The VOID – Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire [Review]

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 9, 2019

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

Duration: 15 minutes

Price: from $39.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was a technological step up for THE VOID from the Ghostbusters game that we experienced a few years back. The tech felt better and there was more and stronger physical feedback. Plus, it was Star Wars… and Star Wars is the cultural equivalent of comfort food.

The cover art for Star Wars Secrets of the Empire. A team of stormtroopers on a skiff above a molten planet.

The big catch with THE VOID was the price point. At $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay it was a big ask.

I loved a lot of what was going on in Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire; I highly recommend it to Star Wars fans. It drops you in that familiar world and just feels right. At the same time, I left really wishing that I was playing as a Jedi, not a Rebel in stormtrooper armor.

THE VOID did a lot of really smart things when they designed this game and it worked damn well. If you think that you want to play it, and you can afford to do so, I absolutely recommend it.

Who is this for?

  • Star Wars fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You love Star Wars
  • It’s an engaging high quality VR shooter
  • Fantastic immersive detailing

Story

Spies for the Rebellion had reported that an item vital to the war effort had been uncovered by the Empire on the molten planet Mustafar. Our mission was to recover the item from the Imperial installation in a stolen ship, disguised as stormtroopers.

THE VOID in the middle of the Oculus at the World Trade Center. The architecture is massive and imposing. It looks like you're inside of a whale.
Image via THE VOID

Setting

Upon arrival at our start time, we were ushered into a briefing room, given the story, and then brought into a gear room where we suited up. The kit included a:

  • VR headset with a visor and earphones
  • haptic vest that vibrated when our avatar was shot, shaken, or otherwise impacted by something in the game world
  • a blaster
A group putting on their VOID gear.
Image via THE VOID

Once we put on all of the gear and tightened all of the straps, we were brought into the game.

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was beautifully rendered and felt familiar in all of the right ways. We were free to walk about the world without cables or cords restricting us. If a wall was in the game, it was there in real life. If a chair was in the game, it was present in real life.

The world was further accented by scents, blowing fans, and other real-life stimuli that pulled the game purely out of the digital realm.

Gameplay

The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was an approachable VR shooter experience.

Core gameplay revolved around taking in the world, shooting bad guys, and one puzzle.

A group suiting up, wearing the full VOID gear set.
Image via THE VOID

Analysis

➕ The gear was comfortable, balanced, and easy to put on and take off. Additionally, this was the first time that I was able to put on a VR headset and not once think about how to position my glasses. It just worked. I actually forgot about this entirely and only remembered when I was taking a look at my old review of THE VOID’s Ghostbusters experience where my glasses were a problem.

➕ It was Star Wars. I knew what I was getting into. There was a look, a feel, and a sound to the world and storytelling that just pushed the right nostalgic buttons. If you are or ever were into Star Wars, then there will be something here for you.

➕ The addition of physical sensations was wonderful. It added a tactile depth that is often missing from VR experiences.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There was a light puzzle. It was a thing. My teammates Dani and Bill from Escape this Podcast (we loved being on their show!) solved it, but we all agreed that I had more fun shooting stormtroopers while they solved it.

➖ There was a minute or so early in the experience where the world just seemed to freeze. My teammates and I could move, see one another, and speak, but the cut scene we were watching felt paused. I don’t know what happened, but I doubt that it was supposed to go down that way. The saving grace was that it wasn’t during a combat sequence or at a climactic moment.

➖ Maybe it’s just me, but my Star Wars fantasies never involved dressing as a stormtrooper. I know that it solves a lot of avatar problems. I’m also aware that it’s supported canonically by the Death Star scenes in A New Hope. And having players clutch a rifle with two hands is a lot safer than having them flailing about with a lightsaber. I see the pragmatism, thought, and cleverness in all of this.

None of that changes the fact that my inner 9-year-old wants to be a damn Jedi when he’s inside of a Star Wars game… especially at $2.66 per minute.

❓ $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay was expensive. I’m glad that I played, but I can also empathize with anyone who rejects it on price alone; Lisa sat this one out for that very reason.

➕ You can’t really ask for an easier, more picturesque location than the center of the World Trade Center Oculus. It was lovely getting off the train and being at the venue. We tend to find Immersive experiences hidden in strange, difficult to find locations. This was a lovely change of pace.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s NYC; take mass transit. THE VOID is sitting dead center in the middle of one of the city’s largest transit hubs.
  • Food: There are food options in the mall, but I recommend taking a short walk to The Wooly Public.
  • Accessibility: Check the “Accessibility” category in THE VOID’s FAQ.
  • Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is currently available in Anaheim, Glendale, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Orlando, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Plano, New York (all US), Edmonton, Mississauga, Toronto (all Canada), and Genting (Malaysia).

Book your session with The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Clue Chase – Sunken City [Reaction]

Magic Buttons

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: September 29, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: free

Ticketing: Public or Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock (there was no door)

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sunken City was a free 20-minute escape room designed to promote climate-friendly behavior.

In-game: A model of a city with solar panels laying about.

From a puzzle standpoint, the game played cleanly and had a lot of content for its length. A runbook notwithstanding, it was quick, smooth, and enjoyable.

In-game: A lab desk with many notes on it.

From a content standpoint, Sunken City was more thematic than it was persuasive. Sunken City was not about to change anyone’s mind or strike up a deep dialog about climate change or environmentalism in either direction.

In-game: "GET ON BIKE" is spray painted on an old plaster wall.

All in all, I’m glad that we were able to experience Sunken City. We were the final team through, so it’s no longer playable unless it gets remounted in the future.

In-game: flower pots in a makeshift greenhouse

Tips For Visiting

  • This was a limited-run escape game produced by Clue Chase.
  • It took place on in Nolan Park on Governor’s Island, which is accessible by ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
  • It is not currently available for booking.
  • Visit Clue Chase in Manhattan to play their other games.

If Clue Chase remounts Sunken City, book your session and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

PanIQ Room – Pyramid Heist [Review]

Decipher like an Egyptian

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: September 20, 2019

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player for Public booking, $34 per player for Private booking

Ticketing: Public or Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Pyramid Heist was one of PanIQ Room’s earlier escape rooms. The gameplay was heavily focused on searching, ciphering, and unlocking. That said, despite repetitive concepts, the gameplay moved pretty smoothly. Our teammates – a family of 4 including 2 teenagers – participated in everything and had a blast doing so. It was a traditional escape game in the style that stoked our early interest in escape rooms.

Although the initial office set wasn’t particularly exciting, Pyramid Heist offered more than initially met the eye and escalated dramatically in the second act.

In-game: A sarcophagus covered in sand.

If you are looking for a solid, classic escape room in New York City, Pyramid Heist has been our favorite game at PanIQ Room in NYC thus far. It didn’t offer anything novel to experienced players, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • An unexpected second act
  • Opportunities for collaborative solving

Story

We had broken into the Curator’s office at the Museum of Ancient and Historical Artifacts in order to steal the Golden Ankh of Ra. Although security had left a lot of locks to prevent this type of theft, our boss knew we were the team for this heist.

In-game: A desk with an old typewriter, a book, a phone, and an ancient egyptian artifact.

Setting

Pyramid Heist opened in a standard office space with a desk, bookshelf, and a few wall hangings.

In the second act, it opened up into a considerably more exciting gamespace.

In-game: A sketch of a sarcophagus.

Gameplay

PanIQ Room’s Pyramid Heist was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A bookshelf with a sarcophagus statue.

Analysis

➕ Although Pyramid Heist opened in a drab office setting, as our search intensified, we found ourselves in a more impressive and interesting setting. The second act exceeded expectations.

 Pyramid Heist had a lot of locks of similar types and similar digit structures. Whenever we found a key or solved a code, we’d have to try it all around the room. More variation would enhance momentum.

(Ok, we didn’t have to try all the keys in every lock because we used David’s superpower of recognizing which type of key goes to which lock – which left our teenage teammates awestruck – but most players can’t rely on this. I certainly can’t look at a key and know where to try it.)

➖ PanIQ crafted a cipher-centric escape room. While I enjoy ciphering, Pyramid Heist struggled for lack of puzzle variety. There were too many overlapping, but different ciphers, which came into play at different times. This could easily cause confusion, especially among newer players. Additionally, we continually needed to rely on the provided pens and paper to work out the ciphers.

➕ We appreciated some unorthodox opens. These segments were especially enjoyable.

➖ We fell victim, yet again, to playing too gently. In this search-heavy game, not all searching was properly clued. One search in particular desperately needed addition cluing.

Pyramid Heist had thematic puzzles that came together well. We were able to follow the gameplay from start to finish.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • If you’re coming by subway, take the B/D to Grand St, the F to Delancey, or the J/Z to Bowery.
  • We recommend Vanessa’s Dumpling House for a quick meal or Lena for wine and tapas.

Book your hour with PanIQ Room’s Pyramid Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PanIQ Room comped our tickets for this game.

Exit Escape Room NYC – Sugar Rush [Review]

Undercooked

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played:  August 11, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sugar Rush put a new twist on the escape game format for us: our goal was to bake cupcakes. In the end, we received cupcakes.

In-game: 3 decorated cupcakes in a baking pan.

While Sugar Rush shined conceptually, the execution fell short of stellar on every level. The puzzles and gameplay were of spotty quality. The set looked kind of like a restaurant kitchen. The cupcakes were reminiscent of an elementary school bake sale. (Is that a thing that still happens or have we litigated that into oblivion?)

This game was fine, which was disappointing. There were opportunities for great reveals, narrative novelty, and better cupcakes. New York City has some great cupcake bakeries and I’d bet that people would shell out a few extra dollars per ticket if it came with quality dessert.

This was one of those games that I wanted to love. When I heard the concept, I wanted to send all of my friends who are kind of on the fence about escape games. It wouldn’t take a lot more refinement to make Sugar Rush special; I hope it gets there.

Who is this for?

  • Players with a sweet tooth
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The concept was adorable and novel
  • If you win, you get to eat a cupcake

Story

We’d entered the Great NYC Baking Challenge.

Our task: make the best cupcakes ever!

The catch? Someone had hidden all of our ingredients.

In-game: a small oven in a kitchen, above it a box labeled "Recipe Safe."

Setting

Sugar Rush was set in a restaurant kitchen with a strange glass wall dividing the space. The set looked almost as it should. At any given point, if you got up close to something, it looked right, but stepping back and taking in the set in as a whole, it felt off.

In-game: An empty egg carton and a checken in a kitchen.

Gameplay

Exit Escape Room NYC’s Sugar Rush was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Before escape rooms entered my life, I spent a solid three years tasting (and analyzing) cupcakes all around New York City. I have notes on more than 60 bakeries; there’s a big spreadsheet. Don’t pretend you’re surprised. Anyway, it’s an understatement to say I adored the concept for Sugar Rush. I love baking and I love escape rooms! Even for those less enamored with dessert, this was a fun and novel thematic combination.

➕ /➖ In some ways, the set looked like a test kitchen, but it felt just a bit office-y. Individual props looked great, but we weren’t quite sold. It also didn’t have the necessary workspace for frosting our award-winning creations.

➖ The tech need a bit more refinement. It wasn’t entirely well hidden; exposed wires needed housing. It was also a bit glitchy and didn’t always give sufficient feedback.

➕ The props were adorable. We enjoyed how Exit Escape Room NYC build amusing puzzles around the essential cupcake ingredients. It was funny and charming.

➖In the second part of the experience, the puzzles were thematically related, but no longer tied to the narrative.

➖ Exit Escape Room NYC did the cooking show swap, but without trying to convince us that we were decorating the cupcakes we’d baked (with the ingredients we’d found!). We’ve seen this type of swap executed beautifully (and humorously) in escape rooms before. Sugar Rush would have been far cooler if they had gone the extra distance to sell their fiction to us.

➖ The cupcakes were “meh.” We won the game, but I cannot be convinced we won the Great NYC Baking Challenge.

❓ Because so many people have asked: We don’t know whether the cupcakes were bought or baked. (I’m guessing baked from a mix.) We aren’t health inspectors.

Tips For Visiting

  • Exit Escape Room NYC has two copies of this game. You could race your friends in this baking competition.
  • Exit Escape Room NYC is easily accessible on public transportation.
  • Note that Sugar Rush is not located at their 38th Street location with most of their other games. It is located a couple of blocks away at 247 West 36th Street.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger (across the street).

Book your hour with Exit Escape Room NYC’s Sugar Rush, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Exit Escape Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Broken Ghost Immersives – The Rogues Gallery [Review]

Ain’t no party like a villain party

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: July 23, 2019

Group size: variable

Duration: approximately 2 hours

Price: $65 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We loved The Rogues Gallery… and also felt like it needed a lot more refinement.

Broken Ghost Immersives hosted this latest creation in the Wildrence. The space was retooled as a giant hybrid of tabletop gaming and roleplaying. We were villains attempting to take over the world after the death of the world’s greatest superhero.

In-game: a gathering of rogues

We were each given a character and let loose in a world filled with other villains – most of them other players. A few fantastic actors also played hilarious and compelling NPCs.

The beauty in The Rogues Gallery was that you could kind of play it however you wanted.

As the Green Emerald, I did what I do in games (and real life): I optimized our resources to conquer the world. And David… David did what he does: he got lost in role-playing as the nefarious Pyramid Scream, the benevolent scourge of stay-at-home mothers!

In-game: the character card for "Pyramid Scream." It's subtitled, "A multi-level massacre."
“You seem like a smart person who recognizes a great business opportunity when you see one.” -David

This sandbox, however, was a little too full. Interestingly, we never felt like there were too many players. Rather it seemed like there were far too many villainous teams, and Broken Ghost Immersives needed more efficient systems to move players through the mechanics.

If given the opportunity, we’d happily conquer this world again. It felt like a party with game mechanics. We hope that Broken Ghost Immersives brings back The Rogues Gallery with some refinements. If they do bring it back, may we suggest a name:

The Rogues Gallery II: The Inevitable Dark Second Chapter

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Villains
  • Best for players who are willing to let go and embrace their character (a little D&D experience doesn’t hurt)
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s funny
  • The NPCs were fantastic
  • It was engaging and amusing

Story

Good news, everyone! The world’s greatest superhero was just murdered.

To celebrate, all of the world’s rogues, A-list, B-list, C-list… and even the D-list (they knew who they were) were invited to a party of villainy and world domination.

In-game: An unusual device with buttons, dials, switches, and screens.

Setting

We entered the world of Wildrence, an immersive stage that has been home to many different productions.

The set itself was largely unchanged. I’m not going to spoil it. If you’ve never been, it’s best experienced in person. If you’ve been to Wildrence, you know the score.

In-game: a couple 12 packs of beer.
The answer to the question: “What do villains drink?”

Gameplay

Broken Ghost Immersives’ The Rogues Gallery was an immersive game that pulled heavily from role-playing, tabletop gaming, and video gaming.

Core gameplay revolved around meeting characters, finding missions, making moves on a giant projected tabletop game, role-playing (as shallow or as deep as desired), and completing a wide variety of quests/ challenges.

In-game: a handful of multicolored gems.

Completing challenges earned us colored gems that could be used to make moves on the giant world-conquering tabletop game. The team that took over the majority of the world won the game. It was like Risk, but with a finite clock, and turtling in Australia wasn’t a viable strategy.

There was a lot going on and it was impossible for any one player to experience everything. It would be impossible to truly experience all that The Rogues Gallery had to offer, even on repeat visits.

Analysis

➕ The characters of Rogues Gallery were phenomenal. We loved the names that we received. These were great jumping off points for us as players to turn ourselves into characters. It was such fun to put on these supervillain identities.

➕ A selection of NPCs facilitated The Rogues Gallery. Each character had a unique identity, brought to life by an actor. The characters worked so well in the world and the actors were as great as they were hilarious.

➕/ ➖ The best moments came at a price. One amazing segment removed players from the rest of the goings-on for long enough that they lost their grip on the larger game. This journey was David’s favorite part of Rogues Gallery because it gave him a chance to truly be his character. However, this came at a price of being essentially knocked out of the larger game. By the time he reemerged from his adventure, too much of the core game had moved on without him.

➖ Our visit to Rogues Gallery had too many teams. It didn’t feel like too many people. Rather, the players needed to be distributed into half as many factions. Too many teams were iced out of the larger game too early and forced into subservient roles. This wasn’t catastrophic, but it felt bad for those folks, and simultaneously disrupted the teams with winning strategies. Fewer teams would also work better for teammates going on long character journeys that removed them from the larger game.

Rogues Gallery encountered both line management and resource management problems. The mechanics of using resources wasn’t clear from the start and we had to wait so long that it was prudent to have one player constantly in the gameplay line. By the end of the game, we had far more resources accumulated than time to use them, given the waiting issue.

➕ The mini games were mostly fun. Some felt a bit too much like homework, but we recognized that they worked well in the environment and for a wide variety of player types. There were activities for those who wanted to role-play and games for those who preferred more challenge-oriented interactions.

➕/➖ The powers were nifty, but unbalanced. As supervillians, the powers worked in the world. We loved the concept. Some powers felt a bit too powerful, however, and others seemed impossible to use.

➕ The end sequence was exciting and surprising. It brought the entire group together. The finale was guided by the NPCs, but shaped by the players. We loved the story we told.

❓ At The Rogues Gallery, each player dictated how much they would enjoy the experience. You could play as a LARPer, gamer, puzzler, or something in between. Your fun will be dictated by your personality and what you want to get out of the experience.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with Broken Ghost Immersives’ Rogues Gallery, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Rogues Gallery is not currently running.

Disclosure: Broken Ghost Immersives comped our tickets for this game.