The Escape Game – Special Ops [Review]

It’s time to kick butt and go shoe shopping.

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: July 25, 2018

Team size: 4-7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $34.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Escape Game significantly leveled up their set design, technological capability, and narrative chops in Special Ops. This replacement for one of their original games, Classified, blew its predecessor away.

Special Ops played out in two acts: the first set in a Middle Eastern market and playing like a more traditional escape room, the second set in an evil bunker and focused heavily on narration and adventure. This made Special Ops feel like two games.

We loved the overall experience and preferred the second act, both for how dramatic it was and because the puzzles seemed just a little more refined than in the opening act.

All-in-all, this was an undeniably great game and well worth playing if you’re anywhere near Nashville or The Escape Game’s other locations.

In-game: a colorful Middle Eastern market with spices, fruit, shoes, and bags for sale.
Photo via The Escape Game

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Gorgeous set
  • Fantastic assortment of puzzles
  • Memorable ending

Story

Our team had been assigned to a routine investigation of the Ansar market. Our late night inspection of this criminal hotbed unexpectedly turned into a crisis of global proportions. It was up to us to stop it.

In-game: a high tech militaristic bunker.
Photo via The Escape Game

Setting

Special Ops was an escape room in two acts. Similarly to Classified we began in a Middle Eastern market and progressed into a villain’s lair. With Special Ops, however, the Escape Game has dramatically leveled up their set design and construction abilities (which weren’t shabby in their earlier games).

The Escape Game noted every construction detail. They even chose specific buttons that would enhance the player’s experience.

In-game: an upwards view the the heavily detailed middle eastern market.
Photo via The Escape Game

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Special Ops was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The two sets of Special Ops were detailed, beautiful, captivating… and so different from one another.

+ One of Special Ops opening interactions brilliantly broke with escape room tradition.

– The accessories for sale in the Middle Eastern market created strangely frustrating interactions. In one instance, we had a puzzle solved long before the input was available. In another instance, the game trained us to interact with it one way and then required us to take a different approach.

+ The first act included some phenomenal, tangible solves.

+ The second act delivered incredible visual feedback for a variety of tech-driven solves.

+ The Escape built clear clue-structure and user interfaces into the second act. The puzzles were challenging for all the right reasons. We felt like knowledgable, badass, world-savers.

– A video segment dragged… enough that we broke out of the moment and felt our time ticking away while we waited to get back to the game.

Special Ops included one puzzle type that repeated across both sets, with completely different implementation. At first we were unimpressed with the repetition. Upon reflection, we were impressed that the game built mastery, as the second implementation was more challenging.

Special Ops started off typically escape room-y, albeit in an atypically beautiful set, and evolved into a story-driven, mission-centric game. Depending on gameplay preferences, you will likely enjoy one half more than the other. This made Special Ops feel uneven… but considering how much different folks like each part, also rather impressive.

+ The Escape Game’s quality of set and interaction design was phenomenal; especially in the second act. There was a keypad that was so satisfying to push. This may seem like a minor detail, but it really underscored how above and beyond they went to produce a deliberate experience.

Special Ops final puzzle was fantastic.

Tips for Visiting

  • Special Ops is at The Escape Game’s East Iris location.
  • There is a parking lot nearby.
  • Check out the map on the wall in the lobby.

Book your hour with The Escape Game’s Special Ops, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game [Overview]

Latest Update: October 19, 2019

The Escape Game is one of the easiest recommendations we make when people write in looking for games to play. It doesn’t matter which city. If there’s an Escape Game facility there, we know that their games and customer service are reliably good… which is not something that we can say for most escape room chains or franchises.

The visitor pushpin map from The Escape Game's lobby. It's covered in layers of pins and looks like a population density map of the USA.

Nashville is the original home of The Escape Game and they are seriously cleaning up in that market. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a busier escape room facility… and that goes for both of their Nashville locations.

Must Play

Playground

Playground was a joyful game with tons of puzzles for a large group. It won a Golden Lock-In Award in 2018 for its playful premise, whimsical setting, and well-rounded gameplay.

Special Ops

With Special Ops, The Escape Game significantly leveled up their set design, technological capability, and narrative chops. This game replaced their older game Classified.

Gold Rush

This was our early favorite from The Escape Game. It has been our go-to recommendation for newbies for a long time. Experienced players will still enjoy many unusual features.

Mission Mars

We’ve sent a lot of folks to this game and they’ve all come back happy. Our review is tragically dated because we played it in beta. The Escape Game has made many improvements to it since then. Fun fact: after playing Mission Mars we decided to avoid beta testing altogether.

Worth Playing

Prison Break

This was one of The Escape Game’s most visually appealing escape rooms. The jail cells looked great and there’s a lot more than jail cells to the experience.

The Heist

This art heist pulled off the art gallery aesthetic. It was a challenging game with a ton of puzzle content and some nifty interactions. It has been updated significantly since we played it in 2016.

Nashville

The Escape Game’s original room has experienced some serious upgrades since its humble beginnings. It played a bit old-school, but it still had something interesting to offer.

What We Haven’t Reviewed Yet

Ruins: Forbidden Treasure

We’re pretty eager to see this one, but it hasn’t opened near us yet and we don’t know anyone who’s played it yet, so we don’t have a report. Stay tuned, we’ll have one soon enough.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve had a strong admiration for The Escape Game because we’ve never had someone come back from them disappointed.

If you’re new to escape rooms, this is a phenomenal place to start.

If you’re a well-traveled mega player, I’d be surprised to learn that your absolute favorite escape room came from The Escape Game. However, I am certain that you’ll have a good time and walk away from their facilities recognizing their customer service, attention to detail, consistency, and respect for players.

The Escape Game Nashville's merchandise area with a variety of t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and other products.
Even their swag is nice.

The Escape Game – Nashville [Review]

After years of players asking… we finally played Nashville.

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: February 11, 2018

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

REA Reaction

Since it opened in 2014, Nashville has introduced many players to escape rooms… and gotten them hooked. We are thrilled to have played this escape room that folks have been asking us to visit almost since we started writing this blog.

Nashville was fun. The puzzles, set, and reveals all contributed to our enjoyment. While some puzzles felt dated, The Escape Game Nashville made upgrades to keep Nashville relevant.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Music fans
  • Tourists
  • Players who don’t mind math
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Nashville introduced so many escape room enthusiasts to escape rooms.
  • Local theme
  • Great old-school escape room puzzles

Story

Our up-and-coming band wanted legendary and retired producer Rick Teggen to produce our next record. Rumor had it that Teggen had hidden a contract in his old recording studio and had vowed to work with the band who could follow his clues to find it.

In-game: A massive stack of blonde Marshall amps.

Setting

Nashville was one of the earliest escape rooms around and one that got a lot of players hooked on escape rooms in general. If you played this room escape in the early days, you would hardly recognize it today, as The Escape Game upgraded it dramatically from their more humble beginnings. (We know this because we had passive teammates in the room who had played it years ago and were shocked by the enhancements.)

Nashville was a recording studio complete with mixing boards, amps, guitars, a recording booth, and memorabilia from famous people who had recorded in the legendary space. It looked sharp.

In-game: A music studio's mixing station.

Gameplay

Nashville was an old-school escape room that had been upgraded significantly. It was search heavy. The puzzling was focused on building connections and working through process puzzles.

There was also a bit of math, which was one of those love-it-or-hate-it interactions that used to be common, has fallen out of favor in American escape games, and doesn’t make an appearance in The Escape Game’s newer adventures.

In-game: closeup of a large mixing board.

Standouts

The Escape Game opened in 2014 with this locally-themed escape room. This, their original creation, embodied Nashville. The premise wasn’t entirely predictable either. It came together well.

The reveal. When Nashville opened, I imagine it would have been magical. Since then The Escape Game added just enough noise to maybe throw you off, even if you’ve played their other escape rooms and you’re expecting it.

Nashville clued a search puzzle with unexpected technology. It was a neat concept and far ahead of its time.

Shortcomings

This cluing didn’t quite work as seamlessly as we would have liked; the searching was still frustrating.

One puzzle needed to be solved on a flat surface, but we didn’t have an appropriate surface. Our choice of surface disrupted our gameplay.

Nashville leaned too heavily on one “paper puzzle” that could be solved without manipulating the set and props. Given the staging for the clues, a louder and more dynamic puzzle would have better fit the beat of the interaction.

Tips for Visiting

  • Parking: If you aren’t parking at Music City Center for a conference, we recommend the lot under the Metro Courthouse (accessible from Gay Street and from James Robertson Parkway) or the Nashville Public Library Garage (on Church Street between 6th and 7th Avenues).
  • Food: Demo’s Restaurant and Puckett’s

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

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Nashville, TN from July 27-29, 2018. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Franklin to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

The Escape Game Austin – Classified [Review]

Bazaar & puzzling.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 5, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Story & setting

We needed to stop a terrorist cell by gathering intelligence about an impending attack. This was your typical prime-time television counter-terror staging that steered clear of any specific world events.

We entered a Middle Eastern market. It was detailed, vibrant, and original. The initial setting was striking and beautiful.

In-game, a vibrantly colored bazaar market. Rugs hang from the ceiling. Assorted foods and pots sit on the shelves.

As the game progressed, we found ourselves in a dark and far more generic escape room environment.

Puzzles

Classified was primarily linear.

The challenge came from searching and making connections between relevant finds. It was not a puzzle-focused room escape.

Standouts

This was our first gamespace set in a market. The initial set was not only original, but also detailed, and polished.

The first half of the Classifed had silky smooth game flow.

Classified included neat, well-hidden physical interactions with some of the larger set pieces.

Shortcomings

Classified felt disconnected. The second half of the game lacked everything that made the first half special. It wasn’t beautiful, interesting, or exciting. It also lacked the flow of the first half. It became more challenging, but also dull and tedious.

Should I play The Escape Game Austin’s Classified?

Classified had a great first act. The visual impact of walking into such an unusual and beautiful space was energizing. The gameplay was a older escape room style that made it feel more like a scavenger hunt than The Escape Game’s other offerings. While the initial set was creative and exciting, the second act didn’t live up to the expectation set in the first half. That said, it was still more polished than many escape rooms of its era.

The Escape Game Austin has moved forward since designing this game and we recommend that you try their other games first. We visited Gold Rush, Prison Break, and The Heist at The Escape Game’s Orlando location, but took a peek at them in Austin and feel confident recommending them here as well. They’ve done a beautiful job making slight modifications to construct each of their games into the slightly different space in their Austin facilities.

While Classified wasn’t our favorite of their offerings, The Escape Game Austin is a top-notch facility with excellent staff that will deliver a fun, family-friendly experience.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Austin’s Classified, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Austin comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game Orlando – The Heist [Review]

The art of the steal.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 11, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

In this counter-heist, we were stealing back a stolen painting.

Of the four games we played at The Escape Game Orlando, The Heist had the least exciting setting. It looked like an art gallery and a gallery doesn’t have the same dramatic allure as a spaceship, gold mine, or prison. That said, this was one of the more compelling art galleries we’ve seen. By that I mean that it actually looked like an art gallery.

In-game: It looks like an art gallery. White walls with cleanly framed paintings. A velvet rope sits in front of the painting at the end of the room.

While there was a hint of story, The Heist was mission-centric and straightforward.

Puzzles

The Heist was a puzzle lover’s room escape. There was a lot to find and a lot of solve.

The puzzles were primarily of an older design style. To that end, we saw some common tropes, but each was well executed.

Standouts

The Heist surprised us. We weren’t anticipating one particularly neat early-game interaction.

There were cleverly hidden moments of escalation and The Heist managed to steer far from our early game expectations.

Shortcomings

Some of the search-heavy early puzzles became tedious, which may have been amplified in this particular case because we were only two players at the tail end of a escape room marathon.

The lock variety and cluing led to a fair amount of trying combinations in many different locks before the right one released.

We encountered a group of puzzle components that had become rather smelly over time. These were not fun to handle.

Should I play The Escape Game Orlando’s Heist?

The Heist was designed for puzzlers. There was a lot to do.

The set didn’t hold the same allure as some of The Escape Game Orlando’s other offerings. Because of this, The Heist didn’t feel as exciting as the others, but eventually escalated to a more dramatic conclusion.

After playing four games back-to-back with The Escape Game Orlando, we’d noticed some trends in the puzzles and interaction design. While many of these patterns differentiated them from others in the industry, unless they innovate, over time their repeat customers will be able to read their designs.

While The Heist followed common themes, it still managed to defy our expectations.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Orlando’s Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that we played the original version of this game, but The Escape Game Orlando is updating it in each of their locations in early 2017.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Orlando comped our tickets for this game.