The Escape Game – The Depths [Review]

Update 11/22/22: If you enjoy The Depths, we hope you’ll check out our interview with The Escape Game CEO and Co-Founder Mark Flint on The Reality Escape Pod.

Game #1,000 🀯

Location: East Rutherford, NJ

Date Played: May 23, 2022

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $42.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Depths was my 1,000th escape room… and I know that this must be a crazy thing to read, because it’s pretty strange to write. Over the past 8 years I’ve had a front row seat to a rapidly developing and evolving industry that has branched into so many interesting directions.

Over the course of my career as a player and critic, The Escape Game emerged as the standout escape room chain. Their ability to produce and maintain a quality product has allowed them to attract an audience of both new and experienced players… a rare feat. Players who are in the know are aware that escape room chains are not usually where you want to spend your time or money… but game after game, The Escape Game continues to show that they refuse to jump the shark. Speaking of which, let’s talk about The Depths.

Wide angle view of a submarine, it's long and narrow, and featuring a control panel, lockers, and a big metal door.

The Escape Game’s new submarine adventure presented a clean and refined experience, both in terms of aesthetics and game design. Everything looked and felt solid.

We had some gripes with lighting in the second act, and the final puzzle felt under-developed… but then we learned that a new ending had already been created for this game, so I get the impression that this issue is already resolved or will be soon. We’ll update when we get the chance to replay it.

Overall, The Depths was a great escape room that didn’t take many risks. It’s enjoyable for established players, and it would be a fantastic game to take newbies to… which I plan to do. If you’re near an Escape Game location, it’s always worth checking out which games they are offering. If they have The Depths on the docket, I’d recommend booking it.

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Solve It Sherlock – Legend of the Pines [Review]

β€œLet it be the devil!”

Location: Neptune, NJ

Date Played: April 9, 2022

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration:  This room is on the 2nd floor but they have same-level access.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Based on local myth, the legend of the Jersey Devil, Legend of the Pines had us out in the woods investigating the Jersey Devil.

The first thing that stood out about Legend of the Pines was that Solve It Sherlock had built a compelling wooded set, which is generally hard to do.

A wooden shack labeled, "Ranger Station" in a wooden sign.

The second thing that really stood out about Legend of the Pines was how effectively Solve It Sherlock worked with the local myth. This game was unique and felt at home in New Jersey. Plus they closed the game and story out with a finale that they had clearly put a lot of love into.

Where can Legend of the Pines improve? I think a few of the puzzles and solutions could have tighter design. Nothing major, but there were a few nuances that could be improved.

Overall, Solve It Sherlock produced one of the few standout games in the area. If you’re a traveling escape room player, this won’t blow your mind, but you’ll enjoy it. For locals, this is comfortably among your best options in the region.

Who is this for?

  • Players seeking a game with local flavor
  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A unique story, rooted in local myth
  • The wooded exterior set was great
  • A strong finale

Story

For more than 250 years, locals had spoken of the Jersey Devil, telling stories of it prowling the marshes of southern New Jersey. Late at night, we’d happened upon an abandoned ranger station. As we explored, it became clear that the ranger had been studying the Devil. With the howls of a beast nearing us, we had to figure out what to do with the ranger’s notes.

A wood ranger station shack in the forest.
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Trap Door – The Greatest Freakshow [Review]

“Better than Award Winning Musical CATS!” -David Spira

Location:  Morristown, New Jersey

Date Played: December 17, 2019

Team size: up to 16; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

What do you do when you’re an escape room creator with a small child who watches Disney movies on endless loops? You make an escape room musical; that’s what you do.

In-game: Trailers and tents lit with strings of lights.

When I heard the concept I didn’t know what I was getting into. Were there going to be actors? Was this a show? Was this an escape room?

The answer: It was an escape room through and through. While it had actors artfully projected and displayed, and included recorded performances, it was a 2-hour escape room in a large space, as Trap Door is known to build.

This was very much a Trap Door production. By that, I mean it was innovative, big, thoughtful, and in need of much stronger puzzle content.

This escape game was lovable in so many ways, but the one that mattered most to me personally was the emotional message and a moment that tied into it. It was honestly innovative. The level of commitment and investment in this game was undeniable; just the square footage alone is costly. It just needed much stronger gameplay.

If you’re in the area, I recommend The Greatest Freakshow because it does a lot of truly interesting and unusual things… and I love that… even though it’s frustrating how regularly this escape room undercuts brilliant moments that are unlike anything that I’ve seen from any other escape room company.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Carnies
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s quite large and contains many different scenes
  • The escape room as a musical concept was clever
  • There were some compelling moments

Story

Xunder’s Freakshow was ensorcelled by the song of the evil siren Atina. We had to free the minds of the freaks and team up with them to put a stop to her sinister serenade.

In-game: The ringmaster standing center stage.

Setting

Dating back to their first game, Trap Door has always created big escape games (in terms of square footage). A small Trap Door game is still big… and The Greatest Freakshow was big compared with their other big games. I think it might be smaller than Cure Z: Quarantine, but they are both at a size where it just doesn’t matter which is larger.

The Greatest Freakshow’s world included a stage, fair grounds, carnival games, and dressing rooms or trailers for nearly all of the main characters. There was no shortage places to visit. Throughout, Trap Door minded plenty of details. They covered the ground in convincing rubber wood chips. They used a large television and projections selectively to add life to the space. As a timer, they had the various scheduled stage performances by the Freakshow’s characters. It was a novel and cool space to explore.

A few of the spaces felt too empty or underdeveloped, but on the whole, Trap Door filled the large space.

In-game: The mermaid's tent adorned with a compass and ship's wheel.

Gameplay

Trap Door’s The Greatest Freakshow was a standard escape room with a large set and musical interludes. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The mermaid's tank, she is laying in it sleeping.

Analysis

βž• Trap Door’s commitment to large scale is admirable. It is undeniably fun to traverse a sprawling gamespace.

βž• On a conceptual level, I absolutely loved the escape room musical as a genre. I also truly respect the way that Trap Door brought this concept to life in an affordable, repeatable way through video and projection.

βž•/βž– The use of the performance schedule and musical numbers as the game timer was a great idea. This was undercut by the lack of audio in the space where we spent all of the second act. This is a fixable problem.

βž•/βž– The emotional climax of The Greatest Freakshow was brilliant and the cinematic execution was smart. From a gameplay standpoint, this interaction suffered because most of our team was struggling to see the information that we were supposed to work with. Again, this is fixable.

❓ The opening interaction left our whole team baffled, but we tried to play along. We weren’t sure what the game wanted of us, or if there was a point to the performance… or why it ended when it eventually did.

❓ While I’m no theater critic, and I am certainly no singer, to me, the performances felt more like spirited community theater than a professional production. Most of the performances were charming, not wowing.

In-game: A picnic table in the fairgrounds.

βž– The funhouse was undercut by either unclued challenges or janky tech.

βž– The puzzles were painfully lacking. For the most part, they involved identifying information in one place and more or less transcribing it into a corresponding input mechanism.

βž– A key setpiece in the concluding sequence was visibly unfinished and bludgeoned an otherwise great moment to death.

βž• The Greatest Freakshow contained a great sequence that carved itself into my memory.

In-game: A cage decorated with knives and lit with a string of lights.

Tips For Visiting

  • EPILEPSY WARNING: There are flashing lights used during this game to simulate circus stage lighting.
  • This is at Trap Door’s Morristown location.
  • There street parking and a parking garage nearby on Cattano Ave.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s The Greatest Freakshow, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Trophy Room [Review]

“What a lovely room of death.”

Location:  Wharton, NJ

Date Played: October 27, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

13th Hour Escape Rooms has become northern New Jersey’s most consistently high quality escape room company. We’ve played and enjoyed 7 games from this company and awarded them with 2 Golden Lock-In Awards (2017 & 2018).

It’s going to come as no surprise that The Trophy Room was a fun game. This was 13th Hour’s 6th escape room set in the Hayden Family’s farm of torture, murder, and cannibalism. The facility itself was fully themed against this backdrop.

As usual, this was a challenging, puzzley game in a grimly beautiful environment.

In-game: A skeleton mounted from the ceiling, a light above its head.

We played during October, so we had the Hayden Family haunt actors doing their Tim Burton-esque, whimsically creepy antics to distract, entertain, and hint us.

The Trophy Room lacked a truly arresting moment like some of their other games have had. It’s an all-around great game. We just wanted to see something that really blew our minds.

If you’re in New Jersey, 13th Hour Escape Rooms is a must-visit company. We’d easily put The Trophy Room in the top 3 games that they have on the premises. So long as you can handle a bit of creepiness, I highly recommend taking a gander at The Trophy Room.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle play
  • Amusing interactions
  • A great creepy set

Story

John Hayden has a special room on his farm where he keeps trophies of his victims. The old murder farmer continues his search for the ultimate trophy. Would he find that individual in our group?

In-game: A plant that includes the shrunken head of a clown.

Setting

All of 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ games were part of a unified setting. The Trophy Room extended the aesthetic of the Hayden farm into new areas of the “house.”

The Trophy Room was visually striking from the opening moments, as we took in the space, surrounded by tastefully mounted human skeletons. It looked great; 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ craftsmanship always does.

In-game: Two skeletons mounted to beams on the wall.

13th Hour Escape Rooms struck a creepy and intense vibe without turning full horror. Additionally, while their games all look dirty and gritty, they are kept quite clean. (This isn’t always the case in escape rooms.)

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Trophy Room was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The gritty, furniture of The Trophy Room.

Analysis

βž• The scenery looked outstanding. 13th Hour Escape Rooms built a large, rugged, weathered set. It established the mood of the experience and was fun to explore.

βž• Although we started among John Hayden’s trophies, as we played The Trophy Room we explored other areas of the Hayden farm. These unexpected sets added charm to the Hayden mystique. We enjoyed the variety within the experience.

❓ 13th Hour generally builds more around escape room logic than narrative. That is part of their charm. They’ve successfully merged thematic with escape room norms, crafting their own style in both aesthetics and gameplay. They make it work. If you’re looking for serious storytelling, however, that’s not present in their games.

βž– Although The Trophy Room had a reveal – and this was enhanced by the actors who roamed the games in October – it wasn’t on the same scale that we’ve seen from this company in the past.

βž• 13th Hour reskinned a traditional escape room puzzle for the theme of The Trophy Room. It worked well.

βž– 13th Hour Escape Rooms steered clear of a laundry list of tropes, but one that they did use should be hung up and retired.

βž•/βž– The Trophy Room had many strong tech-driven reveals, but a few of them made odd use of keypads. It was difficult to map individual puzzles to their inputs.

❓ The Trophy Room was a more intimate game than those we’ve seen most recently from 13th Hour Escape Rooms. That isn’t to say it was small, but rather that the gameplay was more accessible for a smaller group size. That said, it lacked the grandeur that impressed us in The Grand Parlor and The Great Room.

βž• Many of the puzzles in the The Trophy Room worked best with teamwork. They made use of the space and the details within it.

βž• The ending might be the final nail in the coffin for some scaredy cats. (Although 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ games aren’t scary, they are creepy enough to put some folks on edge.) We loved this conclusion. In our October playthrough, the ending was personal and playful.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • If you visit during a weekend in October, the actors roam the Hayden Family Farm, the set for all the 13th Hour Escape Rooms. They are more creepy and playful then scary. They are a fun addition to the games, if that’s your thing.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Trophy Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

The Great Escape NJ – The Garage [Review]

Escape & BBQ

Location:  Wharton, New Jersey

Date Played: January 22, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

Update December 8, 2019 – This location is closed. This game was sold to another escape room company in NJ. 13th Hour Escape Rooms is still running games at their location.

REA Reaction

Created as a side project from the people behind the 2-time Golden Lock-In Award-winning company 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was a themed puzzle game in a fun setting. We were in a garage trying to get the garage door to open.

The Garage exemplified how escape rooms don’t require a complex, epic story to be entertaining and compelling. The substance of The Garage existed in the thematic props and their associated puzzles. It was lovely, challenging, and fair.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, a car door rests on a workbench in the background.

If you’re in the region and enjoy puzzle-driven games in a unique environment, we strongly recommend driving through The Great Escape NJ. The Garagewould be approachable and fun regardless of experience level.

Additionally, The Garage is for sale along with its lease (and, I believe, space for another game). Feel free to contact The Great Escape NJ for details.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • Fans of 13th Hour escape games

Why play?

  • Great puzzles & flow
  • An elegant set with an unusual theme
  • Attached to a BBQ restaurant

Story

We had 60 minutes to reopen the old Hot Rods Garage.

In-game: the heavily weathered garage door with a digital keypad beside it.

Setting

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage looked as the name advertised. The entire room was built around tools and cars. The puzzles, props, and interactions were rooted within the theme.

Created as a side project by 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was imbued with their aesthetic and level of detail… without the creepiness of their other rooms.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, and a work bench and large set of cabinets sit in the background.

Gameplay

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of an unusual weathered electronic component.

Analysis

βž• The garage setting was an unusual and welcome theme. The Great Escape NJ’s execution was solid. It felt right.

βž• We had an objective. We didn’t miss the presence of a deliberate story.

βž• The Great Escape NJ made excellent use of automotive props in general, incorporating them into clever, layered puzzles.

βž• The hint system was triggered by beeping the horn on a steering wheel. It was a great detail.

In-game: closeup of a steering wheel.
“Beep” for a clue. We forgot to do it.

βž• The Garage contained a searching puzzle that was legitimately fun. We took turns doing it. When we had reached a point where we could have brute-forced the last digit, we elected not to. We wanted to complete the puzzle naturally.

βž• The Great Escape NJ turned 1-person interactions into full-full team moments.

In-game: Closeup of a large electrical safety switch locked up a directional lock.

βž– While The Garage made good use of traditional locks, we had access to a few too many 4-digit locks at once, creating situations where we had to try solutions in too many places.

βž• The Garage included non-traditional inputs, in addition to 4-digit locks. These added a lot to the puzzle solving.

The exterior entrance/ exit for The Garage. A weathered door and garage door surrounded by car parts.

βž• The Garage gave feedback whenever we solved a puzzle. We always knew whether we were on the right track, or needed to u-turn.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with The Great Escape NJ’s Garage, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Great Escape NJ comped our tickets for this game.