Significant Updates to DarkPark Games’ Conspiracy-19

Back in June we released a review of DarkPark Games’ Conspiracy-19. We described the game as, “interesting, bumpy, and fixable.”

In response, DarkPark Games has issued significant patching to Conspiracy-19, by augmenting the digital side of the experience.

Pomotional image displaying the contents of the game box.

The most notable shift was a complete overhaul of their hint system.

Beyond that, they added quite a few smaller quality-of-life improvements that I suspect will dramatically improve the flow of the game, but it is admittedly hard to assess this in a game that I have already played.

Our review has been updated to reflect these changes to the best of our ability without changing what was originally published.

Should I Buy?

If you were on the fence about Conspiracy-19, I think that it has been significantly improved, and I feel a lot more comfortable recommending it at this point.

That said…

DarkPark Games’ latest creation, Witchery Spell, is special on a whole different level, and I would easily recommend it before playing Conspiracy-19. Both are worthy of playing, but Witchery Spell is magical.

DarkPark – Conspiracy-19 [Review]

Playfully Grim

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 10, 2020

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 2.5-3 hours

Price: about $53.13

Updated 12 September 2020 – DarkPark Games made a number of improvements to this game. We noted that the game was fixable and they listened. While we cannot revisit this game and truly reassess it, we noted where significant changes were made that we could clearly assess.

REA Reaction

The appeal of Conspiracy-19 was its unusual structure, well-designed components, and engaging interactions, but it wasn’t an entirely refined package.

DarkPark’s first foray into the play-at-home escape room market can be summed up with 3 words: interesting, bumpy, and fixable.

A collection of blood samples and an open bottle of pills.
Image via DarkPark

From its subject matter and name, to the bumps in on-boarding and hinting, it was clear that Conspiracy-19 was finished during quarantine… and produced remarkably well, given the added constraints.

In its current state, Conspiracy-19 was a fun, yet flawed game. However, it could be dramatically improved with 2 easily remedied changes:

  • Adjusting the introductory letter to point the player towards a starting place that resolves more quickly
  • Swapping the Facebook-based hinting for a structured, self-service website

At its price point, I’ll happily recommend Conspiracy-19 to diehard tabletop escape room players with disposable income. It’s a cool game. If the price point is a stretch for you at the moment, I’d sit this one out in its current form. It isn’t bad at all; it just needs a few tweaks.

DarkPark is one of our favorite escape room companies in the world, and one of the things we can tell from their work is how much they care about their products. We’re betting that DarkPark iterates on this one.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Prop fiddlers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A few standout interactions
  • An unusual structure

Story

We were in a race against time to save the world from a deadly virus.

Pomotional image displaying the contents of the game box.
Image via DarkPark
Continue reading “DarkPark – Conspiracy-19 [Review]”

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.