Location: Rancho Cordova, CA
Date Played: November 27, 2022
Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $40 per player
Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock
Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints
In JAR Studios’ Fallout Shelter, we were paid a visit from the Ghost of Escape Rooms Past. This game was plagued by numerous design decisions that often characterized early-days escape rooms: a mountain of locked boxes, a physically noisy environment, inconsistent puzzle design, little sensible flow between puzzles, zero in-game narrative, and a general lack of any real “wow” moments. While the escape room industry as a whole has continued to evolve far beyond this style, JAR Studios seemed to embrace it proudly as a feature.
Above all else, puzzle solving is dependent on trust in the puzzle design and designer. Upon repeatedly encountering puzzles with inconsistent logic or elements that were seemingly intended to intentionally mislead us, we lost trust in the game’s design. Consequently, the game’s “difficulty” came more from messy obfuscation than satisfying ahas. A handful of potentially cool interactions lacked the context to make them into special moments and got lost in the slog.
I can tell how much JAR Studios cares about their craft from their lobby experience. The lobby visually augmented the game’s post-apocalyptic bunker theme, perhaps better than the game environment itself. There were some small Hanayama puzzles to play with while waiting, and we loved seeing creative seating options. Our gamemaster, also the co-owner of JAR Studios, had an instantly welcoming extroversion.
I cannot recommend Fallout Shelter to escape room players in its current form, yet I respect the creators’ abundant energy and passion for what they’re doing. I hope they are able to realistically assess the current state of the Sacramento regional escape room market and find a way to channel their energy into the design and upkeep of their games.
Who is this for?
- Puzzle lovers
- Best for players with at least some experience
- Classic escape room puzzling
Back in the 1950s, bombs had decimated the world, forcing all survivors into hiding. We entered a Joint Allied Resource Corps facility in an effort to restore communications.
Fallout Shelter took place in a mid-century post-apocalyptic bunker. Well-weathered walls housed a range of locked boxes and cabinets, as well as a small library.
JAR Studios’ Fallout Shelter was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around solving puzzles, making connections, and searching.
➕ The lobby of JAR Studios looked great, extending the theme of the room with ridged metal paneling and eclectic decor.
➕/➖ Our gamemaster had awesome energy. However, his intro spiel went on for much longer than it needed to, at the expense of clarity.
➕/➖ The room’s walls had some nice texturing, with bits of brick wall peeking through. Otherwise, the set looked rather barren and worn down, cobbled together from a variety of found objects. Even for a post-apocalyptic bunker, many props in the room showed significant wear.
➖ The gameplay was filled with red herrings. Many elements in the room were overloaded with information that either did not get used or that falsely associated with other puzzles that were not yet solvable. This severely threw off the puzzle flow from the very start. It was often unclear which puzzles had enough information to be solved, and the unlock sequencing felt fuzzy throughout.
➕ Noise and presentation issues aside, the core puzzle mechanics were mostly fair and logical.
➕/➖ Some tactile interactions were cool in concept, but they were borderline dysfunctional in implementation (or upkeep), making us question whether we were even doing the right action.
➖ In one puzzle, we followed the apparent flow, but the puzzle’s presentation contradicted itself. In trying to be clever, the “correct” solution made less sense than some more obvious alternatives, especially given the sequencing of when the puzzle actually became solvable.
➖ Our gamemaster came into the room unannounced multiple times throughout our game, usually to help deal with a broken or malfunctioning item. While I appreciated the in-game awareness of potential issues, the manner of doing this was distracting and highlighted the opportunity for improved maintenance.
➖ Priced at $40 per player, Fallout Shelter was at the higher end of Sacramento area escape room pricing. The value wasn’t there. Other local offerings at a similar or lower price point provide much more in the way of set, tech, and gameplay.
Tips For Visiting
- There was a parking lot.
Book your hour with JAR Studios’ Fallout Shelter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: JAR Studios comped our tickets for this game.