Top Tier Escape Rooms – Outside In [Review]

😡🤝😍😱

Location: Oceanside, CA

Date Played: March 7, 2022

Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $38 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Top Tier Escape Rooms’ Outside In was bursting with personality. From the creative Inside Out-inspired theming, to tongue-in-cheek audio cues, to adorable photos from the game’s creator, it was abundantly evident that this escape room was designed by someone who truly cared. Four primary emotions — anger, trust, love, and fear — were developed through nicely designed sets, thematic puzzles, and some special effects. Most importantly, I was reminded of times I’d experienced these emotions myself.

The gameplay in Outside In was fun and flowed smoothly. Puzzles were presented sequentially, though most were best for just a few players and some spaces in the room were quite small, so larger teams may feel bottlenecked at times. One puzzle solved this by providing materials that could be worked on concurrently in the main space, and this approach might have helped make other points throughout the game feel less crowded.

The ending of Outside In was especially effective in conveying many different types of fears, all in a humorous and not actually fear-invoking manner. We enjoyed inspecting all the details and references in the finale, even after we’d solved the puzzles there.

Outside In was a whimsical and unique escape room from passionate creators who are experimenting and leveling up their skills in exciting ways. If you are near Oceanside, I recommend checking it out.

A tree made of books connected by strands of lights to a representation of a brain.
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Steal and Escape – The Neighbor [Review]

I’m watching you… 👀

Location: San Diego, CA

Date Played: March 6, 2022

Team Size: 3-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $36 per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: some narrow passageways

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Steal and Escape showcased their build skills and technical chops through every surface of The Neighbor. It was a delight seeing the work ethic and creativity demonstrated in Steal and Escape’s owner Jason Richard’s 2020 RECON talk put into practice in this room to great effect.

The Neighbor contained one of my all-time favorite tech moments of any escape room I’ve played. It was subtle in such an insidiously sneaky way… and it had me viewing my real-world surroundings a bit differently for weeks after playing.

Throughout The Neighbor, the puzzles and set design were consistently stellar, though with a noticeable increase in puzzle-narrative integration as the game progressed. We also appreciated a well-designed home AI system that served as an in-world delivery mechanism for both story and hints.

The front door to a house, above it are storm clouds.

If you are choosing amongst Steal and Escape’s rooms, you can’t go wrong — they are all strong standouts within the San Diego escape room scene. The Neighbor included even more memorable moments and was generally more sequential, while The Lost Expedition was a consistently innovative and smoothly honed experience that had a split-team start and parallel puzzling. We also got a peek into The Missing Season, which opened shortly after our visit, and the set looked gorgeous.

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Not Another Escape Room – Battleship [Review]

💥 BOOM! 💥

Location:  Brea, CA

Date Played: March 7, 2022

Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $36-50 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Battleship brought a classic board game to life as an escape room. Players split into two teams and competed in a free-for-all puzzle fest, attempting to earn as many cannonballs as possible. Each cannonball then turned into an extra guess while playing an oversized game of Battleship. As in the real tabletop game, the first team to sink all their opponents’ ships won.

Following in the footsteps of Time Machine, Not Another Escape Room once again strongly demonstrated their ability to reimagine what an escape room can be with Battleship. Though overtly themed around pirates, Battleship felt unlike other pirate-themed escape rooms with its Battleship game-oriented structure. Gameplay was almost fully nonlinear, and each puzzle’s trailhead and input were clearly associated. The game was presented as a competition, but it’s only as chaotic as you choose to make it. The set was simple yet attractive, almost fully tech-free — except for a large interactive set piece that was smoothly constructed and coded.

Battleship was a game for competitive puzzle lovers. If you’re looking for a more story-, discovery-, or set- driven escape room, this might not be the game for you. That said, there were a wide variety of puzzle types that would appeal to many different types of solvers, and plenty of flexibility for players to hop from puzzle to puzzle.

A room with walls covered in different pirate flags, in the middle is a table with a digital display that reads, "SHIP."

If you are in Southern California, Not Another Escape Room is well worth a visit. Time Machine is a sprawling narrative-driven adventure filled with unexpected “wow” moments, whereas Battleship is a more self-contained, puzzle-packed competition. If you have the time, I highly recommend giving both rooms a play.

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City 13 – Save the City [Review]

Not all superheroes wear (es)capes

Location: Milwaukee, WI

Date Played: March 11, 2022

Team Size: 4-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 4 hours (5 hours with cutscenes, breaks, etc.)

Price: $75 per player for full 4 hours, $45 per player for 1 hour, $60 per player for 2 hours

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Save the City was monumentally greater than the sum of its parts. With up to 4 hours of continuous gameplay in a warehouse-scale facility, we emerged truly feeling like superheroes.

During lockdown, City 13 undertook an ambitious project: designing a mega escape game that would combine their 4 individual hour-long rooms into a single uninterrupted experience, targeted especially at escape room enthusiasts. To accomplish this, they designed the wide hallways between rooms to look like graffiti-covered cyberpunk streets, built out an entire track of bonus puzzles throughout these alleyways, and created an additional fifth room. They also wrote a story that tied all the gameplay together, seamlessly interweaving the individual chapters into the overarching narrative.

Of City 13’s four original rooms, Neon Light Diner was the standout, both in originality of set design and creative puzzle flow. The other three rooms all contained some fun moments though overall felt a bit more dated and showed wear. But the real standout of Save the City was all the new puzzle content added in the streets, and the ways in which it managed to recontextualize and elevate the content of the individual rooms. We especially enjoyed a multi-stage puzzle sequence that progressively granted us superpowers, and audio-based cutscenes that provided a clear narrative trajectory and introduced us to a cast of memorable characters. If this is reflective of City 13’s current design sensibilities, they are truly a company to keep an eye on.

A factory-like building with brick walls, storage crates, and unusual machines.

I first heard about Save the City in November 2020 from fellow REA writer Richard Burns’ interview with City 13’s owner Nick Timber, and I was instantly intrigued. I can now strongly attest that Save the City is an epic adventure worth traveling to.

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Steal and Escape – The Lost Expedition [Review]

I dig it.

Location:  San Diego, CA

Date Played: March 6, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $36 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Lost Expedition was filled with unique interactions, innovative tech, and a multifaceted narrative. Steal and Escape went the extra mile in designing this room, and it paid off big time.

Nearly every element of The Lost Expedition was painstakingly designed and constructed from scratch, even when it wasn’t immediately obvious on the surface. The set was an impressive self-standing structure with numerous well-concealed details. There was a ton of tech in this room that worked reliably and facilitated the room’s most memorable moments. Each player was assigned a unique role that meaningfully translated into personal goals and skills and a sense of narrative purpose. Furthermore, fuel management — operating a control panel that actually turned the lights and power on/ off in the various areas of the game — provided an in-world approach to timekeeping.

A room with metal walls, a small garage door, and an assortment of technology, canisters, gauges, a breaker box, etc.

The Lost Expedition was a challenging, narratively-driven, and densely-packed game that managed to flow remarkably well and avoid ever feeling too chaotic. This is quite a tricky balance to achieve, but Steal and Escape nailed it. This room had clearly adapted to a range of player feedback and gone through many iterations — reflected by thoughtful signposting and adaptive difficulty throughout the experience. A mission objective screen reminded us about our high-level objective(s) at any given time, and each of our roles focused our attention on a subset of the available tasks.

The Lost Expedition was one of the strongest offerings in San Diego and a must-play if you’re in the area, especially for puzzle-loving players with at least some escape room experience.

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