t do anything. They also constructed a magnificent set piece that loomed over the game… but did nothing.

➖ The final sequence overstayed its welcome. It quickly went from uplifting to deflating, ending the experience with a less-than-exciting vibe.

➖ We found the BioShock-inspired story hard to follow.

❓/➖ The Ark included a bonus puzzle that teams could opt to devote time to, at their own risk. We appreciate this mechanic. Unfortunately, anyone working on the bonus puzzle tended to be in the way of those working on mission critical puzzles. We also wished there had been an in-world payoff for solving it.

➕/❓ Escape Games Canada created a number of interesting end-state options. There were a surprising number of ways that this experience could conclude, but in all likelihood, your team will stumble unknowingly into one of these endings. It would take an incredible amount of awareness and foresight to even realize what your options are. We had no idea until it was explained to us after the fact.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape Games Canada’s The Ark, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Games Canada provided media discounted tickets for this game.

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