DarkPark – The End [Review]

That ending.

Location:  Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 6, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: € 145 per team Mon-Thurs, € 155 per team Fri – Sun

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I’m a DarkPark fanboy; I love the way that they blend atmosphere, narrative, and puzzles to create haunting experiences. That said, in our reviews of their previous 4 games, we’d knocked them all for the same exact thing:

The weakest part of all of their games were the endings. No matter what heights they reached, for us, they never truly stuck the landing.

That has ended.

In-game: a rundown scifi-esque wall-mounted logo that reads "END"

The End was a thrilling, weird, and thought-provoking experience from start to finish. It was big. It was cinematic. It was loaded with amazing and unnecessary details that breathed life into a strange world.

The End wasn’t puzzley. It started off with an aggressive puzzle or two… and then it kicked into narrative mode. If you’re going to play The End primarily for puzzle play, then you’re going to leave wondering if you missed something.

We loved The End. It was differently intense and intensely different. If you go in with that mindset, you will be in for a treat.

If you’re visiting DarkPark, I’d strongly recommend playing The Freakshow, The Honeymoon Hotel, & The Orphanage prior to The End. I love all of these games, but their latest creation was truly a cut above.

Who is this for?

  • Thrill seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technophiles
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s an intense journey
  • Cinematic and memorable moments
  • Shocking and thrilling moments
  • The end

Story

The End began in a funeral parlor, as we made final arrangements for someone…

In-game: a casket in a funeral parlor.

Setting

We began our experience in a compelling funeral parlor complete with sights, smells, and sounds. It included some interesting character-building choices. Suffice it to say, the place felt… lived in.

I’m reluctant to describe where it all led because discovering that was part of the journey.

The world of The End was an ever-changing and unrelenting thriller. Sometimes it was scary. Sometimes it was intimidating. Every space we entered was visually and tactilely compelling.

In-game: An assortment of urns behind a computer desk.

Gameplay

DarkPark’s The End was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and exploring the unknown.

In-game: Closeup of an assortment of urns.

Analysis

The End took us on an unexpected journey.

➕ DarkPark crafted The End around discovery. Throughout this experience we felt like adventurers, excitedly (and a bit apprehensively, for those less daring) exploring uncharted territory. This was thrilling.

The End constantly surprised us.

➕ DarkPark created a fantastically detailed world for The End. They also engaged many of our different senses, which added depth to the experience. They didn’t need that level of detail to facilitate the gameplay, but the experience was richer for it.

➕ The technology that powered The End was impressive. In one scene, the gameplay required substantial infrastructure and ingenuity. This worked so seamlessly and invisibly that most teams will never stop to think about it.

In-game: A poster of needles labeled, "The end is the beginning of a new tomorrow!"

The End was fantastically dramatic with a full team of 6 players. We recommend a larger group as it will heighten anticipation and reveals.

➖ That said, the puzzles didn’t fully support the full team of 6. Only a few of the puzzles leveraged teamwork. At one point the puzzle-solving became largely linear and we had to wait for each other for substantial periods of time.

❓ Many of the moments of triumph felt individual. While The End was absolutely a team experience, heightened by the presence of teammates, some of the most intense moments were solo interactions.

➕ At times, The End forced us to wait for our teammates. While this normally grates on us, in most instances of waiting in this escape room, it actually heightened our anticipation of discovery.

➖ In one early instance of waiting, however, it was easy for the idle players to become disengaged. We’d become too familiar with our current space and we didn’t have a puzzle or task to keep us engaged while waiting.

The End was not a challenging escape room, but it had a challenging opening scene. Some of the puzzles may need additional sign posting so that teams don’t spend too much time solving before they come to understand where The End will take them. We played during opening week, however, so we imagine DarkPark will assess and tweak this as more teams play The End.

➖ One input mechanism was too precise, which added to the wait time in one of those instances where forward puzzle momentum would have been optimal.

➕ The hint system fit beautifully into the game world. It was fun to need a hint. In fact, I believe some of our teammates took the hints home as souvenirs.

➕/➖ Although DarkPark is experienced in building fear through environment and technology, The End was their first foray into actor-driven emotions. Our actor fantastically captured a specific and strange persona. That said, I think that a more dynamic persona would have improved the overall experience.

➕ DarkPark’s newest escape room was named brilliantly. There were so many levels of meaning here and unpacking that would spoil… The End.

➖ The story didn’t feel quite complete. Although the culminating scene tied everything together, there was a missing story beat needed to pull the narrative together.

The End was dramatic and thrilling, but also hilarious. DarkPark added humor through audio, video, and elements of decor.

➕ One cinematic reveal left us standing awe-struck and put a bow on an already incredible scene.

The End started as a pretty challenging puzzle game and morphed into narrative-driven adventure. We enjoyed this, but we don’t think it’s for everyone. Some folks will find there aren’t enough puzzles. Others will think the puzzles are too challenging. Know that this game will change what it asks of you. Embrace its ask, at any given moment, and there will be a lot to enjoy.

Tips For Visiting

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

Disclosure: DarkPark comped our tickets for this game.

DarkPark – The Dentist [Review]

[At the time of this review, DarkPark was called Escape Challenge.]

This is a drill.

Location: Delft, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €109 – €119 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Dentist was Escape Challenge’s first game and one of the first escape rooms in the Netherlands. The Dentist may not be on the same level as the other three games from Escape Challenge, but it was still a strong puzzle-driven game with a well-designed set. If you book knowing that this game represents the early roots of escape rooms in the Netherlands, it’s especially impressive.

If you’re in Delft playing The Freakshow already, tack on The Dentist.

In-game: a large old dentist's chair in a white and worn dentist's office with two streaky bloody handprints on the wall.

Who is this for?

  • Horror fans
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The opening moments
  • High-end, old-school escape room gameplay
  • A good variety of puzzles
  • Wide open, but detailed set design
  • Good lighting and sound

Story

The Dentist was one of the earliest escape rooms in The Netherlands and had a standard plot: We were locked in the office of a murderous dentist. We needed to escape before he returned and we suffered a horrible fate at his skilled hands.

In-game: a stainless steel pan with many bloody teeth.

Setting

The Dentist was set in a bloodied white oral surgery room filled with steel furniture and centered around an imposing (and comfortable) dentist’s chair. There wasn’t a lot to look at, but those props they had were detailed.

Gameplay

Escape Challenge’s The Dentist was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: A gross sink beside a streaky bloody handprint.

Analysis

+ Escape Challenge opened The Dentist with a smart and strangely humorous sequence.

The Dentist was a puzzle-focused escape room.

+ We especially enjoyed employing dentist tools to solve a puzzle.

– At any given point, we had access to multiple locks with the same digit structure. Any given solution could go in any number of places about the room. We spent quite a bit of time trying combinations.

+ Escape Challenge clearly clued reuse. We liked this repurposing of discarded items.

– Escape Challenge tried something different with a lighting change. We loved many facets of this puzzle sequence, but they didn’t quite nail the cluing.

-/+ The gamespace felt a bit too open and empty, but the sparse decor made it that much more dramatic.

+ We appreciated how one in-game clue called back to our experience in the waiting room. It gave The Dentist just a bit more story and added emotion.

– The final sequence fell flat. The reveal felt under-designed and the interaction felt under-clued. It didn’t stand up to the intensity or puzzle caliber of the rest of The Dentist.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive 1 hour from Amsterdam city center.
  • There is a parking garage across the street.
  • All players must be able to crouch.
  • Escape Challenge has two different facilities: one in Zoetermeer, the other in Delft.

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

Disclosure: Escape Challenge comped our tickets for this game.

DarkPark – The Orphanage [Review]

[At the time of this review, DarkPark was called Escape Challenge.]

Enter sandman.

Location: Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €119 – €129 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Orphanage was dark, with horror overtones. With this newest game, Escape Challenge delivered yet another style of gameplay: The Orphanage had us visiting and revisiting different areas of this abandoned home for girls, letting us get our bearings and then upending any sense of comfort.

The lights, sounds, and impeccable detail from floor to ceiling underscore how carefully this experience was crafted.

If you’re anywhere near Zoetermeer, The Orphanage is a must-play.

In-game: a statue of a nun praying hung high on the wall, above is a detailed wood planked ceiling.

Who is this for?

  • Horror fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Wonderful interaction design
  • Brilliant sound and lighting
  • Impeccably detailed sets
  • Collaborative puzzling
  • Frightening moments that are scary even if you see them coming

Story

We entered a long-abandoned girl’s orphanage in search of adventure. As the door closed and the lights flickered, we realized that something was wrong with this place. With our entrance blocked, the only way out was through the orphanage.

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

Setting

The Orphanage was grim with frightening moments. Escape Challenge built an incredible and immersive environment filled with carefully designed lighting cues. From floor to ceiling, they designed every detail of this set. They even weathered the strike plates and other door hardware.

Each and every space within The Orphanage felt lived in, and had clear purpose. It made the set feel real. 

In-game: A science classroom display with preserved animals and a human skull.

Gameplay

Escape Challenge’s The Orphanage was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, building connections, overcoming fear, and puzzling.

In-game: a closeup of a human skull.

Analysis

+ The intensity of The Orphanage began as soon as we approached the door of Escape Challenge. It set the stage for the experience.

+ Escape Challenge teased the scale of the set in The Orphanage. From the opening moments, we could tell it was expansive, but not quite how expansive. Escape Challenge controlled our movement through it, introducing us to different spaces on their terms.

The Orphanage surprised us. After we’d become comfortable with a space, they upended that comfort once again.

+ We loved The Orphanage‘s brilliant take on a childhood game.

– One prop interaction needed additional clueing. We were too gentle with it, and in doing so, erased some of our time.

The Orphanage included a variety of challenging puzzles that were fun to solve. We especially liked one dexterity challenge.

– The final segment delivered dramatic intensity, but chaotic puzzling. It didn’t really fit with the deliberately designed puzzle flow of the The Orphanage. Furthermore, the final solve didn’t bring any closure to the story. The concluding scene didn’t match the experience.

Observation: The children in this orphanage had names. Their names came into play multiple times, as we solved various puzzles. These were some of my favorite puzzles. I didn’t realize how challenging it would be to solve these puzzles around Dutch names, which I didn’t recognize and couldn’t easily pronounce. It’s not something I’d ever considered before, and as a name nerd, I was intrigued by this additional challenge. Luckily our Dutch-speaking teammates made this much easier.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive about 1 hour from central Amsterdam.
  • Escape Challenge has two different facilities: one in Zoetermeer, the other in Delft.

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

Disclosure: Escape Challenge comped our tickets for this game.

DarkPark – The Freakshow [Review]

[At the time of this review, DarkPark was called Escape Challenge.]

Step on up. Come one, come all. This is a show that you won’t want to miss.

Location: Delft, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €119 – €129 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Freakshow was an intense and physical journey through a twisted circus. Escape Challenge created yet another special game that wound us through a wide variety of sets and scenes as we sought our freedom.

This fast-paced game was not for the faint of heart or body, as it required a bit of balance and dexterity that exceeded the typical demands of an escape game.

There was so much to love in The Freakshow; if you’re anywhere near Delft, please do yourself a favor and play this game.

In-game: The ominous entry way to the fortune teller's wooden trailer.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • People without mobility difficulties
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Beautiful and heavily varied sets.
  • Physical puzzles and challenges
  • Tons of memorable moments

Story

We had been abducted by the carnies. They would force us to perform in their circus freakshow if we couldn’t escape before their next show ended.

In-game: Advertisements for different freakshow performances including Big Hera and New Spidora.

Setting

Freakshow looked great. It took us through multiple set changes. Each new location established a fresh look and new challenges. It was heavily detailed and remarkably immersive with quite a few memorable settings.

Gameplay

Escape Challenge’s The Freakshow was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A series of boxes and props from the freakshow beside a wooden trailer. There is a rabbit in a top hat, and a the image of a fortune teller painted agains the wall.

Analysis

The Freakshow opened dramatically.

+ Escape Challenge expertly built tension with sound and light.

+ As we made our escape, we traversed multiple different sets, each different from the previous ones. These sets captured many different circus aesthetics.

The Freakshow felt unbalanced. We moved quickly through large spaces and spent a long time in smaller ones. While this may have been because some puzzles played more to our strengths than others, we wished our time had been allocated differently.

+ We enjoyed many of the cerebral challenges in The Freakshow. They were mostly thematic and a ton of fun.

+ The physical challenges in The Freakshow added another dimension of challenge. These were exciting. They also involved the entire group.

+/- We felt torn about one late-game segment. It was interesting and appropriately zany… but I’ve rarely wanted to get past a puzzle and a space as much as I did with that one.

– The Freakshow ended abruptly. We were in this crazy, high intensity challenge, in a ridiculous setting. All of the elements for a climax were present… and then we won. And we looked at each other wondering if that was it. The escape felt incomplete. It needed a conclusive reaction from the set, ideally something that punctuated an escape.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive 1 hour from Amsterdam city center.
  • There is a parking garage across the street.
  • All players must be at least somewhat agile and able to go up and down stairs. Talk to Escape Challenge if you have balance issues.
  • There is a segment with flashing lights that might not be suitable for all players.
  • Do not wear nice shoes or clothing.
  • Escape Challenge has two different facilities: one in Zoetermeer, the other in Delft. This escape room is in Delft.

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

Disclosure: Escape Challenge comped our tickets for this game.

DarkPark – The Honeymoon Hotel [Review]

[At the time of this review, DarkPark was called Escape Challenge.]

Be careful crossing the threshold.

Location: Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €119 – €129 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Honeymoon Hotel took us through our own frightening story arc in a tale inspired by the famed serial killer H.H. Holmes. Escape Challenge’s attention to detail was dumbfounding. Every centimeter of their massive set was carefully designed. We didn’t love the final puzzle, but damn near everything else was incredible.

If you’re anywhere near Escape Challenge, it’s worth going out of your way to play The Honeymoon Hotel.

In-game: A wooden bellhop's desk with a bell and a note.

Who is this for?

  • Horror fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Intense gameplay and storytelling
  • Surprising twists
  • Smart puzzles
  • Beautiful set & interaction design

Story

Inspired by the story of 19th century Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes, Honeymoon Hotel took us on a journey through the hunting ground of a murderer who married his victims before killing them.

In-game: Closeup of a bloodied sign pointing towards the "Honeymoon suite."

Setting

Escape Challenge are world class set and interaction designers. Honeymoon Hotel was as detailed and immersive as it was intense. Light and sound led us through this escape room, surprising and startling us all along the way. 

Each new space we entered was clearly part of the hotel, but every room had its own character and purpose.

In-game: an old telephone beside a tossed bed.

Gameplay

Escape Challenge’s The Honeymoon Hotel was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A baggage cart loaded with luggage.

Analysis

+ The intensity of The Honeymoon Hotel began as soon as we approached the door of Escape Challenge. It set the stage for the experience.

+ The sets of The Honeymoon Hotel felt lived in. The decor felt homey and comfortable… but not too comfortable.

In-game: The ornate ceiling light fixture on the Honeymoon suite casing a a beautiful shadow.

+ Escape Challenge used lighting and sound to guide us through the experience… and to build suspense as we traversed a new space. Movement was brilliantly orchestrated.

+ The early puzzles felt approachable. As the escape room progressed, the challenge increased along with the severity of the decor. The two worked in tandem to ramp up the intensity of the experience.

In-game: Two mounted deer heads on a wall, above is a heavily detailed ceiling.

The Honeymoon Hotel surprised us. It would present us with something familiar, and then use this in an unexpected way.

– One puzzle relied too heavily on color perception, which varies significantly among individuals.

– The final puzzle didn’t live up to the rest of the experience. It didn’t capture the drama or intensity of the previous scene. It didn’t match the aesthetic of the gamespace. It was also too small to engage the entire team.

+ Escape Challenge’s set design was impeccable; they left no detail untouched. Even as we exited the space, they added closure through a pointed choice of lighting.

In-game: A closeup of an old wooden piano.

The Honeymoon Hotel captured the spirit of H.H. Holmes. It didn’t follow any one of his many gruesome escapades. Instead, it took players on a journey inspired by these harrowing experiences. Players don’t need to know the source material to appreciate the plot of The Honeymoon Hotel, but if you’re familiar with H.H. Holmes, your imagination will make these scenes that much more intense.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive about 1 hour from central Amsterdam.
  • Escape Challenge has two different facilities: one in Zoetermeer, the other in Delft. This experience is at the Zoetermeer location.

Book your hour with Escape Challenge’s The Honeymoon Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Challenge comped our tickets for this game.