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.

The Gate Escape – D.J. Death [Review]

Don’t fear the reaper.

Location:  Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 35-45 minutes depending on play style

Price: $23 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

D.J. Death was The Gate Escape’s introductory Halloween popup game that didn’t die.

With structured puzzle sections, this game was far more directed than your typical escape game. Additionally, it was nonthreatening, even if the theme sounds scary.

Although the set design was a bit uneven – with some puzzle sections looking great and others looking a bit cheesy – it played well and culminated in a delightful conclusion.

D.J. Death would be a wonderful game for newbies. Even as experienced players, we found a lot to enjoy. It wasn’t hard, but it was amusing. If you’re an experienced player, The Gate Escape’s other games are must-plays. D.J. Death is worth adding to your lineup if you’re open to sacrificing some difficulty for a novel game structure.

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

Who is this for?

  • Dance party goers!
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Halloween fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Music
  • Dance party
  • Fun puzzles 

Story

Death DJ would host the most exclusive Halloween party of the year. If we wanted to gain admittance, we would have to pass his test and help him build his playlist one puzzle at a time. If we failed, we’d be cut… from the guest list.

In-game: A wall of massive blocks in the middle of the room.

Setting

D.J. Death was a large, open space with 10 smaller puzzle stations along the periphery. Each station had a unique, spooky theme: vampire, voodoo, mad science, etc. (They ranged broadly.)

The level of detail was a little uneven. Some areas looked great; some felt like party-store Halloween. Generally, the visual focus directed us at the puzzle components.

The coolest parts of the set were the dance floor and DJ booth… which were really what mattered.

In-game: closeup of a voodoo shrine.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death was an unusual escape room with a low level of difficulty.

This large gamespace was divided into sections, each containing one puzzle. We moved through the space solving the puzzles and collecting tunes from the D.J. himself.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

The Gate Escape offered two play modes. If the entire group traveled between puzzles together, the game clock was 45 minutes. If the group split up to tackle the puzzles separately, the game clock was 35 minutes. (Our group of 4 stayed together so that everyone could experience the entire game. That worked well.)

In-game: An open coffin lit red.

Analysis

➕ D.J. Death was cute and joyous. It didn’t take itself seriously.

➕/➖ The set looked a bit party-store. With the Halloween theme, this generally worked just fine. There were, however, opportunities to improve the aesthetics.

➖Despite the name and the Halloween theming, D.J. Death was not a scary escape room. I have to imagine that this marketing is confusing to The Gate Escape’s customers.

➕ D.J. Death provided a gentle on-ramp to a puzzle game. By wrapping the game in a dance party, encouraging teams to work together, and keeping related puzzle components contained, it would be approachable to new players of all ages and abilities. The Gate Escape is willing to turn the lights on for nervous players.

In-game: 4 large, vertical metal tubes with grates over them.

➕ The Gate Escape built a great mix of puzzle styles into D.J. Death. They were largely tangible and interactive.

➖ Our least favorite puzzles were the less interactive of the lot. The puzzles with larger components generally felt more exciting.

➕ The separate puzzles came together with a meta puzzle. It made the escape room feel whole.

➖ There was opportunity for a more engaging meta puzzle in this space.

➕ The finale. D.J. Death had a wonderful ending. It really was the only way this game could have ended.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Take the elevator up and walk down the long hallway to The Gate Escape.
  • 435 Bar & Grille is conveniently located in the same building.
  • D.J. Death is not scary.

Book your hour with The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

The Gate Escape – The Observatory [Review]

A revolution & revelation

Location: Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 17, 2018

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Don’t let the description of The Observatory fool you. This wasn’t just another room escape. This was something special.

The Gate Escape designed The Observatory for experienced players; it presented a stiff but fair challenge. They managed to nail this rare combination while putting a unique spin on their game.

This game made us feel so smiley.

If you find yourself in Boston, and you love escape rooms, it’s worth the hour drive to The Gate Escape. The Observatory is a must-play.

If you’re a newbie, we suggest starting with The Gate Escape’s other delightful games before you attempt The Observatory. This is a special game, and you’ll want to level up your skills so that you can truly appreciate it.

In-game: the wood walls of an observatory with orange galaxy paintings on the wall.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Ridiculous design choice… that works so well
  • Strong puzzles
  • High value (90 minutes for your $33!)

Story

The Observatory was a sequel to The Gate Escape’s first game, The Assistant.

While at a conference, Dr. E R Bridge had called upon us, his trusty assistants, to enter his lab and retrieve his hidden research notes. He needed us to get them to him before he made a fool of himself on stage before his peers in the scientific community.

In-game: a desk with assorted items and a strange wire running from it.

Setting

Nothing was as it seemed.

We entered a seemingly mundane office-like environment. The space was sparsely decorated with graffitied notes and equations left behind by Dr. E R Bridge.

This was one of those rare times where I want to tell you what’s special about the set of a game. I want to paint a picture that sells you on it… but you’re going to have to take me at my word that it’s special. Once you see it, you’ll understand why spoiling it would be tragic.

In-game: a star chart with unusual mathematical notation on it.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s The Observatory was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

In-game: The number "2 5 8" mounted to the floor.

Analysis

➕ With The Observatory, The Gate Escape introduced a unique twist on the escape game format. When it dawned on us what was happening, we turned giddy.

➕ As we played The Observatory, we built mastery over the game flow. This escape room taught us how to play it without ever feeling heavyhanded. We were enthralled as we discovered how this game wanted to be played.

➕ At first glance, The Observatory felt overwhelming. As we became comfortable with the puzzle design, however, we recognized instead a creative thematic aesthetic choice.

❓ If you aren’t comfortable puzzling, this will be an especially challenging game.

➕/ ➖ The Observatory looked handcrafted. There was a charm in this aesthetic that worked with the setting and story. We could tell how much love went into this build. That said, we expect some players will find handwriting variation challenging, or simply less appealing. There was opportunity for aesthetic refinement.

The puzzles flowed beautifully from one to the next. They were largely tangible, satisfying solves. For the most part, we had to work process puzzles through to completion before seeing the solution, but these didn’t feel tedious. They felt like continual discovery. There was never a boring moment.

➖ One pivotal moment could have used additional cluing to refocus the players on… well, it’s an observatory.

➕ There was an incredible late-game teamwork-driven sequence.

➖ We didn’t feel particularly invested in the characters. There was a villain in this story, but that plot point was completely lost amongst the rest of the experience. The Gate Escape could also add character building to the protagonist to more fully connect the story and the puzzling.

➕ The Gate Escape brought us down from the climactic sequence with a humorous little puzzle that brought the escape room full circle.

➖ Although this escape room was fantastic, its marketing was not enticing. The Gate Escape’s website and game description simply don’t do it justice. If one were to casually look at The Gate Escape’s website, it would be easy to write this off as “just another escape room” and it isn’t.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Take the elevator up and walk down the long hallway to The Gate Escape.
  • 435 Bar & Grille is conveniently located in the same building.

Book your session with The Gate Escape’s The Observatory, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gate Escape’s comped our tickets for this game.

The Gate Escape – The Assistant [Review]

The lab assistant job comes with health insurance… If the experiment works, you won’t need it.

Location: Leominster, MA

Date played: October 2, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Dr. E. R. Bridge was reasonably certain that he had discovered a means to open a wormhole. As a group of hopeful lab assistants, we applied for a job working with the renown astrophysicist. Our interview and the final test of his wormhole generator were one in the same. What could go wrong?

In-game: A metal wall covered in pipes and electronic circuitry.

 

The Assistant had an eclectic aesthetic. It was a mixture of interesting doors and features from the building’s past as well as the unusual creations of The Gate Escape. Each segment of The Assistant had a decidedly different look about it. This may have been a mad science lab, but it did not have the standard doctor’s office vibe that we’ve come to expect from this theme.

Puzzles

The Assistant flowed well, while offering a strong search and puzzle game.

The searching in The Assistant was a bit unusual. There was a lot to find, but we also had a clear idea of what we were looking for and when to stop looking.

The puzzles were satisfying solves that came with great ah-ha moments.

Standouts

The Gate Escape created one of the most unusual applications of a cipher that I’ve seen in an escape room and I absolutely loved it.

In-game: Black walls and furniture covered in white writing of mathematical symbols and equations.

The gamespace was eclectic and largely made from recycled materials. It never felt cheap. The diversity in design also made the set feel both strange and intriguing. From the moment we stepped into it, I wanted to engage with it.

The searching was oddly fun… which is not a thing that you frequently hear from me.

The puzzles flowed well.

The Gate Escape gave more than enough writing implements and calculators.

In-game: A large safe door labeled, "MAIN LAB."

Spinning safe locks can be hell to operate. The Gate Escape provided clear and decisive clueing to operate this one.

The Assistant built intensity later in the game and had a great climax.

Shortcomings

At times, we solved puzzles in partial darkness. There was also a large black metal set piece smack in the middle of the area that was relevant in the dark. We were a little nervous about crashing into this thing. Moving it or illuminating it would help a great deal.

There were a few metal props with rough edges that we were a little nervous we could cut ourselves on. Rounding these out or sealing them would make them more comfortable to touch.

A lot of The Assistant’s clues were handwritten. It seemed like the game’s clue structure had been added ad hoc as it was developed. By the time we played, the clue structure had been nailed down. Swapping handwritten clues and props for more polished items would make this escape room shine.

Should I play The Gate Escape’s The Assistant?

The Gate Escape really nailed the standard escape room with The Assistant. This was a puzzle room with a just a bit of story. It came together really well.

This was a prime example of a company doing a lot by leaning into their existing skills and working with the space that they have. It looked good and played even better… and above all, it was unique.

The Assistant would make a fine first game for those looking to explore an escape room. I’d also highly recommend it for experienced players who like puzzle-driven adventure that plays like a standard escape room with a uniquely Gate Escape twist.

Go see if you can open a wormhole.

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

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