14 Innovative Escape Rooms in 2018

We wanted to take a moment to point out a number of escape rooms that we played in 2018 that did something truly innovative to push the escape room format in a different direction.

We saw tons more innovations in 2018, but these ones stuck out to us.

Presented in the order that we played them:

2018 Innovative Escape Rooms

Bogeyman

Trap Door Escape Room – Morristown, NJ

In-game: A strange purple glowing passageway.

Trap Door added a scare actor and turned an otherwise straightforward game into a frantic, challenging experience, as we were chased around and cornered by a monster.

Beat the Bomb

Brooklyn, NY

In-game: gif of Lisa, David, and Lindsay getting doused with a paint explosion.

Replayable and modular, Beat the Bomb felt more like a gameshow with different games within it than an escape room. It all concluded with a battle against time. When the clock struck zero, a giant paint bomb exploded all over us.

The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab & The Shiners

Escape Woods – Powder Springs, GA

In-game: An old trailer in the middle of the woods. It's lit with a long strand of light bulbs.

Escape Woods games were raw and real. Both games felt like actual adventures.

The Diamond Heist

Get Out of Here – Utrecht, The Netherlands

The escape room briefing area.

Get Out of Here delivered the narrative of The Diamond Heist with a third person voiceover that told our story as we advanced through the game. This solved a number of escape room storytelling problems.

Jason’s Curse

Escape Room Rijswijk – Rijswijk, The Netherlands

In-game: a weathered basement wall with the words "KNOCK KNOCK WHO IS THERE" painted on it.

Escape Room Rijswijk did something incredible with their space, physically transforming the gameworld while we were within it. It was one hell of a trick.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – San Francisco, CA

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom wasn’t an escape room. It was something new: a time loop game. We were reliving the same actor-driven time loop, taking different actions each time, and trying to determine how to break the cycle and save the game’s main character.

It’s a Doggy Dog World

Level Games – North Hollywood, CAA

In-game: an oversized doghouse.

We played as dogs trying to get our favorite ball back. The vibe was unique, warm, and playful. We left this game wishing that there were more whimsical escape rooms.

We loved this game so much and we’re sad that it and Escapades LA are closed. I don’t know if its for sale, but if it is, someone should adopt it and give this pup a new home.

The Courtyard

THE BASEMENT – Sylmar, CA

In-game: an aged porch with a rocking chair.

The Courtyard had a jaw-dropping set, but its true innovation was how THE BASEMENT integrated an actor into the experience and gameplay. There’s a scene in this one that we will never forget.

The Experiment

Get the F Out –  Los Angeles, CA

In-game: torn ship's mast.

Designed for escape room enthusiasts, Get the F Out’s incredibly meta game, The Experiment, had two unusual innovations. One involved lighting. The other was in its storytelling. Months later, we’re still debating what we were supposed to take away from this game.

Museum of Intrigue

Syracuse, NY

A Museum of Intrigue mystic character posing in front of the story display.

We didn’t enter an escape room; we were patrons of a quirky museum of oddities, along with all of the other players… but it wasn’t a museum. It was a sandbox for puzzles, scavenger hunts, and adventures. We had our mission and everyone else had theirs, but we were all puzzling and exploring in the same space at the same time. It was chaotic and lively and it became more interesting as more people showed up.

La Terrible Affaire Bambell

Heyou Escape –  Le Cannet, France

In-game: The hallway of the apartment complex that housed the game.

Terrifying. Heyou Escape built tension by adding a sense of danger and screwing with our minds and expectations. I’m not sure if La Terrible Affaire Bambell is actually an escape room, or if we were even players… Looking back, I think we may have just been props in their production.

D.J. Death

The Gate Escape – Leominster, MA

In-game: a dance floor with DJ Death's skull and cross scythe logo.

The Gate Escape put training wheels on escape room gameplay. Instead of presenting a free-for-all escape room-style game, each puzzle was presented in its own station… and it concluded with a dance party. This was a great way to open up new players to escape room style puzzling.

The Summons

The Seven Forces – Cincinnati, OH

In-game: A stage at the front of teh room features an assortment of strange pieces of technology and mystical artifacts.

By adding social and group dynamics into the large-scale theatrical escape room event format, The Seven Forces created something new and special. Their approach kept multiple teams engaged with both the puzzles and one another for the entire game.

More Innovation

We’d love to have you join us on an escape room tour!

Join us in visiting some of the other innovative games we’ve found in our travels. (It just so happens that we didn’t play them in 2018.)

Escape Immerse Explore: The Palace

Escape Immerse Explore: New Orleans

The Fine Print

If you’ve seen something like we’ve described above elsewhere, we aren’t claiming anything is entirely unique. These are the games that we saw the innovations in.

This post wasn’t intended as a re-review of anything. For full critiques of these games, take a look at the reviews.

We’ve left out games that won 2018 Golden Lock-In Awards. You can check that list out too. Many of them were highly innovative. We’ve already heaped tons of praise on those games.

Get the F Out – The Experiment [Review]

Not what I was expecting.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 23, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Get The F Out likes to produce unusual escape games; they have done this once again with The Experiment. This latest creation was a meta escape room designed for people who love escape rooms. It screwed with our expectations, took longstanding tropes and turned them on their side, and presented a strong collection of puzzles with some genuine innovation in game design.

The Experiment fell short in the fine-tuning. Lighting and sound adjustments would make gameplay less frustrating. The story – which was interesting and thoughtful – was too difficult to understand without explanation.

Get The F Out has a gem on their hands and we’re thrilled we visited The Experiment… but it needs more polish to clarify the gameplay and story.

If you’re serious about playing escape rooms, then I’d strongly encourage you to check this one out. We don’t have that many games designed around players who know their way around an escape game.

In-game: handcuffs looped around a stair railing.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Escape room enthusiasts
  • Best for players with a fair amount of experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The twist… in the story.
  • The twist… in the puzzles.
  • It’s meta.

Story

The Experiment was a study:

“Looking for all ages, male & female to participate in a psychological study of escape rooms. It will take 60 min of your time. Juice will be served.”

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lab-coated researcher and lead into The Experiment.

In-game: torn ship's mast.

Setting

The experiment staging, however, was far from your standard lab. Instead of white walls, we found ourselves aboard a ship. The Experiment was structured as an escape room.

In-game: Creepy doll heads in metal contraptions.

Gameplay

Get the F Out’s The Experiment was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and dexterity.

In-game: The Experiment teaser, reads, "The Doctor Will See You Now."

Analysis

+ From the opening moments, The Experiment thwarted expectations. We went from a humorous, in-character lab-like introduction to the high seas.

The Experiment was puzzle-dense. There was a lot of solve. It was highly varied and generally interesting.

– The Experiment had too many locks with identical digit structures. It wasn’t always clear which solution belonged where.

– We encountered misleading signage. While it did deter us from touching more fragile set pieces it also deterred us, as overly caution players, from thoroughly searching our gamespace. This mechanic punished more respectful players.

– The ambient noise of The Experiment competed with any auditory game components, including our hint system. We used walky-talkies to communicate with our gamemaster and struggled to make out our hints over the noise and the whirling fans.

+ Get the F Out presented two puzzle concepts we’ve never seen before in an escape room. These were brilliant.

The Experiment played with perspective on so many levels.

– There were points where we really struggled with dim lighting.

– The story arc didn’t quite work for us. We had a hard time believing the fiction and the resulting character development. It wasn’t immediately apparent, in game, how we got from point A to point B, and only began to make sense upon post-game explanation.

The Experiment was geared toward experienced escape room players. It wasn’t because of the challenging puzzles; it was to deliver a message. It was meta. Your appreciation of this will vary.

+ Get the F Out included bonus content. If you can escape the room and solve the bonus content in 60 minutes, there’s a prize. The bonus puzzle was challenging and worth solving.

+ Juice was served, as promised. It was delightful.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • All players must be able to walk up stairs to access the game.
  • It was brutally hot in the gamespace when we visited in August. Get the F Out knows this and provided bottles of water. Just be prepared.

Book your hour with Get the F Out’s The Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you using the coupon code ROOMESCAPEARTIST to receive 20% off your booking.

Disclosure: Get the F Out comped our tickets for this game.

Get the F Out – The Virus [Review]

A virus that kills the uncooperative.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 15, 2016

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $36 per ticket

Story & setting

The Virus began during a viral apocalypse: our team of scientists had to travel to a military laboratory deep within the Earth. There we could create the antidote to save humanity, but only if the virus didn’t get us first.

Our lab assistant gamemaster met us in character outside the facility. He ushered us into the game, following his scientific protocol, and connected each of us to an Oculus Rift.

In-game, a closeup of an an Oculus Rift headset.

Through the VR, we learned about our mission and traveled deep into the Earth to the laboratory.

At our journey’s end, we removed the VR headsets and found ourselves in a lab environment.

In-game, a piece of lab equipment with a biohazard symbol and three lights: red, yellow, and green.

Puzzles

The Virus was a puzzle-focused game; these puzzles were challenging, varied, and numerous.

Their build quality and tangible interactions varied as well. While some puzzles made use of more flimsy, laminated paper-based components, others required us to manipulate large set pieces.

The puzzles incorporated the environment and its scientific materials, but they didn’t convey a narrative.

Standouts

The Virus included an in-game gamemaster acting as a lab assistant. He cleaned up the lab, keeping all the supplies organized, and kept up our energy level. This initially felt like it should have been annoying, but was useful and felt true to the character. By midgame, we were happy that he was there cleaning up our mess (and making his eventual reset easier).

This was a puzzle-packed game for a larger team, but as it funneled to its dramatic conclusion, it didn’t leave players behind. The last puzzle was cleverly designed such that everyone could participate in the game’s final moments. This is a surprisingly rare occurrence in room escapes.

We’ve been waiting to see a physical room escape successfully incorporate VR. Get the F Out created a VR introduction that worked. It was fun, unobtrusive, and exciting. Nobody felt nauseous. It wasn’t even remotely necessary, but it was a fun touch.

In-game, a glowing blue wall with a series of Oculus Rift headsets hanging from it.

Get the F Out included an Easter Egg bonus puzzle in The Virus. We appreciated this additional challenge and the temptation to examine it at the expense of our core mission. In the end, we knew how to solve it, but we didn’t have enough time remaining to finish the job. We had to take our victory and call it a day.

Shortcomings

Get the F Out designed multiple interactions to intensify the situation. One of these progressed gradually throughout the game, but we never even noticed it. In retrospect, it was really cool, but we were so focused that it didn’t cause the dramatic effect that it should have.

There was a lot of stuff to unlock in this lab. Stuff upon stuff made some of the puzzles annoying to solve.

We encountered one seemingly impossible puzzle. Without the lab assistant’s cluing, it would have fallen flat. After he showed us what we needed to do, we still felt like we never would have come up with the correct approach on our own.

In one instance, The Virus relied on prior knowledge. We happened to have this knowledge, but for teams that don’t, the lab assistant will have to step in and help. Even with assistance I don’t think the game would be win-able without that bit of knowledge.

Should I play Get the F Out’s The Virus?

The story of The Virus didn’t make a ton of sense, but we bought into the fiction just enough that it worked.

The puzzles themselves didn’t convey the story, but the gamemaster and the VR introduction did that, and simultaneously elevated the game’s intensity while keeping it humorous.

We are still waiting to see VR truly incorporated into the guts of a real life room escape. However, The Virus made a good first attempt. The VR fit the narrative and didn’t disrupt the game play. It definitely upped the level of excitement for the whole team, especially for our teammates who hadn’t tried modern VR.

If you like to puzzle, this is the game for you.

If you prefer outrageous set design, this might not be your game. It includes some neat set pieces, but at its core, it’s a lab full of puzzles.

If you don’t have many opportunities to play with VR, that’s an added bonus with The Virus.

Book your hour with Get the F Out’s The Virus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Get the F Out comped our tickets for this game.