DarkPark – The Orphanage [Updated Reaction]

[At the time of the review, The Orphanage was called If Walls Could Whisper. DarkPark has since changed back to the game’s original name.]

If Walls Could Whisper, formerly named The Orphanage, is a not-to-be-missed masterpiece.

Much of Lisa’s original 2018 review of this experience still applies. Yet, in the 5 years leading into my visit in July 2023, DarkPark had made a number of subtle yet significant upgrades. With these changes, If Walls Could Whisper not only still holds up; I’d posit it’s still at the cutting edge of the Netherlands escape room scene.

DarkPark had leveled up many of the game’s original strengths, particularly the lighting and sound design, since 2018. They transformed the ending — the main critique of the original review — from a weakness into a strong positive. The ending’s puzzling, flow, and experiential context were now something special, though there was still an opportunity for the music to better fit the tone of a pivotal emotional climax.

While the individual elements of If Walls Could Whisper all demonstrated a high level of creativity and artistry, it was the ways in which they came together into a much greater whole that especially wowed us. The magic circle extended beyond the core gameplay, and there was an almost unprecedented level of cohesion that started before we entered the door and extended past the final puzzle. A lush original soundtrack not just set a distinctive cinematic tone for each new scene; it guided a continuous emotional buildup throughout the experience, ensuring that transitions were crescendoes rather than caesuras. Through key moments, theatrical spotlighting perfectly directed our attention, in real time reacting to — or perhaps guiding — our movement through the space.

In-game: the hallway of the Orphanage with a series of hooks for clothing.

Is the 2023 If Walls Could Whsiper a completely new game from the 2018 The Orphanage? No. The core gameplay is still mostly the same. Should you replay this experience if you played it 3+ years ago? Maybe. While you won’t get a completely new game, DarkPark’s approach to upgrading rather than replacing their older games can be an inspiration to enthusiasts and creators alike.

Hiring Composers = Better Escape Rooms

Within the first few minutes of the game, one of my teammates remarked, “I would totally listen to this music on its own. It’s so good.”

Amazingly, our wishes were granted: DarkPark recently released a 25-track album of the original music featured throughout many of their games.

If you’ve played any of these escape rooms, listening back to the songs on this album may evoke strong sensory memories of particular scenes or interactions. And if you have yet to play at DarkPark, these cinematic bangers provide a glimpse of the quality and craft that goes into every dimension of a DarkPark experience.

But it would be unfair to talk about this music in a vacuum. This isn’t just random music that happened to fit the theme of each DarkPark game. It was scored by a talented composer to shape particular moments. It had the ability to drastically heighten the intensity of emotions in that moment: it was masterfully designed to have just that effect.

Leading to PSA #1: as escape rooms continue to mature as an art form, it will be increasingly integral to collaborate with professional composers — and writers, and actors, and lighting designers, and so on. If Walls Could Whisper, alongside many of DarkPark’s other experiences, is a paragon of just how effective these creative collaborations can be.

Don’t End After The End

My team fell in love with DarkPark’s style. They set an absurdly high bar for escape room excellence across all their games that we played — Stay in the Dark (review coming soon), The End, and Honeymoon Hotel — and yet my team’s unanimous favorite was If Walls Could Whisper.

This is not to say that If Walls Could Whisper will necessarily also be your favorite of DarkPark’s offerings. But talking with other enthusiasts who’ve recently visited the Netherlands, I also know we are not alone in this opinion.

And yet, I’ve also heard reports from other enthusiasts who, when visiting this region, prioritized only TERPECA top #100 games, leading them to play only The End and skip If Walls Could Whisper and Honeymoon Hotel.

Consider this PSA #2: If Walls Could Whisper is not to be missed, and for me, it’s as worth traveling out of your way for as The End (though absolutely play both while you’re there!) If Walls Could Whisper has changed substantially over time, and public rankings are ultimately a diluted average of people who’ve played across the game’s many iterations.

And PSA #3: More broadly, when traveling to visit TERPECA-level escape room companies, do your research before only booking their one award-winning room. Some older games at top companies have been improved over time, like in the case of If Walls Could Whisper. You can’t always account for taste, and your personal favorite might not be the crowd favorite. And even in cases where older creations may feel dated, there’s a lot to learn from how an escape room company has evolved over time.

Book your hour with DarkPark’s If Walls Could Whisper, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: DarkPark comped our tickets for this game.

For more from Gijs Geers, CEO and Head of Design at DarkPark, check out this episode of REPOD:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.