Escapades LA – Disrupted Decades [Review]

This game has re-opened under new ownership. We hear that the new version is substantially different from the version we reviewed below

Escape the shag carpet.

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Date Played: August 22, 2018

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Disrupted Decades was a nostalgic journey through the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s with a heavy emphasis on pop culture. It put an unusual twist on the flow of an escape room by having each room represent a decade and build to a meta puzzle.

We wanted to love this escape room as much as It’s A Doggy Dog World, but Disrupted Decades felt unfinished in comparison to Escapades LA’s other game. The story felt underdeveloped and the set was underwhelming. While we truly enjoyed the puzzles, it felt light on content.

This could and should be a fantastic game. Escapades LA has a solid foundation to build on. In its current form, however, we only recommend this to puzzle lovers who want to see a new take on escape room structure and players who want a taste of nostalgia.

In-game: a 1970s living room with shag carpet,.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Nostalgic nerds
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Nostalgic props
  • An interesting approach to escape game design
  • Some clever and unique puzzles

Story

Someone screwed with the space-time continuum and we had to traverse the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s hunting down anachronisms and setting things right.

In-game: a wall of CDs.

Setting

Disrupted Decades was a 3-room game where each room represented a different decade. Each individual space had props, furniture, and in some cases, carpeting that was emblematic of the decade we were visiting.

The props were generally authentic.

None of the sets were particularly eye-catching or immersive.

In-game: a 1970s living room with a small TV and Polaroid camera.

Gameplay

Escapades LA’s Disrupted Decades was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ Escapades LA produced an interesting escape room in Disrupted Decades. They emphasized exploring the props to determine which were out of place and how they worked together to solve a larger meta puzzle for each room.

– In practice, once we got the hang of how this game worked, it felt light on content.

+ It was enjoyable to take a journey back through the nostalgic items. Some of them stretched the limits of the props to deliver interesting interactions.

+ The ’80s had some high points when it came to puzzling.

– The set was subpar. It didn’t go far enough to convey the time periods. Each era would have benefitted from more details. There were a lot of small props, but the sets felt too bare. A few large and tangible set pieces would go a long way.

– The story felt underdeveloped. There wasn’t much of a beginning, ending, or feeling of consequence. It was just a scenario.

In-game: a franklin electronic dictionary and thesaurus.

+ In the ’90s room they had a Franklin Bookman electronic dictionary & thesaurus. I admit that this is insanely personal and nearly no one will appreciate this prop… but I used to lay in bed with a flashlight every night looking up words and synonyms, and playing word games on one of these things. Seeing one for the first time in over 20 years filled me with joy. Your mileage may vary.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Escapades LA’s Disrupted Decades, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapades LA comped our tickets for this game.

LA Dragon Studios – Knights of the Round Table [Review]

The Sword in the Puzzle

Location: Van Nuys, CA

Date Played: August 22, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $90 for teams of 2 to $280 for teams of 8, 15% discount for Monday – Thursday bookings

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Knights of the Round Table was a family-friendly adventure. Although the gameplay and the set design were uneven, the more tangible interactions delivered fun solves.

If you’re looking for a solid, traditional, family-friendly puzzle game near Los Angeles, check out Knights of the Round Table.

In-game: the entrance to Camelot.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Family-friendly adventure
  • The final interaction

Story

A darkness had fallen over Camelot. We took on the roles of Knights of the Round Table to save the kingdom.

In-game: a bridge over a moat.

Setting

We started our quest outside the castle: a facade crafted to look like the exterior wall of a medieval fortress. There were stone walls, a wooden door, and a drawbridge over a glowing moat. On the other side was the forest, largely represented by wallpaper, some cut wood, and fake hay.

Inside the castle, the sets looked less dramatic as we explored the rooms.

In-game: a sword, axe, shield, and wood.

Gameplay

LA Dragon Studios’ Knights of the Round Table was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The intro video to Knights of the Round Table foreshadowed some of the more exciting set pieces in the experience. Because it was filmed in the gamespace, the video added intrigue before we entered the escape room. We were excited when we encountered these set pieces in the experience.

– The beginning sequence didn’t instill energy in the group. Although we enjoyed exploring the initial set, the gameplay was too slow paced, especially as an opening.

+ LA Dragon Studios crafted some more hefty, tangible interactions that felt satisfying to engage with.

– The set design was uneven. LA Dragon Studios made some enticing details, but left other areas of the gamespace underdesigned.

– While some decor was simply decor, much of it functioned as red herrings. It was frequently hard to differentiate set dressing from puzzle components.

+ We enjoyed finding a path through one substantial, late-game puzzle. It was challenging and fun.

– Two of the main puzzles in Knights of the Round Table were brute-forceable. It was too easy to bypass much of the gameplay, either on purpose or accidentally.

– Knights of the Round Table would benefit from additional clue structure and tighter puzzle design.

Knights of the Round Table delivered a satisfying finale. It was an entertaining culminating action, even if it was primarily enjoyed by one player.

+ LA Dragon Studios markets Knights of the Round Table as a family-friendly adventure. From the props, to the interactions, to reveals, it delivered on that marketing. Families will find a lot to enjoy here.

+ Yes, Knights of the Round Table made some of the Monty Python jokes you’d expect.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot behind the building.
  • LA Dragon Studios is in a medical facility. So don’t be baffled by that… you’re in the right place.
  • LA Dragon Studios also has a small arcade with some classic cabinets.

Book your hour with LA Dragon Studios’ Knights of the Round Table, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: LA Dragon Studios comped our tickets for this game.

Locked: Escape Game Franklin – Antidote [Review]

Prepare your lab coats, nerds.

Location: Franklin, TN

Date Played: February 10, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Reaction

Antidote was a straightforward puzzle game in a lab environment. It wasn’t particularly exciting, but it played well, with satisfying solves.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Puzzle flow

Story

On our first day of work at BTC Laboratories we were immediately exposed to poisonous gas. We had one hour to create the antidote or our life insurance policies would kick in.

In-game: A clean box with large arm holes in a blue and white science lab.

Setting

Antidote was a lab game that felt a little like a doctor’s office. It was clean, sterile, and contained lab equipment. A few puzzles and locks notwithstanding, it looked believable, which wasn’t the most exciting setting.

In-game: A collection of lab flasks filled with colored liquids.

Gameplay

Antidote was a standard search-and-puzzle escape room with a heavier emphasis on puzzling.

In-game: a yellow canister mounted to the wall with a flammable sticker on it.

Standouts

One early effect upped the excitement and helped set the stage.

The puzzles in Antidote felt at home in a lab.

Antidote clearly laid out what was expected of us. The puzzles flowed well as we checked items off a list towards accomplishing our goal. This too felt lab-esque.

Locked: Escape Game Franklin added a lovely personalized touch to the game.

Shortcomings

The set was bland. With the exception of one effect, the gamespace was kind of forgettable.

While the puzzles worked, they weren’t exciting. The gameplay was emotionally level. The solves lacked memorable moments.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is parking out front.
  • We enjoyed The Tin Roof 2, especially their signature sandwich.

Book your hour with Locked: Escape Game Franklin’s Antidote, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Nashville, TN from July 27-29, 2018. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Franklin to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Mystery Room NYC – Chapter 5: Secluded Vault [Review]

Who gave Uncle Scrooge a vat of lacquer?

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: March 19, 2018

Team size: 6-10; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Reaction

Despite the uneven clue structure and set construction, we enjoyed many of the puzzles and nifty mechanisms in Secluded Vault. If Mystery Room NYC can remove debris from former puzzles and put a bit more attention into upkeep and cluing, Secluded Vault will deliver a more satisfying experience.

All in all, the fifth installment from Mystery Room NYC was a big step up from chapter 4.

In-game: a collection of gold coins lacquered to a silver table. The lacquer is clearly pooled around the coins.

Who is this for?

  • Observant players
  • Players who enjoy mechanical interactions
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions

Story

Our pursuit of Edwards, the recurring villain at Mystery Room NYC, had led us to a vault. We needed to solve our way past the security to steal a journal from within.

Although this was Chapter 5 of the Mystery Room NYC saga, it didn’t rely on any knowledge of previous chapters. It was only connected to those other chapters in so far as there was a recurring character as the backdrop for the escape.

Those of us who didn’t know the story going in had no idea that there was a story.

In-game: A bookcase with books a plant, and some coins all behind acrylic plasic shielding.

Setting

The set was an escape room-style office with a few bank-esque nods. A few desks, shelves, and bookcases-turned-display cases were set against barely adorned white walls.

Any decor not behind glass was lacquered down. The entire set felt like a giant still life.

In-game: A digital keypad against a silver table.

Gameplay

Secluded Vault was an observe-and-puzzle escape room. If we could move or manipulate it, we were going to have figure out how to use it by connecting it to something we could observe.

The clue structure varied enormously. Sometimes Mystery Room NYC told us exactly what to do and sometimes we had to grasp at connections.

Standouts

Secluded Vault included a few unusual mechanical interactions. We enjoyed these moments as many of them were particularly cool.

Mystery Room NYC thwarted our expectations with one prop that wasn’t used as we’ve come to expect. We thought we had this case cracked, but we were wrong, in a good way.

The reliance on observation of a larger gamespace facilitated teamwork.

Shortcomings

Since opening Secluded Vault, Mystery Escape Room had removed some of the puzzles, but left disabled set pieces or props. This created needless red herrings that persisted throughout the experience. It was also a disappointment because some of those props seemed like they should have done something cool.

In-game: A beat up contraption with odd symbols on it.

The set and props lacked polish and showed signs of wear. Some of this wear made the game look beat up; other instances obscured the in-game clues.

There were audio clues that were so garbled that we couldn’t understand them.

Secluded Vault suffered from inconsistent clue structure. At times, it was too direct. Other times, we were presented with unfamiliar objects and expected to intuit connections without any cluing.

Mystery Room NYC remains heavily committed to their ongoing narrative, but it is so loose that it’s irrelevant, missable, and forgettable.

Tips for Visiting

  • Mystery Room NYC’s downtown location is accessible by subway. Take the B/D/F/M to Broadway-Lafayette or the 4/6 to Bleecker or the R/W to Prince. There is also street parking.
  • For nearby food, we recommend Burger and Barrel (try the Bash Burger). There are lots of options around.

Book your hour with Mystery Room NYC’s Chapter 5: Secluded Vault, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thriller City – Da Vinci [Review]

Da Vinci is missing something.

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: February 5, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

REA Reaction

Thriller City’s Da Vinci was a harshly difficult escape room with interesting interactions, some great set design, little clue structure, and an inflexible hint system. While there were lots of details to love in Da Vinci, this escape room felt seriously incomplete and in desperate need of improvements that put more of an emphasis on fun rather than frustration.

We’re rooting for Thriller City to succeed, but in its current state, we cannot recommend Da Vinci. 

Who is this for?

  • People who want a challenge
  • Players who don’t mind extensive reading
  • Best for more experienced players

Why play?

  • To try your hand at a game with a less than 5% escape rate
  • The transitions

Story

We were on a quest for the Holy Grail. It seemed that Leonardo Da Vinci knew where the Grail had been hidden and had left a series of clues. With an evil secret society on our tail, we needed to discover the legendary cup before they arrived and used it for their nefarious goals.

In-game: A dark cave with cobwebs and a glowing candle.

Setting

We began our quest for the Holy Grail in a dark cavern lit with a single LED candle. Once we determined how to leave the cave, Da Vinci opened up into a well-lit library environment.

The set was inconsistent. Some portions looked beautiful, creative, and polished; other parts looked unfinished or empty.

In-game: A wooden bookshelf covered in roped bundles of coverless books and glowing candles.

Gameplay

Da Vinci was brutally challenging. The owner of Thriller City told us that the game had about a 1% or 2% escape rate. I got the impression that we were the first or second team to ever win this game. It’s also worth noting that we deliberately circumvented a few puzzles to earn that victory.

While there were challenging puzzles to solve, the bulk of the gameplay centered on detailed pixel-hunt searching, parsing the clues from the red herrings, and figuring out how to operate the game’s mechanisms.

All of this was complicated by a stingy hint system whereby at the 30-minute mark a monk entered the room to provide us with a single hint. With 10 minutes remaining he returned for a second time to complete a task that none of us could figure out. We could not otherwise request hints, clarification, or support.

Standouts

Da Vinci hid its secrets well. It was especially thrilling to uncover transitions.

Thriller City built large mechanical puzzles. These were inviting, exciting, and satisfying.

Some aspects of set design were gorgeous. The opening gamespace transported us to another place and time through detailed construction, down to wall finish. Some of the art within the set was magnificent.

Shortcomings

Da Vinci was composed entirely of interactions. It didn’t include the clue structure. It lacked puzzle flow. It was impossible to latch onto the thread of gameplay.

In-game clueing consisted of many long passages to read off laminated sheets of paper. This was tedious. These clues were at best ambiguous and sometimes entirely opaque. We’d occasionally make sense of a paragraph retrospectively, after determining the intended interaction by other means.

Some of gorgeous wall art was intended to clue a puzzle, however opaquely. Much of it proved to be red herrings. There was absolutely no way to tell the two apart.

The majority of the set was overly spacious and barren. With large, sparsely furnished spaces, the scale felt off and unlike a library, despite the multitude of books.

We spent most of our time fixated on one puzzle that nobody could solve. At any given point, at least one team member was working on this puzzle. We knew we couldn’t move forward without it. Thriller City couldn’t hint this puzzle and with roughly 10 minutes remaining our gamemaster entered the room and solved it for us. Given the time constraints of an escape room, it felt unfair. It wasn’t a trick lock, but the same concept applied.

Thriller City offered one hint at 30 minutes (and eventually the solution to the aforementioned puzzle as well). We spent too much of our time in Da Vinci stalled. I have to imagine less experienced teams grinding to a complete halt. This wasn’t fun.

Da Vinci had a less than 2% escape rate. It didn’t want to be won. Through a mix of escape room experience, half-clued solves, outside knowledge, and two hints, we escaped with seconds to spare. We didn’t feel skilled; we felt lucky. It wasn’t satisfying.

Disclosure: Thriller City comped our tickets for this game.

 

Paradiso – Path of Beatrice [Review]

Adventures in (public) space.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 8-12, 2017

Team size: 1-4

Duration: spread out over a week with shorter options available

Price: from $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant

Story & setting

Path of Beatrice was not an escape room, nor was it a puzzle game or immersive theater. Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) produced by Paradiso, the creators of the escape rooms The Escape Test and The Memory Room.

All of Paradiso’s experiences are set in the same world against the same Dante’s Inferno-inspired narrative: The Virgil Corporation is running experiments on the human brain with unknown goals and there is an underground movement trying to infiltrate, investigate, and stop Virgil from achieving its ends. Path of Beatrice dropped us in the middle of New York City, in between these two warring factions.

Paradiso Path of Beatrice logo, a silhouetted woman looking out a window upon Manhattan.
Image via Paradiso

Over the course of the 5 days leading up to our booking of The Memory Room, we spent our evenings meeting clandestinely with representatives of both the Virgil Corporation and the resistance group, Stop Virgil. Both gave us assignments and tasks to spy on the other. It was up to us to pick a side and execute on the missions assigned to us.

Paradiso staged Path of Beatrice in Midtown Manhattan across a variety public spaces. It can be played leading up to either The Memory Room or Escape Test.

Interaction

We had daily interactions with the characters of Path of Beatrice. Text conversations, email exchanges, in-person clandestine meetings, and missions in public spaces made up the bulk of the experience.

As we explored Path of Beatrice’s real world segments, we could not tell who was a simple pedestrian and who was an actor in our experience.

Participating in Path of Beatrice also changed the gameplay of the culminating escape room experience. Playing Path of Beatrice had a surprisingly significant impact on our playthrough of The Memory Room.

Standouts

Paradiso chose the public spaces that they incorporated into Path of Beatrice wisely. They put these locations to good use. They also reframed how we thought about public spaces that week.

In-game: A monolithic and ornate gate.

The actors that we encountered were impressive. When they weren’t invisibly blending into New York City, they were comfortably improvising with us as we interrogated one another.

Paradiso included some shockingly unnecessary, yet impressive details in Path of Beatrice.

Path of Beatrice conveyed the story of Paradiso quite well. From playing the escape rooms alone, the story could be a little difficult to understand; this filled in so many gaps.

We were given the freedom to enjoy Path of Beatrice as we wanted. We chose the side that we wanted to support.

Shortcomings

Scheduling a recurring week-long experience was a little bit tricky. We keep a busy schedule (not complaining, just stating the fact) and it was difficult for us to get to the locations that we needed to visit at the allocated times. Paradiso worked with us to make this work, but they don’t share scheduling in advance, largely because the story was unfolding as we played. This made Path of Beatrice a challenge for us. It would be similarly difficult for people with families and anyone traveling to New York with a rigid schedule (say, traveling escape room enthusiasts).

Path of Beatrice was expensive. There was no way around it. $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant bought a lot of actor interaction, planning, logistics, and customization. When we stopped and thought about how much was involved, the price point didn’t feel crazy. The fact that the price made sense, however, did not lower it.

The text message and email exchanges seemed like they were trying to create a Morpheus-esque, first 45 minutes of The Matrix vibe. The trouble was that we couldn’t control when these were coming in, so sometimes we’d have to wait hours to reply.

Additionally, I had a problem of trust. The actors were great, but all of the characters operated under the assumption that you trusted them, even when everyone was telling you that everyone else was a liar. When I attempted to make a character earn my trust, I got a “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” type response. Ultimately I just gave in and the experience became a lot more interesting… but I also had to betray my own nature and that kind of stung.

There were a lot of things that we had to read, some of which required a computer. When we received something from a character, we’d then go about our evening in the New York City, frequently getting home after midnight. It would be hours, or even the next day, before we could dive into the Path of Beatrice material. We continually received texts asking if we had done the thing yet. This was clunky. Then we ultimately rushed the reading and missed the important detail (even though it was literally the first thing that I read).

Should I play Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice?

Paradiso does things differently and I mean that as a compliment. Their escape rooms, The Escape Test and The Memory Room, stand on their own as unique experiences. That is a true achievement in an industry where there’s a fair amount of sameness.

Path of Beatrice was another artful and unique experience. This came with unusual idiosyncrasies. The road less traveled has a lot more bumps along it; creating new things is not for the faint of heart.

We interviewed a few different people who played Path of Beatrice 4 and 6 weeks prior to us and they had profoundly different experiences than we did. Ours was significantly improved and Paradiso confirmed that the ARX is always evolving as they and their actors create new and interesting ways to iterate upon their real-world game.

Price is ultimately going to be the big deciding factor for many and that’s understandable. Path of Beatrice stands out as the first experience that Lisa and I have reviewed that we would not have been able to afford if the tickets were not complimentary. I call this out because it’s the first time that price would have kept us out of an experience. This is an expensive experience.

If you’re a puzzler, Path of Beatrice is not for you. You can fully enjoy Paradiso’s escape rooms without completely understanding the deeper story that ties them together.

If you’re drawn to actor-driven immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice is an interesting one that delivers a lot of intrigue and actor interaction. If you’re going to miss the money you spend to experience Path of Beatrice you should not go. If you won’t miss the money, there’s a clandestine world hidden within NYC for you to enjoy.

A few pro tips for those who go: Have access to a computer. While this is no big deal for locals, if you’re traveling it could be a significant issue. Give Paradiso a phone number and email address for each individual ticket holder. They communicate differently with everyone. Make sure that you’ve left ample time in your schedule to accommodate Path of Beatrice. We enjoyed it, but I think we would have liked it a whole lot more if we weren’t always rushing to our actor appointments.

Surrender to the experience, have fun with the characters, and become a character yourself in Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice.

Book your experience with Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

Paradiso – The Memory Room [Review]

More than meets the eye.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 12, 2017

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $35 per ticket

Story & setting

The Memory Room was the second chapter of Paradiso’s saga about the secrets of the elusive Virgil Corporation. We had discovered that Virgil Corporation was researching the human mind and we aimed to save one of their research subjects.

In-game: A dark room with featuring a table lit dramatically with 4 boxes, each with a card greeting a different player.

Upon first glance, The Memory Room looked unremarkable. From the largely blank walls, to the minimalist seating, to the single table set with player greetings, the space appeared practically empty. This stood in sharp contrast to the detailed sets of Paradiso’s first escape room. It turned out that there was far more complexity hiding in The Memory Room than was initially apparent.

Puzzles

The puzzles required astute observation. As the setting transformed and introduced a character and puzzles, we needed to carefully observe, build connections, and make sense of what we were seeing. The Memory Room included more abstract thinking.

While of the most puzzles resolved in a physical lock, there were a few more unusual methods of triggering solutions.

Standouts

While The Memory Room initially appeared unexciting, especially in comparison to the grand staging of Paradiso’s first chapter, The Escape Test, it surprised us. Behind the minimalistic facade, it turned out to be unusual and complex.

The Memory Room introduced a design concept we’d been awaiting for more than 2 years. Paradiso used the unadorned space as a canvas. With technology, they transformed this simple gamespace into a dynamic story and puzzle component.

We’ve never seen another escape room like this one.

In The Memory Room, Paradiso introduced a character whose presence helped build narrative and drive gameplay. The actor in this role was both engaging and withdrawn, intriguing and inaccessible. She was outstanding.

The Memory Room dove deeper into the workings of Paradiso’s Virgil Corporation. The gameplay unlocked a story.

Shortcomings

Although The Memory Room told a story, many of our teammates didn’t fully understand what had transpired. As a standalone experience, The Memory Room didn’t fully communicate to the players what they’d effected and how this connected to the Virgil Corporation.

The set wasn’t particularly well fabricated. More polished construction would improve the stark contrast between the seemingly barren physical space and the complex experience within it.

The Memory Room included one safe-style spinning combination lock that lacked adequate in-game operation instructions. This was incredibly frustrating… and it’s worth noting that spinning safe locks are generally frustrating devices.

Should I play Paradiso’s The Memory Room?

The Memory Room was a unique standalone room escape experience. It manipulated a gamespace, turning a simple setting into an unexpected myriad of environments. We’d never seen anything like it.

The Memory Room had fun and satisfying puzzles, most of which resolved through physical gameplay components.

David and I played Paradiso’s more theatrical Path of Beatrice add-on experience (review forthcoming) in the week leading up to our booking at The Memory Room. The add-on Path of Beatrice enhanced our experience in The Memory Room. Our playthrough included some additional character interaction, which was really exciting. Furthermore, we had a better grasp of the Virgil Corporation, its research initiatives, and our goals.

We didn’t tell our teammates for The Memory Room that we’d been engaged with the Virgil Corporation for few days already. We wondered whether they’d notice that we were executing sneaky side missions. Our friends never realized that anything out of the ordinary had occurred, but they did enjoy the differences once we explained them over dinner.

The Memory Room offered something different in terms of the set and story behind the puzzling and the role of an actor. (Review these tips for playing room escapes with live actors.)

If you’re looking for a grand scale, outrageous set pieces, and large tangible interactions, this won’t be your favorite escape room.

If you’re interested in more cerebral puzzling, as you’re led through an unusual story and a changing environment, visit The Memory Room. It will be memorable.

Book your hour with Paradiso’s The Memory Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

 

IRL Escape – The WW2 Bunker [Review]

Let’s go kill mess with Hitler’s things!

Location: Edina, Minnesota

Date played: August 21, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

It was the closing days of the World War II’s European Campaign and we were given one last mission: break into Adolph Hitler’s bunker and escape with his plans.

The WW2 Bunker’s set looked 1940s bunker-esque with a decisively Nazi flair. There was a historically accurate world map along with a portrait of Hitler and a red Nazi flag. There was a fair amount of attention to detail, but it was clear to us that this escape room was absolutely NOT celebrating Hitler or Nazi Germany. (I feel like it’s important to definitively state this.)

In-game: An old jukebox illuminated by flashlight. The bottom of a Nazi flag in the background.
Image via IRL Escape

Puzzles

IRL committed to producing a room escape that explored history through puzzling and they largely achieved that. The puzzles were challenging and deeply tied to both the environment and historical facts.

Standouts

In The WW2 Bunker, IRL Escape paid close attention to the historical accuracy of many of their props and puzzles. This included maps from the era as well as reasonably accurate means of communication and cryptography for the time.

I kind of respect IRL Escape’s boldness in designing a game around Hitler’s bunker and not visually sugarcoating it. Literally the first thing that I saw upon entering was a swastika. It wasn’t welcoming, but in a strange way, I greatly preferred this to being in a generic and sterilized “dictator’s bunker.”

Shortcomings

This section is long. It isn’t because The WW2 Bunker was horrible so much as because its flaws were interesting. 

Parts of the set needed more upkeep and maintenance. A hot maglock that was attached with an adhesive literally ejected from its housing when a door popped.

Minor Spoiler Warning

This is also revealed by imagery on IRL Escape’s website: The WW2 Bunker used a functionally accurate recreation of the German Enigma machine. This beautiful piece was one of Mark Tessier’s Enigma replicas. He let me borrow one for an evening last year at the Room Escape Conference in Chicago and I saw firsthand how incredible they are. This device was not ideal for an escape room environment. It was complicated. While I think that IRL Escape implemented it almost as simply as they possibly could have, it still came with a lot of written instructions which we misinterpreted… probably because I knew how the thing worked going in. The other issue here was that in simplifying it down so much, the device also lost what made it special in the first place. If you didn’t know how it worked going in, it was just a cool-looking and finicky keyboard cypher tool.

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It’s time to address the Reich in the room. I’ve written previously on the subject of politically sensitive topics in general and concluded that if an escape room creator was committed to conveying history, I think that it would be possible to create something special with the escape room medium. The WW2 Bunker got halfway there. IRL Escape built a lot of accurate history into this escape room’s story, but they fixated on incredibly strange minutia about people like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, as well as Hitler’s bunker itself. All of those factoids about their personality quirks were strangely humanizing, but I am 99% certain that this was an accident. All of these nitpicked details were carefully conveyed at the expense of the larger historical context. We were spies seeking to learn Hitler’s plans, which in the game were of global domination… but by the time he was battening down the hatches of the bunker in which he eventually killed himself, he had no global plans. He had already lost war, was under the influence of heavy narcotics, and was giving orders to armed forces that no longer existed.

This is all to say that IRL Escape had and still does have an opportunity to use The WW2 Bunker to show the scale of the damage that the Third Reich did to their own people as well as enemy forces in the final death throes of the war.

Additionally, a number of the puzzles for The WW2 Bunker were buried deep in historical minutia. There were many times where we absolutely could not tell whether we were looking at facts for facts’ sake or in-game puzzles.

Should I play IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker?

Neither Lisa nor I found The WW2 Bunker offensive. It was clear to us that IRL Escape created this escape room with devotion to conveying history. There was nothing malicious about it whatsoever and it has potential. It needs a ton of editing and a little rethinking about the larger historical context of Hitler’s bunker at the end of the War. I believe that IRL could get there. There is value in using gameplay to explore dark periods in history.

In its current state, The WW2 Bunker is an interesting game for experienced players who are not turned off by the subject matter. This was an escape room loaded with unique design decisions, some of which worked and some of which could use some work.

The puzzle flow, subject matter, and quirks of the game are a little too rough to recommend that new players visit The WW2 Bunker.

Choose your team carefully, as there are people in our lives that we know for certain would not be thrilled to play a game in the shadow of Hitler and a swastika.

Book your hour with IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: IRL Escape comped our tickets for this game.

 

OutIn60 – Insane Asylum [Review]

I learned a lot about madness.

Location: Hoboken, New Jersey

Date played: July 3, 2017

Team size: 3-12; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

While observing a dangerous patient’s therapy session, a horde of zombies broke out in the asylum. We had to escape before the zombies reached us.

The set was fairly nondescript. It was a large space with some basic furnishings and the occasional bloody handprint and blood spatter. If I hadn’t been told that I was in an insane asylum, I probably would not have been able to guess the theme.

In-game: A typewriter on a desk in a dark room. A large maze hangs on the wall in the distance.

Puzzles

Insane Asylum was a tech-driven search-and-puzzle game.

OutIn60 produced a series of puzzles that usually put an interesting twist on a standard puzzle or interaction.

Additionally, Insane Asylum had an automated hint system that delivered new information based on a combination of sensor triggers and timers. The hints essentially made the puzzles easier over time, whether we wanted that or not.

Standouts

I loved one massive puzzle that honestly occupied all 4 members of our team. I love a good oversized puzzle that necessitates teamwork.

There were a number of smaller, nuanced interactions that offered a novel take on things we’ve seen before.

Shortcomings

The story and set didn’t work at all. We never felt like we were in an insane asylum. We never felt like we were in the midst of a zombie outbreak. In fact, we’re still not sure why those two themes were amalgamated in Insane Asylum.

Over time, the automated hint system, which had intrigued us in OutIn60’s first escape room, made us feel rushed, frustrated, and annoyed. It continually pushed us hints while we were actively solving the puzzles. It also tended to do so in the most condescending tone possible. Then at the end of the game, when we truly wanted a hint… silence.

In-game: a TV depicting a doctor speaking with a restrained patient in a padded cell.
These two “guided” us through the room escape.

One puzzle was missing an entire section of clue structure. We solved it because we had teammates who could read music. Without that knowledge, we would have had to wait until the automated hint system pushed the solution to us.

Insane Asylum had a serious lack of feedback from the set. The puzzling was linear. Accomplishing one step made the next one possible, but the set didn’t do much of anything to indicate that something new had opened. We were continually stuck waiting for the hint system to tell us where to focus.

There were a few broken and loose components that really threw us off. This issue was magnified because our gamemaster made a big deal in the pre-game briefing about how “everything works really well and if it’s meant to open, it will be easy to open.” We were delicate with the set and props, but there were at least two points in the Insane Asylum where we needed to not be so delicate.

Should I play OutIn60’s Insane Asylum?

Insane Asylum was a tragic escape room. It was honestly innovative and it was made up of many interesting puzzles, moments, and technology. The problem was that it didn’t come together into something cohesive. It felt like less than the sum of its parts.

The hint system, in which OutIn60 has clearly invested their effort and money, solves a problem that they don’t have, while whitewashing their real problems. OutIn60 operates 2 escape rooms; they aren’t operating at a scale where this level of automation is saving them massive amounts of money. The automated hints, however, cover up flaws in puzzle design. Instead of having the gamemaster watch teams be baffled, they simply wait until the computer pushes the teams more information than they need to solve the puzzle in a satisfying way.

It’s a shame to look back at a room escape that innovated in so many ways, yet felt like it didn’t amount to its potential… but that’s Insane Asylum. I love that OutIn60 focused on creativity, but that should not come at the price of constant player frustration.

Full disclosure: OutIn60 comped our tickets for this game.

Mystery Room NYC – Chapter 4: Forgotten Library [Review]

50 shades of brown.

Location: New York City, New York (Mercer Street facility)

Date played: June 26, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We followed Mystery Room NYC’s evasive villain into his fourth crime. This time we were attempting to rescue an abducted girl by following the clues in a small, private library.

The set was large with bookcases, desks, and a card catalog. Most of the bookcase shelves had still lifes in them, protected by plexiglass. Aesthetically speaking, Forgotten Library was a step up for Mystery Room NYC.

In-game: A dimly library environment with a white stone bust sitting on a shelf.
The lights can be made brighter. Lighting was not a challenge in this room escape.

Puzzles

All of Mystery Room NYC’s escape rooms have been built around puzzling and Forgotten Library was no exception. Many of the challenges focused on the library components of the space, while others explored additional, stranger themes that were slowly introduced as the plot progressed.

Standouts

Most of the bigger, more critical puzzles in Forgotten Library played well. They made good use of the environment and resolved to satisfying conclusions.

Shortcomings

While Forgotten Library was a big step forward in terms of set design, Mystery Room NYC needs another leap or two forward in order catch up to the level of set design that we’ve come to expect from escape rooms.

Mystery Room NYC elected to up their set design by putting a lot of the nicer things behind plexiglass. This could work in moderation and in environments where putting things behind glass makes sense. In a private library, it was weird to have things permanently behind glass. They used this approach a lot.

Triggered events were a little funky. There were times where we knew that we’d released something, but had no idea what or where to look. Better feedback would have made these moments more triumphant and exciting.

The story in Forgotten Library was incredibly silly, which could have been ok if it hadn’t taken itself seriously.

On the subject of story… I appreciate Mystery Room NYC’s commitment to building all of their room escapes around one recurring villain, but he isn’t a compelling or believable character. This would have been a better experience without him and his bizarre crime.

The final puzzle was ambiguous and annoying and I was happy when it was over.

Should I play Mystery Room NYC’s Chapter 4: Forgotten Library?

In Chapter 4: Forgotten Library, Mystery Room NYC delivered exactly what I was expecting to see, but not what I was hoping to find. They are a company that has consistently delivered puzzle-y room escapes with weaker sets and zany recurring crime stories. That’s what we received again in their fourth installment.

If you’re looking for grand adventure, brilliant story, interesting technology, or an immersive experience that will leave you wanting more, this is not the escape room for you.

Wide open, unthreatening, and family friendly, Forgotten Library would make a fine escape room for introducing newbies who are a little afraid of the escape room concept, but are excited by the prospect of solving puzzles.

Mystery Room NYC isn’t out of the race, but they haven’t been keeping up with their competition. I’m hoping that their eventual Chapter 5 signals a rebirth.

Book your hour with Mystery Room NYC’s Chapter 4: Forgotten Library, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Mystery Room NYC provided media discounted tickets for this game.