Ubisoft Escape Games – Beyond Medusa’s Gate [VR Review]

A VR Odyssey

Location:  at Up the Game in Amsterdam, The Netherlands & at Trap’t in Stamford, CT

Date Played: May 7, 2019 & May 17, 2019

Team size: 2 or 4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 per player at Trap’t (consumer pricing varies by licensee)

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a gigantic, dramatic, and intense journey through the worlds of Greek mythology and the Assassin’s Creed video game series.

Ubisoft Escape Games published a worthy sequel to their first VR escape game by refining and expanding upon the concepts introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A gigantic statue of Atlas wrapped in a snake holding up the ceiling of a cave.

Beyond Medusa’s Gate wasn’t the most puzzley game. However, it accomplished what I believe is the key to a great virtual escape game: the gameplay provided experiences that cannot be created in real life escape games.

I wholeheartedly recommend playing Beyond Medusa’s Gate. (We took my parents to play it.) I’d encourage you to play Escape The Lost Pyramid first so that you’re comfortable with the controls and mechanisms that Ubisoft expanded upon in this sequel.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (with VR, escape rooms, or Assassin’s Creed)

Why play?

  • Fantastic collaborative puzzles
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Massive set pieces
  • Puzzles that aren’t possible in a real-life escape room
  • A cool boss battle

Story

Set in the fantastical ancient Greek world of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, we were off in search of a powerful lost artifact.

The Poster for Beyond Medusa's Gate featuring a stone door with a sculpture of Medusa.

Setting

We boarded the Argo, the legendary ship of the Argonauts, and sailed through a magnificently rendered Mediterranean cavern filled with huge structures and mythological beasts.

In-game: a burning cauldron in a temple.

Gameplay

Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a VR escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around teamwork, puzzling, shooting, climbing, observing, and making connections.

In-game: The Argo in the Mediterranean.

Analysis

➕ Ubisoft included some additional character customization options allowing us to change the color of our avatar’s clothing.

In-game: a team of avatar's getting suited up.

 Assassin’s Creed factors in minimally. On the one hand, if you’re familiar with the series, there are some lovely nods both in the gameplay and in the introduction. On the other hand, you can enjoy the game almost fully without knowing anything about the Animus.

➖ If you’re completely unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed, then the introductory exposition will sound something like, “Blah blah blah Ancient Greece. Blah blah blah powerful artifact. Blah blah blah genetic memory.”

➕ The opening puzzle sequence was really clever, both as a standalone puzzle and as an introduction to manipulating the game world.

➕ Beyond Medusa’s Gate had a greater diversity in puzzles and challenges than did Ubisoft’s first escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A statue of Athena in a cavern.

➕ As with Escape The Lost Pyramid, Beyond Medusa’s Gate did a wonderful job of providing experiences that could not be created in a physical escape room.

❓ While the puzzles within Beyond Medusa’s Gate were enjoyable, the emphasis was on adventure. If you’re seeking serious puzzle-play, there might not be enough of it for you.

➕ Ubisoft ramped up the opportunities for teamwork and collaboration. There were lots of moments were we solving as either a duo or quartet.

➕ The world of Beyond Medusa’s Gate was gorgeous. There were points where I stopped playing and found myself getting lost in the beauty of the world and all of its detail.

➕ The use of a boat to facilitate movement through the game world was an improvement over the floating blocks from Escape The Lost Pyramid. Not only did it make more sense within the fiction, it also made the game more friendly and approachable for players with vertigo or a fear of heights.

➕ While Beyond Medusa’s Gate incorporated the climbing as well as the archery introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid, it limited its reliance on them and put some interesting twists on both as the game progressed.

❓ There’s a learning curve to staying within the play area. If you’re comfortable playing video games and VR, you could acclimate almost immediately. If you aren’t comfortable with the technology, it could be a game-long process .

➖ When one player struggles to execute, the game can grind to a halt and provide little for idle players to do… aside from break pots and look at the beautiful world. (I have a high capacity for breaking pots from years of Zelda.)

➖ If you are the struggling player and you’re holding your team back, you’ll quickly feel a lot of additional pressure.

❓ We played this game twice, once with a wire (at Up The Game), and once wireless (at Trap’t in Stamford, CT). It was a substantially better experience playing wirelessly.

In-game: a massive ballista mounted to the side of a ship.

➕ The boss battle was a strong conclusion.

➕ Ubisoft added a delightful post-game photo system.

Tips For Visiting

  • I would strongly encourage you to play Ubisoft’s first VR escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid, prior to playing this sequel.
  • Yes, you can wear glasses with the VR headset.
  • If you have a fear of heights or are prone to vertigo, there will be one section that you might want to skip, but you should be fine playing most of this game.

Book your hour with Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

If you’re interested in licensing this game, you can learn more from Ubisoft Escape Games:

Disclosure: Ubisoft Escape Games offered free play-throughs of this game on the show floor at Up the Game.

Disclosure: Trap’t comped our tickets for this game.

Escapism – Do Not Disturb [Review]

Do Not Disturb

Creepy dolls & good flow.

Location:  Southington, Connecticut

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

It’s great to see a new company come out of the gate with a strong game. Escapism gets escape rooms, and we’re incredibly excited to see where they take their designs.

Do Not Disturb was a fantastic game for less experienced players. It was well designed with strong puzzle flow.

If you’re an experienced player, there was something to enjoy in Do Not Disturb, but it wasn’t a must-play.

If you’re new to escape rooms, this would be a wonderful place to start.

In-game: closeup of a creepy doll.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • An elegant set
  • A great hint system
  • Smart puzzles

Story

Our team of private investigators was called to investigate an abandoned and allegedly haunted apartment. It was up to us to determine the fate of its tenant.

In-game: View through the door of Do Not Disturb into a studio apartment with a creepy doll sitting on a table in the middle of the room.

Setting

We “broke into” a small, grandmotherly apartment with a cohesive aesthetic. It wasn’t a fancy setting, but it looked and smelled right.

In-game: a small table two two unusual wooden locked boxes.

Gameplay

Escapism’s Do Not Disturb was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, observing, and making connections.

In-game: An old apartment bedroom's dresser. There are metal boxes with wires running from them.

Analysis

➕ The set looked homey, but slightly creepy. It had a gentle, welcoming aesthetic with just the slightest edge.

➕ Escapism’s set design included visual, auditory, and olfactory ambiance. These extra details added a lot to the experience.

Do Not Disturb had a stellar entry for onboarding escape room newbies.

➕ The puzzles flowed well. Escapism even augmented a few puzzles so that experienced players wouldn’t accidentally (or purposely) bypass parts of the game. It worked well.

➖ One puzzle could easily become overwhelming depending on the order the players connect various in-game elements. In part, the ambiance contributed to potential sensory overload. This puzzle could benefit from either more gating and/or stronger cluing.

➕ The hint system was designed specifically for Do Not Disturb. This detail added to the overall experience. We didn’t use any hints… but Escapism clearly knew how cool the system was and worked it into our game nonetheless.

➖ Escapism mixed locks with tech-driven opens, but too often the tech was too visible. If they can build housing around the tech and hide it in the decor, it’s effects would be far more effective.

➕Escapism had a beautiful, spacious lobby. Leave yourself a few extra minutes to hang out.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Tavern 42 for BBQ nearby.
  • Leave some time to hang out in Escapism’s gorgeous lobby.

Book your hour with Escapism’s Do Not Disturb, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapism comped our tickets for this game.

Complexity – The Mall [Review]

The Complex City Mall

Location: Farmington, CT

Date Played: June 29, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket on weekdays, $30 per ticket on evenings and weekends

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Mall represented a big step forward for Complexity in a number of categories: puzzle complexity, set design, technology, and humor.

While a few of the puzzles could have benefited from a touch more clarity, and there’s room for additional growth in set design, The Mall was challenging, entertaining, and worthy of a visit if you’re in the area.

In-game: The Pizzeria Pie mall Italian restaurant.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Punny mall store names
  • A humorous and light-hearted justification
  • Some really good puzzles
  • Interesting opportunities for teamwork

Story

Wow… I’m unreliable. After a day of shopping at the mall, we were getting ready to leave when I realized that I had lost my wallet and car keys! According to Google Maps, we had one hour before we had to hit the road to make our dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant.

The stakes had never been higher.

In-game: Sign for "Yellow House Orange Market."

Setting

Complexity created a scaled-down approximation of a mall. Each nook, corner, and room in the space represented another store. Each store was given a punny or joke name referencing common mall-based businesses.

In-game: Sign for "Things Forgotten Art Gallery."

Gameplay

Complexity’s The Mall was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The set was almost like a cartoon. We never felt like we were in a mall, but we always knew exactly what they were striving for. It was charming and engaging.

In-game: The "Daily Specials" white board.

+ Complexity justified our presence in The Mall and our goal to escape with a delightfully humorous backstory.

– While the premise justified the experience, it didn’t justify the puzzles. The justification devolved into a puzzle room pretty quickly.

+ The puzzles were challenging and engaging.

– The Mall had a rough difficulty curve. Some of the earlier puzzles seemed particularly challenging and the balance of effort-to-reward felt a bit off.

– We missed a few tech-driven opens. Added springs and directional audio or light cues would help turn reveals into events, reducing confusion and adding drama.

+ Complexity’s Apple Store was as white as it was enjoyable.

+ Multiple puzzles required teamwork and communication.

The Mall was entertaining. Every time we opened a new space, we delighted in the witty reveal.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot out front.
  • We recommend Cugino’s for Italian cuisine nearby.

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

Disclosure: Complexity comped our tickets for this game.

Mystified – Rendezvous With The Renaissance [Review]

Leonardo the mystic.

Location: Mystic, CT

Date Played: April 1, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

Rendezvous With The Renaissance was a puzzle-focused, challenge-oriented escape room. While at times the cluing was a bit imprecise, the puzzles generally flowed well. It may not have been a fully immersive environment, but the staging added to the experience.

If you’re in the area and you want to puzzle, give Rendezvous With The Renaissance a try.

In-game: A door with moon cycles painted on it, a clock face around it, and large gears above.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Puzzle quality
  • Puzzle quantity
  • The steampunk, in-character vibe of Mystified

Story

After arriving at our hotel in Victorian Italy, we found that we’d received someone else’s luggage. We snooped, of course. They had a mysterious little notebook and a letter suggesting an impending rendezvous to uncover artifacts. We decided to find these artifacts first.

Setting

Our artifact search began at the church square. We were surrounded by imposing walls with slight ornamentation and a decorated, locked door. Folks had left a few odds and ends in the square for us to poke around in. It was a relatively empty space.

The set design was solid, but fell short of serious immersion.

Gameplay

Mystified’s Rendezvous With The Renaissance was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

+ We love the name Mystified. We love the pun. Need a name? Check out our Escape Room Name Generator.

Mystified's steam punk-ish lobby.

+ We enjoyed the vibe of Mystified. It had a steampunk flair that carried through to staff costumes. Our gamemaster was rocking one seriously cool corset… I was envious.

+ We enjoyed the challenging, complex, and structurally varied puzzles presented in Rendezvous With The Renaissance.

– A couple of early puzzles suffered from inconsistencies. These differences in iconography and alignment added unnecessary uncertainty. Later in the escape room, one icon symbolized multiple things. Given the number of open puzzles, this icon choice convoluted the gameplay.

– Rendezvous With The Renaissance followed a run book, and a tiny one at that. While Mystified had worked this prop into the narrative, it was still frustrating to follow. Only one person could read it at a time. With a larger team, this frustration would have been magnified.

+ While the narrative only loosely carried the experience, it culminated well with a satisfying final series of solves.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Mystified’s Rendezvous With The Renaissance, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mystified provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape New Haven – The Game Show [Review]

“I’ll take ‘escape rooms’ for $200, Alex.”

Location: New Haven, CT

Date Played: December 18, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4 or 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per ticket

REA Reaction

On the one hand, we loved the innovation in The Game Show. Escape New Haven included more inventive game mechanics in this escape room than most companies have in all of their games combined. On the other hand, The Game Show didn’t adequately onboard players, which could leave even experienced players completely clueless. Its unforgiving nature could be frustrating or exhilarating.

In-game: The neon and reflective Game Show set with puzzle stations along the walls and a pedestal in the middle of the room.

Who is this for?

  • People who like competitive games
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Atypical escape room structure
  • Unusual game mechanics
  • Competitive gameplay
  • Great twist

Story

We were contestants on a new game show. The winners would receive a free trip to sunny New Haven, Connecticut.

In-game: A reflective wall with a box covered in four switches, red, green, blue, and orange.

Setting

Split into two teams, Red and Blue, we were each led into mirror image spaces where we had to use puzzle stations built into the walls to compete with one another for points.

The back wall graphically displayed each team’s score in real time.

In-game: The score rings, a large ring for "Red Points" and a smaller ring for "Blue Points."

Gameplay

The competitive gameplay was built around rapidly learning the rules to each game and outplaying your opponents.

The initial difficulty was more in operating the game’s controls. Once we mastered that, we turned our attention to the competitive puzzles.

Finally, there was a big twist in this game… and explaining it would absolutely ruin the game. So I’m going to leave it at that.

Standouts

The Game Show was different. Its starting split-team competitive segment and the twist that ensued made for a dramatic and unusual experience.

The competitive concept was energizing. Escape New Haven drew inspiration from famous psych experiments, but reinvented the concepts as gameplay. It worked well.

The Game Show made sense, narratively speaking.

The post-twist gameplay was fantastic. I wish I could go into more detail.

Shortcomings

The competitive gameplay lacked instruction or clear feedback. If you get it, it will be exciting. If you don’t get it, it will be painfully frustrating. If it doesn’t click for anyone, you will spend a lot of time in an unforgiving environment, under pressure from the competitive aspect. This could and should be smoothed over.

In terms of build quality and finish, while The Game Show was a step up from some of Escape New Haven’s earlier work, their set design still lacked polish and attention to detail. Everything felt decidedly homemade, even when the creation was impressive.

For example, the video segments seemed haphazardly slapped together. They featured a host standing in front of a white sheet. The elementary look detracted from the aesthetic that Escape New Haven clearly wanted for The Game Show.

Tips for Visiting

  • Use the app Parkmobile to fill your meter on the street in New Haven.
  • There are lots of great restaurants in New Haven.

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

Disclosure: Escape New Haven provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Elm City Escape – The Initiative [Review]

“This isn’t even my final form.”

Location: New Haven, CT

Date Played: December 18, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per ticket

REA Reaction

We were pleasantly shocked by the second act after being underwhelmed when we set foot in The Initiative. Narratively, Elm City Escape paid off the banality of the opening sequence and they rewarded us with fantastic gameplay later on. Worth it.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Sci-fi and anime fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The second act
  • Subtle character building and storytelling
  • Three epic puzzles

Story

We made it! It was our first day of our dream job at the OMNE Corporation. Our excitement was swiftly dashed when we realized that we were going to be drones in a corporate machine that seemed like it was up to no good.

If we were going to continue working for this company, we had to meet the boss and learn his intentions.

In-game, a bland corporate office with white walls, computer desks, and motivational posters.

Setting

We entered a large office with a few employee desks, a filing cabinet, and a break room station. Despite the motivational posters on the walls, it was as bland and mundane as a set could get… until the second act, which I simply cannot spoil… but it’s cool.

Gameplay

The Initiative was a standard escape room with a far greater emphasis on puzzling than on search.

Elm City Escape turned office essentials into puzzles that unlocked… more office essentials.

In the second act, The Initiative offered more inventive, interactive, and intriguing challenges.

Standouts

Throughout The Initiative we uncovered many fun, nerdy references.

The Initiative followed a narrative arc culminating in a great twist.

Elm City Escape designed some phenomenal puzzles. These late-game challenges were the highlights of the escape room. They were brilliant.

The Initiative escalated well.

Shortcomings

The opening set was large and lackluster. Elm City Escape could improve The Initiative with a stronger opening statement.

We suggest that Elm City Escape bolt down one more substantial prop and maybe consider making it easier for shorter players to interact with it.

The Initiative required parallel puzzling. In one instance, we tackled three creative and intriguing puzzles and a fourth typical process puzzle concurrently. The person tackling this fourth puzzle missed out on the most interesting parts of this escape room.

Tips for Visiting

  • You’ll be underwhelmed by the first room. Puzzle through it, things get more interesting.
  • Use the app Parkmobile to fill your meter on the street in New Haven.
  • Enter the building, pass the security desk, turn left, and go downstairs.
  • There are lots of great restaurants in New Haven.

Book your hour with Elm City Escape’s The Initiative, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

 

AdventurEscape – Raiders of the Lost Room [Review]

Damn treasure hunters!

Location: Windsor Locks, CT

Date played: November 12, 2017

Team size: 2-15; we recommend 5-8

Duration: 60 minutes (can be extended for small groups)

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting.

We embarked on a treasure hunt for pirate gold. We entered a local cabin where we hoped former treasure hunters had left behind enough clues that we would strike it rich.

Raiders of the Lost Room was based on the true story of Pirate David Marteen who, according to legend, buried treasure nearby in East Granby, Connecticut. The folks from AdventurEscape told us that they had been kicked out of the local historical society for asking questions about the legend. (It seems the historical society gets a lot of wannabe treasure hunters.)

In-game: A large escape room space set up as a study.

The large gamespace felt vaguely like a cabin with old eclectic furniture and a fireplace.

Puzzles

Raiders of the Lost Room was an old-school escape room. There was a lot to puzzle throughIn this non-linear room escape, there was a lot available to work through at any given time.

These puzzles involved search, observation, spatial reasoning, riddling, ciphering, and dexterity.

In-game: A large study. There is a sizable metal furnace against the wall.

Standouts

Raiders of the Lost Room was inspired by local Connecticut lore. AdventurEscape built their escape room on top of an existing treasure hunting legend. This was a great idea.

The puzzles in Raiders of the Lost Room would keep a larger team entertained. For the majority of the game, there were plenty of different puzzles to work on, many of which could engage a couple of people working together.

We enjoyed AdventurEscape’s implementations of more common escape room puzzle types. They added intrigue without tedium.

There were some unusual puzzles in here too; they were generally a good time.

We appreciated one late-game puzzle that relied on different skills and contrasted with the earlier puzzling. It was refreshing and exciting.

Shortcomings

While we enjoyed the interaction in this puzzle, it lacked in-game feedback. We continued trying to solve it long after we’d succeeded.

In one instance, Raiders of the Lost Room suffered from a gating problem. One puzzle was open from the first moments of the game and we spent a lot of time approaching it incorrectly before we received enough information to tackle it appropriately.

Raiders of the Lost Room needed polish. AdventurEscape could make interactions more precise, clean up wear, and add more aesthetic flair to the cabin.

Should I play AdventurEscape’s Raiders of the Lost Room?

Raiders of the Lost Room was packed full of fun and challenging puzzles. These were enticing and approachable.

AdventurEscape has continued to iterate and refine Raiders of the Lost Room. While at times this leads to choppiness, it generally means that the clue structure exists if you persist in finding it.

There is a lot of find, as is the nature of most large-team games.

Players of all experience levels can enjoy Raiders of the Lost Room. We recommend that newer players especially bring a larger group and communicate well. For more experienced players who won’t be overwhelmed by the volume of challenges to approach, Raiders of the Lost Room would be a lot to tackle as a small group, but doable.

If you have a large group looking for adventure, we recommend this search for pirate gold.

Book your hour with AdventurEscape’s Raiders of the Lost Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Puzzle Theory – The Experiment [Review]

99.99% puzzles.

Location: South Windsor, Connecticut

Date played: July 8, 2017

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27.50 per ticket

Story & setting

Following the story of The Missing Doctor, we volunteered to participate in the amusingly mad Dr. X’s experiment… but first we had to figure out what we’d even signed on for.

The Experiment didn’t really have a set. There was a clearly defined space within which the escape room took place, but it was basically walls, doors, puzzle components, and a few random pieces of furniture.

In-game: A bland room with a plant a coffee table, and a few lab coats hanging on the wall.

Puzzles

The Experiment revolved around discovery and experimentation.

We relied heavily on keen observation and communication.

Standouts

The Experiment was frequently un-hackable. Each time we thought we could skip a step, Puzzle Theory thwarted us. They clearly gave information dissemination and gating considerable thought.

We generally loved the puzzles that were presented to us in The Experiment.

Their character, Dr. X, was amusing. I rarely read a nonrequired long-winded thing… but I wanted to read the funny conclusion Dr. X presented us.

The stories of The Experiment and The Missing Doctor link brilliantly. If you don’t get the story or couldn’t remember the story (like me), ask your gamemaster to explain it afterwards.

Shortcomings

The gamespace had an odd layout that was occasionally frustrating. We frequently found ourselves maneuvering around each other in cramped spaces.

The Experiment was more physically demanding than it needed to be due to the awkward positioning of a crawlspace and the repeated transition through it. There was also one more active puzzle in a hard-to-reach location.

The Experiment didn’t look like much at all. There really wasn’t a set; it was simply a space to contain the puzzles.

Should I play Puzzle Theory’s The Experiment?

The Experiment was fully puzzling with a side of humor. Dr. X is amusing and his experiment ridiculous and entertaining. If I had to guess, the folks from Puzzle Theory are probably pretty big fans of Futurama and Rick & Morty… It’s just got that vibe.

If you play escape rooms for the puzzles, you’ll enjoy The Experiment. It required us to think in different ways and work through concepts that resulted in satisfying solves.

If your enjoyment of an escape room requires a beautiful set, The Experiment won’t be for you. Not at all.

The Experiment would be challenging for newer players, but is nevertheless approachable for the puzzle-minded at any level of experience. Make sure that you can crawl or that you have a few people on your team who can.

Book your hour with Puzzle Theory’s The Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Puzzle Theory provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Quandary – Son of the Zodiac [Review]

Quandary owes us $100,000. We’ll wait for it.

Location: Wallingford, Connecticut

Date played: July 8, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket on weekdays, $27 per ticket on weekends

Story & setting

In the late 60s and early 70s, “The Zodiac Killer” terrorized the San Francisco Bay area murdering somewhere between 5 and 28 people. He celebrated his slayings by sending 4 enciphered messages to authorities. He was never identified or caught and only 1 of the cryptograms has been solved.

Decades later in Connecticut, a Zodiac Killer copycat had started taking lives and a $100,000 reward had been offered for information leading to his capture. As a group of college students taking an investigative journalism class at a local university, we’d decided to look into the killings… and we’d tracked a suspect back to his home. What could possibly go wrong?

In-game: A creepy apartment living space with green walls. A sofa, and television sit in the background. A set kitchen table in the foreground.

The “serial killer” escape room genre generally comes in three flavors:

  • Horror murder house
  • Children’s haunted house of party store props
  • Creepy house of slightly intimidating death iconography

Son of the Zodiac firmly fell in the third category. The set was essentially the killer’s creepy living room puzzle confessional. It more than adequately staged Quandary’s puzzles, but didn’t contribute any dramatic flair.

Puzzles

Son of the Zodiac shined in the puzzle department. A few of the puzzles were pretty damn brilliant. Quandary did a good job of embedding their puzzles into the set and providing challenges with more than one layer of complexity.

Standouts

Quandary’s story was detailed and established the set, as well as our reason for being there. Through a smart game design element, they managed to keep the narrative alive throughout the entire game right up to the conclusion. This is a rare feat in an escape room.

When we asked each teammate their favorite part of the Son of the Zodiac, damn near every puzzle was listed individually by at least one person. The puzzling was varied, complex, fair, and satisfying.

Shortcomings

Two big puzzles were set up for parallel solving, but were mounted to the set in a way that resulted in a lot of crosstalk. The two groups that had split to tackle these challenges ended up tripping over each other both verbally and physically. This added tension to the escape room… but not the desirable kind.

The set didn’t look great. It was clearly put together with love and care, but there was plenty of room for improvement.

Should I play Quandary’s Son of the Zodiac?

Son of the Zodiac’s creepy-not-scary, horror-lite gameplay was fairly clearly stated on their website: “While the theme of this room is menacing, there are no “scares”: no one jumps out at you, no strobe lights, no loud noise.” They also made it clear that Son of the Zodiac would be more challenging than your average room.

This was not a room escape for people who get really into the scary, set-driven aspects of some serial killer games. It wasn’t frightening and in its climactic moments it only flirted with intensity.

While not an overwhelmingly difficult escape room, I’d recommend having played a room or two before taking on Son of the Zodiac. It’s not for total newbies, but it’s approachable with a bit of experience. You’ll want to know your way around an escape room before you go in because the puzzles in Son of the Zodiac were killer.

Book your hour with Quandary’s Son of the Zodiac, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Quandary comped our tickets for this game.

 

Lock Museum of America – Lock Museum Adventure [Review]

They have real treasure chests… and they are so much cooler than in the movies.

Location: Terryville, Connecticut

Date played: July 8, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $23 per ticket (adults), $15 per ticket (teens)

The museum

Located at the site of the long-closed Eagle Lock Company, Lock Museum of America is a small non-profit museum dedicated to the history of locking devices.

Eagle Lock King Bee padlock.
Each of those little divots on the lock’s face was added by hand. Think about that.

The Lock Museum of America is a no-frills museum with a pretty amazing collection and a knowledgeable staff. They have well over a thousand padlocks, mortise locks, and safes. They have brilliant demonstrations of the inner workings of some of history’s most important lock designs, a gorgeous collection of bank time locks (which have an incredible and dark history), and a pair of over-500-year-old functioning Spanish Armada treasure chests with some of the most amazing closure mechanisms that I’ve ever seen.

The locking mechanism in the lid of a Spanish Armada treasure chest. It is incredibly complex.
That’s the exposed locking mechanism of a treasure chest lid. Seeing it function in real life and knowing that its mechanisms were made by hand was seriously humbling.

My love of locks and lockpicking is well documented; I loved this little museum.

Within the museum they had an escape room style game… Should you play it?

Story & setting

The initial concept of the pin tumbler lock dates back to Egypt circa 4000 BC and the Lock Museum of America’s ancient Egyptian lock had been cursed. We had to break that curse or the bad things that happen when you don’t break an ancient Egyptian curse within an hour would set in.

The set was the second floor of the Lock Museum. They had set up a table in the middle of the main room which held many game components. The escape room included a series of lock boxes, puzzles, and hidden items within the museum displays.

A century old bank time lock. It's beautifully designed with gold and chrome trim.
The precision and detail in these bank time locks is pretty crazy when you realize that almost no one ever saw them.

Puzzles

Part museum scavenger hunt, part puzzle hunt, Lock Museum Adventure was less an escape room and more a puzzle-driven way to explore the Lock Museum. This was not a fancy room escape by any stretch of the imagination. However, it was fair and reasonably challenging.

Standouts

Lock Museum Adventure included some items that no other escape room in the world could even dream of incorporating. Lock Museum Adventure was at its best when it physically involved items that were part of the museum itself. This came in two different forms:

  • Incorporating locking devices that were part of the museum
  • Creating puzzles from the existing museum displays

The Lock Museum did a good job calling out what was and was not part of the escape room, which was important because there was a lot to look at.

A complex warded key within a cutaway lock. It shows the key passing through the wards.
This is an old warded key set within a warded lock. All of that was handmade.

The setting within the Lock Museum was a ton of fun. I found myself shifting between room escape player and museum observer. The escape room was a great way to help visitors take in the many magnificent items on display.

Shortcomings

While Egypt was significant in lock history, it wasn’t really the point of this Lock Museum. The “curse” story felt forced and disconnected from the space we were actually occupying. I would have loved a story that felt more connected to what we were seeing… or even no story at all. The Lock Museum was nifty on its own.

Most of the lockboxes that made up the core of the room escape were sealed with junky, uninspiring modern locks. It would have been more fun if these had been secured with less valuable older locks or even unusual modern ones.

Lock Museum Adventure gang locked boxes shut with a Master Lock Lockout Hasp. Gang locking kills any sense of forward momentum because solutions don’t reward players with new information.

I left the room escape wishing that more of the history and the space within the Lock Museum had been integrated into Lock Museum Adventure. This escape room could be an incredible way to learn experientially within an unusual museum. It does a little of this, but there is potential for so much more.

Should I play Lock Museum of America’s Lock Museum Adventure?

There are two pieces to parse here: Lock Museum of America and the museum’s escape room, Lock Museum Adventure.

If you’re even remotely intrigued by the design and history of locking mechanisms, Lock Museum of America is pretty damn cool. It isn’t fancy, but they display amazing things. I’ve been to museums that have more photos than genuine artifacts, where an hour or two on Wikipedia is more fulfilling… This isn’t one of those museums. The displays are tangible and the staff knows their stuff. I know this because I geeked out with them and asked all sorts of esoteric questions that probably bored my patient teammates to death.

I thought Lock Museum Adventure was a fun way to interact with the exhibits. It felt more like a scavenger hunt mixed with a light puzzle hunt, but it all worked. It could, however, do more to shine a light on what makes this museum special. I hope that it gets there because it has so much potential.

Between exploring the museum and playing the escape room, we spent about 2 hours in total at the Lock Museum of America and it was well worth the visit. It’s a convenient stop between New York and Boston. We learned a lot, saw some interesting and unusual things, and puzzled. If this sounds like a good time then I recommend a visit. I plan to return.

Book your hour with Lock Museum of America’s Lock Museum Adventure, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Lock Museum of America comped our tickets for this game.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)