THE BASEMENT – The Courtyard [Review]

Release the hounds.

Location: Sylmar, CA

Date Played: August 26, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Courtyard took us outside the home of serial killer Edward Tandy to play a murderous game in his fenced-in courtyard. THE BASEMENT built a spectacular outdoor environment, combining nature with decrepit structures to deliver a sense of continual discovery tinged with foreboding. The set was a work of art.

While aspects of the story detracted from the rest of THE BASEMENT’s overall experience, the sets, lighting, sound, and actor delivered an intense and exciting escape room. Additionally, The Courtyard delivered a brilliant midgame puzzle sequence that we will never forget.

If you’re planning to play one game at THE BASEMENT, make it The Elevator Shaft. If you’re looking to play two (and you should), The Courtyard should be your next choice. They’re both unique and intense.

If you’re anywhere nearby and interested in horror, intensity, actor-driven gameplay, and immersive sets, you should visit The Courtyard.

In-game: heavy wooden doors chained shut.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Detailed set design
  • Outstanding actor
  • Intensity of the experience

Story

The Basement’s fourth chapter continued with us having escaped from The Study and fleeing into Edward Tandy’s mudroom. Freedom seemed so close. Unfortunately beyond the mudroom was a walled courtyard and another series of sadistic games and death traps.

Setting

We started The Courtyard in a small, dimly lit, ominous mudroom with the porch and courtyard of Tandy’s house visible in the distance.

In-game: Coats hanging in a dim, creepy mud room.

Within their facility, THE BASEMENT had constructed an outdoor space for the The Courtyard. We were walled in by the Tandy house on one side and tall fences on the others. Lily Tandy’s trailer stood prominently in the gamespace along with a few smaller structures.

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

The Courtyard’s largely outdoor set was detailed and weathered. It felt genuine. The Courtyard was dim and foreboding with the threat of hounds ever present.

In-game: a small kitchenette and table in a quaint trailer.

Gameplay

THE BASEMENT’s The Courtyard was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty in an intense environment.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with the actor.

In-game: a large top-loading freezer in a decrepid mud room.

Analysis

+/- The Courtyard began with a video introduction… followed by a video introduction. It built up tension, stifled that tension, built it up again… it just droned on and on. This was unfortunate because it the intro was well acted.

+ There was a lot of depth to The Courtyard’s set. THE BASEMENT built indoor and outdoor spaces. These were detailed and convincing, instilling in us an unsettling apprehension, as intended. In-game: the heavily weathered side of Tandy's home. Window with shudders flows brightly.

+ THE BASEMENT used lighting and sound to further escalate the tension in their serial killer’s game environment.

+ This escape room was designed so that most players will spend the majority of their time in the more intriguing portion of the set. If players don’t access it one way, at a set time interval, THE BASEMENT triggers a different sequence to move the team forward. We appreciated this commitment to keeping players engaged and pushing them into the more exciting parts of The Courtyard.

– One of these early sequences left a brutal red herring in its wake. We didn’t use a certain game element early on and its presence was an evergreen element of confusion that ruined some moments. This could be remedied with relative ease.

+ The actor was a pivotal part of experience. He reacted to our words, body language, and in-game interactions. He was outstanding.

In-game: an electrical device mounted to a wall.

+ The actor-player interaction design was insightful. The set kept the actor separate from the players, such that it supported the narrative premise and kept both parties safe from each other.

– The Courtyard required a substantial amount of reading in low light.

+/- The Courtyard delivered many of the longer passages both as written text and audio voiceover. This technique made the story and clue structure more accessible to larger teams. That said, there was a heavy reliance on long passages of exposition.

+ The hint mechanism made sense in the context of the experience. It fit seamlessly into the game. Because of this, however, the hint mechanism was only accessible up until a point. Once we’d solved a substantial portion of the escape room, we could not receive any hint to late-game puzzles. Some may dislike this; we found it interesting.

The Courtyard had some of the strongest puzzles offered by THE BASEMENT. There was a mid-game sequence that was especially inspired, pulling together all of the core elements of the game into a uniquely smart and screwed-up challenge.

+ We especially enjoyed another puzzle sequence that triggered a heart-pounding situation, until we puzzled our way through it.

– The final puzzle sequence took the story in an unexpected direction that made it lose credibility. It didn’t seem to belong in the world of Edward Tandy as it wasn’t grounded in reality. THE BASEMENT missed an opportunity here.

– As with The Elevator Shaft, losing teams will experience a more dramatic ending than we did when we won. Once again, I kind of wish that we had lost.

The Courtyard instilled in us a sense of discovery. The gamespace was genuine enough that we didn’t feel like anything was entirely “used.” It was ominous enough that we remained on edge. This balance kept us engaged throughout the escape room.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with THE BASEMENT’s The Courtyard, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.

All images via THE BASEMENT.

THE BASEMENT – The Elevator Shaft [Review]

Crushing upgrades.

Location: Sylmar, CA

Date played: December 1, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $34 per ticket weekdays, $38 per ticket weekends

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

The Elevator Shaft was a new Chapter 2 in THE BASEMENT trilogy. This new game completely replaced The Boiler Room.

Following the events of Chapter 1, The Elevator Shaft, like The Boiler Room operated under the pretense that your team failed the first game. You were gassed and your unconscious body was delivered to Edward Tandy’s one of a kind body disposing, Death Star trash compactor elevator shaft.

Tandy did not know, however, that the engineer that he had enslaved to build the elevator had also hidden an override sequence. Could we uncover it and save ourselves?

In-game: The hyper detailed wall of an elevator shaft with a large steel elevator car above.

In keeping with what we’ve come to expect from THE BASEMENT, The Elevator Shaft had a dark, detailed, and badass set. Moreover, The Elevator Shaft environment felt alive. The set was always doing something different… whether you wanted it to or not.

Puzzles

The Elevator Shaft was a horror adventure where the interactions were born of the environment and necessity. It also had the most refined puzzle game of THE BASEMENT trilogy.

Close up of the wall, "Are you listening?" is painted in blood.

Standouts

The Elevator Shaft had an incredible set. It was detailed and believable, but it wasn’t busy. It worked.

THE BASEMENT created phenomenal and ever-changing practical effects for The Elevator Shaft. These kept us on edge for the entire experience.

The combination of set and effects delivered a true adventure game. It was exhilarating. There were incredible badass moments… both solo and team.

THE BASEMENT installed a couple of serious puzzles within this adventure. These layered, team-effort solves were fair and satisfying.

In-game: A closeup of a large old lever padlock against a gross and worn wall.

Shortcomings

THE BASEMENT sells 6 tickets to The Elevator Shaft, but it’s a 3-player escape room, 4 tops… unless you have teammates who primarily want to watch. Even with 3 players (which I think is ideal), at certain times The Elevator Shaft bottlenecked when only a single player could truly advance the game. THE BASEMENT should make this a flat-rate, privately booked experience.

While most of the set and props were high quality, one prop looked so fake and party-store-esque that I was shocked to see it in a game from THE BASEMENT. The good news… this could be effortlessly replaced with something more appropriate.

THE BASEMENT fully commits to using electricity as an interaction in their games. I’ve written about this in past reviews and I’m not going to rehash my feelings on electricity once again. The Elevator Shaft had something that made a lot more sense than previous electric interactions. It was perfectly safe in this escape room, but had it been “real life,” under the circumstances we were in, this would have likely killed everyone in the room. Given that THE BASEMENT’s product is effectively horror realism, this turned me off.

It sounded like The Elevator Shaft had a dramatic conclusion around a fail state. The win-state conclusion that we saw, however, was anticlimactic, especially considering the thrill of the whole experience up until that point.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Elevator Shaft?

I was sad when I heard that THE BASEMENT was closing The Boiler Room, as it was hands down my favorite game that the notorious horror escape room company had to offer. I am thrilled to report that The Elevator Shaft isn’t just a worthy successor; it’s a vastly superior one.

The Elevator Shaft was intense and smart. It contained a ton of cool moments. If you win, you’ll feel like a hero. I suspect that if you lose, you’ll really feel like a victim.

If you played and enjoyed The Boiler Room, you should revisit The Elevator Shaft. While you will instantly recognize a few key features, the gameplay, set, and overall experience is improved in all but one way: capacity.

The Boiler Room capped out at 4 players. While The Elevator Shaft has a much larger physical footprint, that physical capacity does not come with enough interactions to keep half a dozen engaged players active for most of the time. With only 3 players, we still had people standing around waiting for substantial periods of time.

If you like horror and are seeking set-born interactions, then you’re in for a treat with The Elevator Shaft. Bring the smallest team you can. Buy out the game if that’s a financially viable option or book at odd hours / last minute in the hopes that no one else will crash your game.

Note that you should wear clothes and shoes that you don’t care that much about to The Elevator Shaft. This goes for all THE BASEMENT’S escape rooms, but especially this one. Your stuff likely won’t be ruined if you don’t heed this warning, but there is some risk.

If you want nothing to do with horror, this clearly won’t be your escape room.

If you’ve never played an escape room, The Elevator Shaft will likely deliver a spanking to you and your team; this was a hard game. It’s winnable, but challenging. You should probably level up your skill before attempting it, or go in looking for a messed up adventure that you won’t “survive.”

Book your hour with THE BASEMENT’s The Elevator Shaft, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Study [Review]

Lifestyles of the twisted and criminally insane.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 55 minutes

Price: $34 – $46 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

This was the third and final chapter (so far) in the disturbing story of playful cannibal Edward Tandy.

In the first chapter, Ed locked us up in his torture basement and filled it with some puzzles so that we could solve our way out. We failed… but he graciously decided not to eat us. Yet.

In the second chapter, Ed tossed us into his boiler room and filled it with some puzzles so that we could solve our way out. This time we succeeded and now we were roaming his home.

As expected, Ed’s home didn’t have a beautiful open floor plan, sun room, and herb garden. It was dark, creepy, and gross. As with the previous two chapters, the environment was superbly designed to maximize the yuck factor. It looked great in a dingy, “this is the worst place on earth to die” sort of way.

Image of the Study. A bookcase with a few books on it, a taxidermied buck, and a boarded up window.

The key difference in The Study was that in the narrative, this was no longer a game. We were freely exploring our captor’s home and he was pissed.

Puzzles

In The Basement the puzzles felt completely tacked on to the set, but in The Boiler Room the puzzles felt like they were planned in conjunction with the set. The Study‘s puzzles weren’t tacked on, but they didn’t always feel natural either.

The previous games established a premise that allowed for the puzzles to feel a little trite and gamey, because we were literally being toyed with. The Study had a larger burden of carrying a narrative through the interactions. In some cases it did so disturbingly well; in others, the puzzles once again felt like old-school room escape puzzles tacked on, just because.

Standouts

This was another game with an actor. He was playing a very different role than in The Basement; he was terrifyingly compelling. There was a key interaction with the actor that I cannot explain in detail without spoiling, but it was incredibly well done and so disturbing.

The set was great. There were a few large set pieces that were exceptionally well executed.

For one bold and lucky player… or the one who just went for it (like I did), there was a series of some of the most memorable moments that I have had in room escaping. Isolated and alone, I experienced many of The Study’s finest moments. They were challenging, nerve-wracking, and at their peak, engaged my fight-or-flight response in a way that no other room escape experience ever has.

Shortcomings

That incredible series of events that absolutely blew my mind… no one else on my team got to experience any of it. Some of them were relieved; many of them felt cheated.

While much of The Study was intense and interesting, the first act was surprisingly mundane.

The Study didn’t always live up to its “you’re no longer playing a game, this is real life” promise. Some of the puzzles were strangely out of place and broke the fiction by reminding us that we were playing a game.

The Study contained an interaction that I think should have been edited out for the betterment of the escape room community. If you’re interested in a deeper, slightly spoilery discussion of this, check out our review of The Basement.

The ending was simultaneously cool yet anti-climactic.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Study?

The Study had an awesome set, a great actor, and a few incredible set pieces. There were more than a few great interactions and some of the very best moments I’ve seen in an escape experience. To make the most of this experience, check out our tips for playing with actors.

On the flip side, The Study included some fairly mundane moments and it couldn’t consistently hold its “real life” narrative together.

Additionally, only one teammate will get to experience the very best that The Study has to offer. That last piece is the real kicker. If only one player is bold enough to want those incredible private moments, then it’s a win for everyone. If more than one player wants it, it’s a winner-takes-all scenario.

As with THE BASEMENT’s other games, if you’re in reasonably good health, aren’t too afraid, and are looking for an immersive adventure with a really cool set, then The Study is a superb pick. If you’re a puzzle lover, The Study is an interesting game; it’s far superior to The Basement and a little less compelling than The Boiler Room.

Book your session with THE BASEMENT’s The Study, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Basement provided media discounted tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Boiler Room [Review]

“Into the garbage chute…”

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 35 minutes

Price: $28 – $40 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

Following from the events of THE BASEMENT’s first game, The Boiler Room operated under the statistically correct assumption that our group had lost the first game to serial killer Edward Tandy. The cannibalistic Mr. Tandy, however, likes to play with his food, so he decided to drop us in another creepy puzzle trap.

This small 35-minute game took place in a space that was roughly the size of the large coffee table in THE BASEMENT’s lobby and was themed as the waste disposal system of Tandy’s lair. Somehow the folks at THE BASEMENT managed to resist the urge to make Star Wars trash compactor jokes.

Close up of a wall with copper piping and a gauge on it. It looks like blood is dripping down the wall.

The scenery and set design in The Boiler Room was beyond reproach. The place looked awesome. It was a dark, creepy, and fun place to play. This held true throughout all three games that I played at THE BASEMENT.

Puzzles

There weren’t a ton of puzzles in The Boiler Room. The game derived challenge from clever tasks that made great use of the environment. This was probably the strongest task-based game I have played to date.

There was one set of puzzles that felt incredibly satisfying to solve, but at one point also suffered from a bit of wear that made a critical component far more difficult to interact with than it should have been.

Standouts

There was an exceptional set piece in this game. It was outrageous and I cannot describe it without a spoiler, so I won’t even try.

The tiny space was loaded with interesting interactions.

The environment of The Boiler Room was badass.

Close up of a wall with copper piping and ivy.

The introduction rules video was legitimately hilarious. They showed a variation of the video before The Basement as well, but I played them out of order and saw it – and loved it – here first.

The Boiler Room was also THE BASEMENT’s most approachable and best game. It was dark, creepy, and intense, but it wasn’t scary.

Shortcomings

As mentioned earlier, there was a tiny but significant component that had worn in such a way that it was unreasonably difficult to interact with. Having spoken with a number of others who had recently played The Boiler Room, our team was not the only team to struggle with this.

That incredible set piece had a couple of issues. For one, it was so unusual that determining how to properly interact with it was a strange and unclued challenge. Our gamemaster had to yell into the room to tell us how to use it properly.

Additionally, a portion of the mechanism to operate said set piece was wet. This normally wouldn’t have been an issue, except that The Boiler Room had an unusual and specific rule: “You never have to get wet to win this game.”

Upon feeling moisture, we initially concluded that we should stop advancing. That was incorrect and created a surprising complication. The “don’t get wet” rule wasn’t in reference to trace amounts of water; that wasn’t clear to us.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Boiler Room?

I had a ton of fun in The Boiler Room. It was lean, creative, and unexpected.

While it wasn’t the most puzzle-laden of games, it was a great adventure with fast pacing, an incredible set, and good flow.

If you have a medical issue that limits your mobility, or vision problems that cannot be corrected with lenses, you should probably sit this one out. The Boiler Room might also provide insurmountable challenges to larger folks. If you’re claustrophobic, you should absolutely take a pass. It’s tough to say more without spoiling critical pieces of the game, but feel free to write in if you want to discuss this in more detail.

If you can play The Boiler Room, you should. It’s expensive at $28-$40 for 35 minutes, but it lived up to the hype… and there was a lot of hype.

Book your session with THE BASEMENT’s The Boiler Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Basement provided media discounted tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Basement [Review]

“Do you want to play a game?”

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $34 – $46 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

We were abducted by cannibalistic serial killer Edward Tandy and locked in a SAW-like puzzle room. The objective was simple: escape and live, or lose and be eaten.

After nearly three years of hearing, “room escapes sound like SAW,” this was the first one that kind of felt like SAW. The set was a large, dark, creepy, and occasionally gross basement. Aesthetically, it looked perfect, with many intricate details.

A pair of hands holding open a book on an old table. Four plaiyng cards and a bone rest on the table.
Image via THE BASEMENT.

Puzzles

In stark contrast to the set, the puzzles felt remarkably tacked-on.

The bulk of The Basement’s gameplay centered on finding little bits of laminated paper hidden in all manner of obscure places.

When the puzzles weren’t based on collecting a set of laminated scraps, the game was still all about finding items in dark corners and determining how to use them.

It’s worth noting that The Basement has two sets of puzzles so that players have the option of returning to replay the game. I experienced “version 2.”

Standouts

The Basement employed an actor in-game. This isn’t a spoiler; our gamemaster beat the rules of interacting with the actor into our heads repeatedly before entering. Our actor was superbly convincing and managed come across as both nerve-wracking and bizarrely adorable.

The set. It was awesome and incredibly over-the-top.

There was a point in The Basement that was pretty damn vile and they pulled it off. To their credit, they did this in such a way that the more jittery players didn’t need to be involved. The whole interaction was completely ostentatious, yet artfully executed.

Between the set and the actor, The Basement felt more intense than most escape rooms. This was especially true in the first half of the game, while we were still exploring the unknown.

Shortcomings

The puzzling in The Basement was incredibly weak. The game derived challenge from insanely well hidden clues that turned the game into a scavenger hunt. There were things that we never would have found without the assistance of our actor. This seemed a deliberate design decision to ensure that the team interacted with the actor, but it was nevertheless eye roll-inducing.

The latter half of the game became considerably less intense because we had fully explored the space and eliminated the unknown and the fear that comes with that. All that was left was scavenging and basic puzzling, which did not maintain the otherwise high quality of The Basement’s experience.

*** Spoiler Warning***

***This is a slight spoiler. Skip ahead to “should I play” if you don’t want to read this.***

The Basement and The Study (the third installment in the trilogy) contain the two most spoiled puzzles in escape rooms, in my experience. Literally dozens of people have written to us or spoken to us about The Basement’s haphazard use of electrical outlets for gameplay.

We have repeatedly taken an absolutist stance against the use of electrical outlets in interaction design. We take this stand not because we think it’s impossible to create good, safe, and interesting interactions using electrical outlets, but because we take a broader view of the escape room industry. We are concerned about ignorant players (we all know there are a lot of them) thinking that screwing with electrical outlets is fair play in escape rooms. It usually isn’t.

So, while The Basement and The Study include well-clued, entertaining, and safe uses of electrical outlets, this was still a terrible idea.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Basement?

The Basement offered among the strongest immersive sets and best acting that I’m likely ever going to find in a room escape game. From the sights and sounds, to the odors and textures, The Basement was on point.

From a puzzling standpoint, The Basement left a lot to be desired. The puzzling was categorically weak and felt like an afterthought.

If you’re in reasonably good health and don’t mind (or better yet, are excited by) dark and creepy adventures, then The Basement is a must-play. If you’re drawn to escape rooms specifically because you want to test yourself against puzzles, then you can skip The Basement; it’s not going to be your game.

Do remember that you’ll be playing with an actor, and the quality of your experience will largely depend upon how you treat your actor. Checkout our 6 Rules For Playing Room Escapes with Live Actors to make sure that you make the most of your time in The Basement.

If you feel like seeing video of The Basement, there are more than a few on the internet. It’s spoiler-y, but seeing the video will not ruin your experience even though it depicts many of the most dramatic moments. Living it was very different from seeing it.

Book your session with THE BASEMENT’s The Basement, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.