Los Angeles offers many varieties of horror experiences. If you’re looking for horror in escape rooms this Halloween season, these are our recommendations.
Classic Serial Killer
At THE BASEMENT, Serial Killer Edward Tandy is out to get you. Even if you escape one of his rooms, there’s always another death trap to thwart.
The Elevator Shaft, THE BASEMENT – Our unconscious bodies had been tossed into the body-disposing, Death-Star-trash-compactor elevator shaft. We needed to trigger the override sequence. This dark, detailed, and badass set felt alive. It always doing something different… whether we wanted it to or not.
The Study, THE BASEMENT – As we explored our captor’s home, we stepped into a set that looked great in a dingy, “this is the worst place on earth to die” sort of way. Our escape included a superb solo moment that triggered fight or flight.
The Courtyard, THE BASEMENT – Next we played Tandy’s murderous game in his fenced-in courtyard, an incredible environment, combining nature with decrepit structures to deliver a sense of continual discovery tinged with foreboding. An actor-driven midgame puzzle sequence was unforgettable.
This is the scariest escape room that we’ve found thus far. It’s worth a drive to Anaheim for this absolutely terrifying game… but only if you’re honestly ready for it.
Zoe, Escapades– This was a haunted house with escape room mechanics as gates. We were mind-controlled and at the mercy of Zoe as she paralyzed us with fear… then made us solve puzzles.
Poking Fun at Horror
Also in Anaheim, you’ll find a cheeky take on high school drama horror.
Hex Room, Cross Roads Escape Games – The Hex Room cast six players as different horror film archetypes. Costumed and locked into separate places, we became these high school drama queens. The set, ambiance, and isolation built fear through anticipation more than any in-game frights.
Krampus, 60 Out – We were investigating the festive yet morbid apartment of the Krampus killer, who murders naughty children on Christmas Eve. It was intense and creepy… and heart-poundingly scary.
Horror of Old
Bloody Elbow, QUEST ROOM – Back in the 14th century, we awaited slow, gory, and creative deaths at the hand of a sadistic executioner by the name of “Bloody Elbow.” His torture devices alone instilled an urgency to puzzle out our escape.
Price: $32 per ticket weekdays, $35 per ticket weekends
The majestic and whimsical set surprised and captivated us.
Red Lantern Escape Rooms created a challenging multithreaded puzzle through an intimate story in a region where we haven’t seen many non-linear, puzzle-centric escape rooms.
Who is this for?
People who skipped their high school reunion due to a lack of puzzles
Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
Any experience level
A surprisingly expansive open set that felt festive
A well-told story
We arrived at our high school reunion (Go Possums!). The reunion committee strangely decided to host the carnival-themed event swamp-side on the Boudreau’s property, the site of a barn fire that had claimed the lives of five of our classmates. What could possibly go wrong?
Red Lantern Escape Rooms built a sprawling party space and boardwalk for Midnight on the Bayou. Upon walking in, the large open space caught us all off guard with its high ceilings and cohesive yet varied design. The space felt just a bit majestic.
In keeping with its large-scale design, Midnight on the Bayou was a non-linear escape room with multiple paths of puzzles to solve. There was a lot to discover about this game.
The event’s bartender, the in-room gamemaster, facilitated the festivities. He largely stayed out of our way and let us enjoy the reunion, only stepping in when he recognized a need.
We were immediately struck by the expansive set of Midnight on the Bayou. It was whimsical and beautiful.
Our reunion bartender introduced the staging elegantly. He directed our attention to specific details. He delivered a backstory that was serious, but playful.
In Midnight on the Bayou, we puzzled through the stories of our high school classmates. Their characters developed through the puzzling and the puzzles supported their characters. This mechanic of separate puzzle paths worked well.
We enjoyed the culmination of one character’s puzzle, which really captured high school memories.
The hint system made sense in the setting. The excellent voice acting provided fun nudges, while further developing the various characters.
Red Lantern Escape Room created puzzling paths where elements connected one to the next and searching was directed. In one instance, we found the searching too vaguely clued. We never would have found – or, given the play structure, even have searched for – that important item without heavy-handed hinting.
One puzzle really bugged us. None of our teammates was able to decode the solution even though we determined the exact solve method immediately. We eventually hacked it with puzzling experience.
We misinterpreted one clue as implying that certain puzzle components would be solved in a specific order, which tripped us up for a while. It turned out that we went through a whole song and dance for nothing. Minor rewording could smooth this over.
Given the parallel puzzle structure of Midnight on the Bayou, it would be possible to achieve a terribly anticlimactic ending… which would be a bummer.
Midnight on the Bayou contained one large set piece that was just a set piece. While Red Lantern Escape Room does have future plans for this construction, in its current form it’s a large and disappointing red herring.
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
-Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Location: Anaheim, California
Date played: June 4, 2017
Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $30 per ticket
Story & setting
Sherlock Holmes was kidnapped in the midst of an investigation and it was up to us to find him.
We played in a study/office setting that resembled many other escape rooms with similar themes. The room wasn’t the most exciting, but it was well constructed and hid a surprise or two.
Sherlock’s Study included typical room escape-style puzzles, executed at varying degrees of difficulty but geared toward a beginner audience. Observation and searching skills were key. Puzzle flow was basic but solid, with some notable areas in need of refinement.
There was one puzzle sequence that made excellent use of the set, leading to an unexpected reveal.
Another puzzle featured a small, easily-overlooked clue that those with keen eyes will find satisfying to solve.
The puzzles in Sherlock’s Study relied heavily on paper props with lots of “whodunit” information printed on them. We became frustrated with multiple team members crowded around all these documents.
The study was predictably filled with books, which necessitated a lot of divide-and- conquer scavenging. One tedious puzzle could have benefited from clearer cluing.
One visually appealing clue lacked a clear connection to anything else. By the time we made the connection, we had already solved the puzzle, which negated the cool factor.
At one point, the use of space was a letdown after a grand reveal.
Should I play Exodus Escape Room’s Sherlock’s Study?
Sherlock’s Study was unapologetically a room for a beginner’s market; the folks at Exodus Escape Rooms were clear on this point.
Beginner players will encounter a solid experience with good puzzle flow that accurately represents room escapes. Experienced players will find exciting moments, but shouldn’t expect to be blown away at any point; Sherlock’s Study was decidedly for newer players.
Price: $24 per ticket Monday-Thursday, $28 per ticket Friday-Sunday
Story & setting
Escape Room Era brought us back to colonial times: Benjamin Franklin had invented something that would help the Continental Army win the war against the Redcoats. We needed to find the invention before the British Army could steal it.
Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room was set in a dimly lit colonial-ish home. The candlelit room had simple furniture and household-y props.
Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room was primarily about the puzzles. Some of the puzzles incorporated with the set pieces. Others were primarily mental challenges set in this space.
We signed the waiver with a quill pen, dipped in ink. This was the first time we’ve ever been entertained by signing a waiver.
The room escape was a giant ode to Benjamin Franklin’s inventions. This theme ran through most of the escape room, taking different forms. It was clever and built to an entertaining conclusion.
The puzzles in Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room flowed logically. Some of them used the space in interesting ways.
Other puzzles were primarily paper-based, and would have benefited from more connection to the room itself. In one instance, we found a puzzle solution to be too ambiguous.
The set wasn’t exciting, cohesive, or even particularly of the period. Given Escape Room Era’s focus on the historical setting, we felt it lacked a more believably colonial staging.
While the dim lighting served a few functions, ultimately, it was annoying.
Should I play Escape Room Era’s Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room?
We haven’t seen a too many historical fiction escape rooms. Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room was essentially Benjamin Franklin fan fiction, delivered through the escape room medium. As someone who has always enjoyed reading historical fiction, I enjoyed experiencing it as an escape room.
That said, Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room didn’t realize the historical adventure as convincingly as we would have hoped. It was a basic escape room, with a set that didn’t really sell the time period, and puzzles, that while solid and thematically appropriate, didn’t feel overly colonial… That said, a few puzzles were brilliant.
Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room would be a good beginner’s escape room. It was puzzle-centric, but approachable, and gives a sense of where this medium can go. More experienced players will find some clever moments, but won’t find this escape room particularly challenging or believable.
If you find yourself in Anaheim, and you enjoy puzzles and history, we recommend that you rummage through Benjamin Franklin’s Invention Room. It won’t change history, but it will give you a glimpse of what may come.
Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-6 (depending upon team composition; read below)
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $30-40 per ticket
Story & setting
A terrifying and tormented young girl mind-controlled and summoned us to her home to do her bidding. What she needed of us, only she knew.
The set was a dark and haunted house. It was scary and detailed, but the real scares came from the actors.
Zoe was a light puzzle game. The puzzles were essentially gates that separated the various segments of the experience.
If you lose in Zoe, it won’t be because you weren’t smart enough to solve the puzzles; it will be because you were too afraid to get the job done.
Zoe was striving for scary, and dammit, Escapade achieved scary.
The actors were fantastic. They managed to create the right blend of fear and intensity, all without being too threatening.
The set looked great.
The hinting system was magnificently woven into the fabric of the game and naturally pushed us from scene to scene with urgency.
The most significant puzzle in Zoe was overburdened with scavenging and reading. It suffered from a general lack of clarity.
One pivotal prop should be replaced with something a little less capable of inflicting damage on players, actors, and set pieces.
Should I play Escapade Games’ Zoe?
Zoe was an exceptional experience that I highly recommend to mobile players. You will need to move with some urgency.
Zoe is essentially a haunted house, so keep that in mind when building your team. If everyone is brave, then you’re going to want a smaller team of 2 or 3 people. If you have some players who are going to spend most of the time keeping their sphincter puckered… then you might want to consider a team of 4 to 6 people.
If you can muster up the courage, then Zoe is a must-play.
Step on up! Come one! Come all! Test your mind against The Fun House!
Location: Anaheim, CA
Date played: October 14, 2016
Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $32 per ticket
Story & setting
Cross Roads’ The Fun House had our team on an unusual puzzle-based job interview. If we succeeded, we would earn our place as apprentices to the magician. Should we lose, we would forever be clueless clowns.
Cross Roads’ website nails their own description of The Fun House as, “… like being in a fun house from Alice in Wonderland.”
The story was light and barely present. The set was The Fun House’s primary focus and it was grand. The beautiful set cleverly messed with proportions. Every inch of the space was a custom creation.
For the coulrophobic: while we entered the game through a large clown’s mouth, the game itself was certified clown-free.
The puzzles were plentiful and varied. Early on, there were so many accessible to us. Our team of aggressive puzzlers moved like a tornado of puzzling. It became a challenge to keep track of what was going on.
The mid and late game puzzles were less numerous and required more teamwork.
The set was magnificently constructed.
Cross Roads delivered many memorable moments through the The Fun House’s set and puzzles.
Hints were delivered via an in-game character who was playful and humorous. The fourth wall-breaking character toyed with us and made jokes about bad escape room design.
While there were plenty of puzzles and plenty of space, this was a small team game. Each member of our team of six felt like they had missed out on things happening.
The ending was a tad anticlimactic, especially in contrast with The Fun House’s many memorable moments.
Should I play Cross Roads Escape Games’ The Fun House?
The Fun House played like a near-perfect execution of early-style escape rooms. Cross Roads replaced the standard office-like environment with a wacky carnival tent, piled on tons of well-themed puzzles, and mixed in unique and memorable moments. It was a pleasure to play.
If you’re near Anaheim, Cross Roads is a must-visit location.
The Hex Room was a horror movie experience for six characters: Prom Queen, Jock, Virgin, Nerd, Rebel, and Detective. Cast as these film archetypes, we had to solve our way out of six individual but interconnected rooms and together escape the game.
As an added twist, in order to survive, we each had to open our own hex box, a self-contained bonus puzzle for each character.
Upon our arrival at Cross Roads, we each filled out a survey to determine our character assignments. Roles required different skills and some were more or less integral to the game.
The Hex Room was a horror game with frightening moments, but it wasn’t a terrifying game. The set, ambiance, and isolation built fear through anticipation more than any in-game frights.
The story was basic: escape the horror movie to survive. The set was anything but simple. Cross Roads handcrafted intricate, unsettling environments for each character. These were gritty and enhanced the individual character’s experience.
As individual characters, we solved a series of puzzles to escape our isolated entrapment.
These puzzles were not overly challenging. The isolated uncomfortable environments and hampered communication provided the difficulty.
The Detective inhabited the central room. She alone could communicate with each trapped character through windows in the doors of each other player’s room. Ideas or items passed through the Detective. This game mechanism made otherwise straightforward puzzles far more challenging.
The individual hex boxes added temptation. They yielded a survivor’s medal, but wouldn’t help the team escape. They also differed dramatically in level of challenge.
The Hex Room was a game like no other.
The best game interactions in The Hex Room played off of the character archetypes and poked fun at them. This was creative, clever, and comical.
The game was designed to force some characters to come together, while allowing another to choose not to.
The Hex Room was a horror game with a broader appeal. By simultaneously conforming to the stereotypes of the genre and making fun of them, it offered both heart-racing anticipation and a sense of ordinary playability.
Cross Roads designed The Hex Room as a replayable game; we could return to play as different characters. While it’s true that I didn’t solve the individual puzzles in the other rooms, I can’t un-know the general game mechanics or character and object relationships. The Hex Room was exciting not because of the isolated puzzles; it was about the experience we had as a team, surviving our horror film. I couldn’t justify paying full price to unlock a different set of puzzles, while trying to hold back the knowledge I already have about the game.
The individual adventures were more exciting than the culminating story. Once our team came together, the game wasn’t able to do anything with the anticipation or build to a satisfying climax.*
If the characters are assigned incorrectly, the team will struggle. While the puzzles seemed more or less even, the settings were not. For example, one role was more claustrophobic and another included more grotesque props. If even one teammate is too uncomfortable in their assignment or can’t hold their own with the puzzles, the team will have problems.
Most importantly, if you have the wrong person as the Detective, the game will fall apart.
Should I play Cross Roads Escape Games’ The Hex Room?
The Hex Room was not inherently intellectually challenging. Instead, the puzzles were rendered difficult through atmosphere, isolation, and limited communication.
Players who like to focus in on complex, challenging puzzles won’t necessarily love this game. It was designed to be unsettling and force you to puzzle in an uncomfortable environment. We loved this. Not everyone on our team did.
Players who enjoy horror movies or horror experiences will thoroughly enjoy the game that Cross Roads lovingly created.
The Hex Room achieved the incredibly challenging feat of creating a game that brings individual plots together. It did this while staying true to the horror movie theme. Seasoned players will appreciate the subtleties in the game’s design.
This is a game for a team of six people who can rely on themselves as much as each other. Make sure everyone feels comfortable puzzling and operating locks. Cross Roads will modify the game so that as few as five or as many as ten people can play, but bringing any more or fewer than six people would be a mistake.
*Note that we played the second version of Cross Roads’ The Hex Room. The original game had an extremely different ending, among other differences. As always, we’ve reviewed the game we played and we cannot speak to the earlier version.