Escape the Room San Antonio- Western Bank Heist [Review]

Hold up

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A] Push To Release

REA Reaction

Escape the Room San Antonio’s Western Bank Heist looked gorgeous. It was a beautiful and detailed game space.

The experience, however, felt hollow. The gameplay wasn’t dynamic, logical, or interesting. On multiple occasions, this game was barely clued. In one instance, I considered changing the code on one of the locks because doing so would have fixed the worst puzzle in this game. All it would have taken was swapping two digits to something that actually made sense. I didn’t do it… but Escape The Room absolutely should.

Escape the Room San Antonio built an amazing stage for a dramatic heist. With minimal tweaks in puzzle design and gameplay, they could make this adventure truly outstanding.

In its current form, we can only recommend Western Bank Heist for its scenery. Our playthrough was irritating.

In-game: A cashier standing behind a barred window in an elegant wooden bank.

Who is this for?

  • Scenery snobs

Why play?

  • The gorgeous set
  • To see one of the silliest puzzle solutions that we’ve encountered in years

Story

Our gang saddled up to rob a bank.

In-game: Post office boxes.

Setting

Escape The Room’s Western Bank Heist had a fantastic look that struck our entire team the moment we set foot in the room. The dark wood, white paint, and gold embellishments felt both strange and right.

Additionally, Escape The Room had added a few new effects to modernize this game and they were a smart addition.

In-game: A sign that reads, "Deposit Slips" surrounded by intricate woodwork, above it is a beautiful gold ceiling.

Gameplay

Escape the Room San Antonio’s Western Bank Heist was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The difficulty stemmed from unrefined puzzles.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: An intricate clock hanging on the wall.

Analysis

➕ This holdup took place in a spacious and detailed bank set. With its substantial wooden set pieces, built into the architecture, it looked and felt like the stage for a bit of prairie mischief.

➖ Although the set looked great, it wasn’t bright enough for a search-and-puzzle game. We were encouraged to use our phones for flashlights which was fine, if out of place… but there really wasn’t a good reason for us to need flashlights of any kind in this game. The low contrast clues weren’t fun to find.

➖ All roads led to a 4-digit combination… even when a different digit structure would have made more sense. Each time we derived an answer, we had to try it in every available input, which shot any forward momentum.

➕ We enjoyed the few tangible puzzles that were built into the fixtures of the gamespace. These were mostly new puzzles that had been recently integrated into The Western Bank Heist.

➖ We tripped up repeatedly on unclued searching and red herrings.

➖ One puzzle required a hefty logic leap. We required multiple hints on what should have been a quick-hit puzzle. When we finally got the right answer, this puzzle’s solution was about 75% inane bullshit.

➖ Escape the Room San Antonio missed an obvious opportunity for an explosive and memorable moment.

➕ Despite a few missed opportunities, Western Bank Heist went out with a bang.

➖ Still, as we skipped town, we felt intimately familiar with the space, but not the sense of adventure or satisfaction one would hope from successfully robbing a bank. We’d spent more energy poring over every nook and cranny than solving puzzles. The experience felt hollow.

Tips For Visiting

  • Escape the Room San Antonio is right off The San Antonio River Walk.

Book your hour with Escape the Room San Antonio’s Western Bank Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape the Room San Antonio provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape the Room NYC – Jurassic Escape [Review]

Jurassic Escape

“Life, uh… finds a way.” – Dr. Ian Malcolm

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 11, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $34 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

As I entered Jurassic Escape, in my head I heard the voice of John Hammond say, “Welcome to Jurassic Park!” This escape room felt like it was heavily inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Escape The Room NYC largely nailed the aesthetic and vibe of the movie. This was straight down to the effects, including one of the most memorable moments in the movie.

As a kid, I loved that movie. I loved that book. I loved all things dinosaurs. I couldn’t wait to step into this world that I had so painstakingly tried to recreate with my toys in my parents’ basement. Did I mention that I was excited?

In-game: The dinosaur pens.

Did it play on that level?

Jurassic Escape was a mixed bag. Its highs soared and its lows were bafflingly disappointing. (How do you make shooting a gun the least intense moment in a puzzle game?) Jurassic Escape constantly shifted between an immersive dinosaur adventure and an average escape game.

In the end, I was thrilled that I got to play Jurassic Escape, but I couldn’t help feeling that this one could have and should have been a curve breaker.

Who is this for?

  • People who love dinosaurs (If you don’t… why?)
  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Dinosaurs!
  • Some fantastic effects
  • Some brilliant setpieces
  • Dinosaurs! 

Story

An evil corporation was cloning weaponized dinosaurs. We had to stop them.

In-game: A close-up of the face of a cage triceratops.
Image by Steve Ewing

Setting

We began our adventure in the dinosaur pens. This set looked fantastic. It was a few animatronics away from feeling like it could have belonged in a Universal theme park.

Late game, we found ourselves in the less inspiring laboratory, which looked a step or two above your standard white-walled lab escape room.

In-game: A hole in a wall, a storage room with crates is beyond it.

Gameplay

Escape the Room NYC’s Jurassic Escape was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ The initial set was especially cool. This was exactly what I’d wanted to see in a Jurassic Park-inspired escape room.

➕ Escape The Room built some phenomenal effects into Jurassic Escape. We loved one absolutely amazing and oh-so-memorable moment.

➕ One puzzle directly referenced Jurassic Park. I saw it coming before I even entered the game. I was plenty happy to see it there.

➖ Jurassic Escape had some rough bottleneck puzzles that conflicted with the intense adventure theme. These puzzles stopped all forward progress. While this could be fine in some themes, it didn’t feel natural in Jurassic Escape.

➕ At its best, Jurassic Escape offered thematic puzzles that carried the narrative forward and instilled a sense of adventure.

In-game: a case for a tranquilizer gun.

➖ An early challenge featuring a gun was boring and lacked adequate direction. There was no reason for this to be anything but a quick, intense, and cool moment. It was instead a momentum-annihilating dose of tedium. If Escape The Room NYC only changes one thing about this game, please let it be this.

➕ Mid-game, Escape The Room NYC ratcheted up the intensity and really made Jurassic Escape roar.

➖ Escape the Room NYC never paid off the intensity of the theme or their best moments. When we won, the game ended as if we had found the door key. They forgot to truly end our story… and there was an opportunity to deliver an impactful exit.

❓ The featured dinosaurs in Jurassic Escape were from the late Cretaceous Period. [Pushes glasses up.]

Tips For Visiting

  • Escape the Room NYC is easily accessible by subway.
  • Take the elevator up to the escape room company.
  • We recommend Hill Country Chicken for a bite to eat before / after the game.

Book your hour with Escape the Room NYC’s Jurassic Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape the Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Room NYC – Clock Tower [Review]

Don’t fritter and waste this hour in an off-hand way.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 20, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

Clock Tower was a steam-punkish adventure to correct time.

The escape room took place in a laboratory called the Clock Tower, home to an eccentric keeper of time. The space included different mechanisms for altering and experiencing time. These were the crux of both the set and the puzzles.

In game: A table covered in steam-punkish machinery. An image of a Tardis rests on the wall of the detailed and weathered space.

Puzzles

The puzzles in Clock Tower were born of the incredible environment. The set pieces themselves were the puzzles.

Clock Tower’s puzzles ran the gamut of mechanical, observational, mathematical (nothing brutal), auditory, logical, and at one point, even “magical.” Multiple puzzles involved clocks, but with dramatically varied approaches. These different puzzle types all included tactile components.

Standouts

Clock Tower transported us not just through time, but into a space so unlike the midtown building that houses Escape the Room NYC. The room was composed of larger set pieces that contributed to a cohesive environment. Each set piece was exciting, beautiful, and intricate, but not distracting (mostly).

More importantly, the puzzling existed through the set. We explored, fiddled, manipulated, and even constructed parts of this set as we solved the puzzles. This made the puzzling that much more dynamic.

Many of the puzzles in Clock Tower were tech-driven, but the tech driving these interactions varied enormously and frequently felt invisible.

Through a combination of set, puzzles, and tech, Clock Tower delivered multiple cinematic moments. Each one delighted us.

Clock Tower included multiple puzzles we’ve never seen before. This wasn’t limited to different takes on familiar concepts. Clock Tower forced us to think of new ideas.

Clock Tower demonstrated that an escape room can be seriously challenging and still fair.

Shortcomings

The initial gamespace bottlenecked, both in physical space and gameplay. Clock Tower required a large team, but it initially couldn’t involve the full group.

Two of the early puzzles felt too similar, even though they ended up being quite different. This created confusion about whether they were standalone puzzles or somehow intertwined. It lead us needlessly off track for a bit.

While certainly both challenging and fair, in a few instances, Clock Tower would benefit from a little more clueing within the game. When we received hints from our gamemaster, they were always additional indirect clues; we would have liked to uncover most of those details ourselves within the environment.

Most of the puzzles in Clock Tower furthered our time-centric mission, but one seemed entirely out of place. It was a good puzzle, but we didn’t understand why it belonged.

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s Clock Tower?

Clock Tower is an ideal game for escape room enthusiasts. It had a gorgeous set, integrated and tactile puzzles, and it will still be exciting and challenging even for seasoned players.

Very experienced teams will be happier in slightly smaller groups, if they can finagle such a booking, as there was some bottlenecking that left folks hanging and unable to help puzzle. We recommend that new players play at least a few other escape rooms first before booking Clock Tower.

With Clock Tower, Escape the Room NYC has nailed so much of what makes escape rooms exhilarating, from the interactive puzzling to the cinematic moments.

While they can continue to improve narrative integration so that all the puzzles feel natural in the space and deliver more story arc, they are making strides in that direction.

When the doors out of Clock Tower opened up, we felt that we had truly righted time and earned that victory in a fun little world hidden in Midtown Manhattan. That’s what escape rooms are about.

Book your hour with Escape the Room NYC’s Clock Tower, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape the Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Room NYC – Submarine [Review]

We all live in a puzzle submarine.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: March 27, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

While exploring a deserted island with our friends we happened upon an old diesel submarine. We climbed aboard the boat and found ourselves locked in and descending. We had an hour’s worth of oxygen left to figure out how to surface the sub and save ourselves.

The set looked fantastic. The entirely custom construction blew away older Escape The Room NYC sets. The shape of the room, the doors, and the manner in which they made us feel like there was a world outside of the room was superb.

SS Escape - Submarine exterior shot. It looks like weathered metal.

Puzzles

Even with the impressive set, the puzzling remained front and center.

The early puzzling consisted of fairly standard but well-executed escape room-style puzzles. With the late game puzzles, we moved through a story-driven adventure.

The puzzles kept most of our large team engaged at any given point throughout the room escape.

Submarine focused more on exploration and discovery than on scavenging through the set.

Standouts

The set was exceptional. When I had some downtime in the middle of the game while my teammates puzzled, I wandered around taking it all in. There were tons of dials, buttons, and gauges that were merely part of the set. While upon an initial glance I had internally freaked out because it seemed that the scenery overload could lead to confusion, it was actually easy to tell the important controls from the unimportant ones.

In-game, and detailed submarine door.

The puzzling was good fun. The solutions felt rewarding. We could witness the results of our progress as we moved through the room escape.

There were some great puzzles, expertly crafted to require the involvement of multiple players.

One recurring task was both compelling and kind of annoying; it was deliberate and it worked well in spite of its repetitious nature.

While trapped in the Submarine we actually felt like there was an exterior world. Brilliant.

Shortcomings

We experienced a major technical malfunction: many of the excellent puzzles lacked feedback. We solved at least two of them purely by lucky timing. In this tech-driven adventure, feedback is crucial and should be checked with every reset.

Much of the second half of Submarine followed a narrative arc where the puzzle solutions furthered the story… except for one puzzle that shifted back to non-narrative “escape room logic.” Had this puzzle been in an escape room without a narrative, or even appeared before the story had kicked in, it would have been fine. In this case, it felt out of place and strangely disappointing.

That same puzzle centered on a prop that felt cheap and out of place in the otherwise gorgeous set. There was one other prop that felt like it had been carried over from an older escape room and didn’t belong in this artfully designed and constructed world.

There was some 3D modeling that could have looked a bit more compelling, especially in comparison to the set’s beauty.

Should I play Escape The Room NYC’s Submarine?

Submarine introduced the next level of set and puzzle design from New York City’s first escape room company.

After our most recent experiences at Escape the Room NYC, we had started to count them out. They might have been first, but newer players had surpassed them. With Submarine, Escape the Room NYC is back in the picture and we welcome this return to form.

If you enjoy puzzles, teamwork, adventure, and how these can come together to serve a purpose, in a craft so unlike a room in the Manhattan building you entered from the street, I recommend Submarine.

This will be a challenging escape room for newer players, but it is well designed and conquerable at all experience levels.

Bring a full team, I wouldn’t recommend taking this plunge with strangers.

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

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

Escape the Room NYC – The Rec Room [Review]

A reminder that the 1980s is over-romanticized

Location: New York, New York

Date played: June 3, 2016

Team size: 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

The Rec Room perfectly embodied its 1980’s aesthetic. We had played The Apartment in this same space about a year ago, but Escape the Room NYC completely rebuilt the space to capture a new vibe. Even the walls and the lighting were on theme.

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We weren’t allowed to take any non-spoiler photos, but this picture gives you a good idea of the walls in the Rec Room.

Despite impeccable theming, The Rec Room didn’t tell a story. We simply needed to escape this room, and with it, escape the 1980’s. There was potential for a narrative, but Escape The Room NYC didn’t bother to attempt a story.

Puzzles

These puzzles required expert scavenging. We had to carefully search every aspect of the room in order to dive into the more mentally challenging aspects of The Rec Room.

Escape the Room NYC built The Rec Room’s puzzles around some fun 1980’s props and gadgets. Some of these functioned as expected. Others were simply vehicles for different types of interactions. We enjoyed this variety in design.

Additionally, the puzzles provided challenges for all types of players.

Standouts

The theming in The Rec Room was spot on and we loved the props. We really felt like we spent an hour playing in a 1980’s rec room. In fact, I couldn’t resist the urge to dance to the soundtrack.

The staff at Escape the Room NYC was top notch. Our game master was energetic and engaged.

Shortcomings

Escape the Room NYC sells 10 tickets to this game, but this was really, at most, a six-player experience. The space was small and at any given time, there weren’t enough puzzles to engage our entire team. This overcrowding severely diminished our game experience.

The Rec Room incorporated technological mechanisms: solutions triggered other things to happen. Because of the overcrowding and the resulting chaos, we never knew what action caused what reaction from our environment. This made it impossible to know whether we had correctly solved various puzzles.

There was one order-preservation puzzle. With so many people and the required heavy scavenging, this was bound to be problematic. We needed a clue or we never would have thought to return props to their original locations. This was infuriatingly lame.

There was one task that took forever to complete largely because the interface was terrible (and also far too modern for a 1980s game).

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s The Rec Room?

Escape the Room NYC was the first company to open in New York and the first company that David and I each visited. We loved their early games and expect better from them.

The Rec Room had too many people crammed in its tiny space, and the game felt dated (and not in 1980s nostalgic sort of way).

While this new game incorporated more technological mechanics than those early games, its overarching design was that of 2014. The industry has progressed, but this game was left behind. It tried to keep too many people occupied by relying on heavy scavenging, a mainstay of early US games.

Stuffing 10 people into The Rec Room felt like a cash grab.

The Rec Room enables players to spend an hour in a well-designed, enjoyably-themed environment. It wasn’t a bad game, but we’ve seen some excellent work come from Escape The Room and The Rec Room did not feel like a step in the right direction.

New York City is one the most competitive markets in the US. This game cannot stand up to the polish, innovation, technology, or narrative that others provide. The Rec Room was good enough, but given the drawbacks, we recommend that if you have limited time in New York City, you spend your money elsewhere.

Book your hour with Escape the Room New York’s The Rec Room, and tell them that The Room Escape Artist sent you.

[Image via uglyhousephotos.com]