The Great Escape – The Courtroom [Review]

Law & Order: Backsolve Violations Unit

Location:  Zwolle, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 3- 6 per group (2 groups can play at once); we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: €150 per group per group

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Great Escape did something unique and special in The Courtroom: they made a prison escape game feel both narrative-driven and justified.

We weren’t focused just on escaping custody, but also on ensuring that we could escape justice. We encountered characters throughout our journey. These twists added a depth to The Courtroom that no other “prison escape” has even come close to approaching in our escape room experience to date.

An enraged judge staring into directly into the camera, pointing with a gavel and holding up a book of Criminal Law.

The Great Escape’s physical courtroom looked great. I spent a couple of years working in a court. This one was compelling.

If you’re visiting The Netherlands for escape rooms, check out The Great Escape’s The Courtroom in addition to The Experiment. The Great Escape has a style entirely their own.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The introductory sequence
  • The actors
  • A sense of adventure and stakes

Story

We had been arrested, interrogated, and brought before a judge in a Dutch court.

Our lawyer had assured us that the judge was corrupt and that he had everything under control… until a new judge was assigned. It was time to switch to Plan B: escape custody.

Setting

As we journeyed through the criminal justice system, we passed through many sets. Having worked in the United States’ courts for a couple years, I say that it felt fairly realistic.

While every room of this experience looked good, the courtroom itself was the aesthetic highlight of the game.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how integral the actors were to the experience. They were well costumed and played strong, assertive authoritarians. They were in control.

A gleeful judge watching two lawyers physically grabbing one another with anger in their eyes.

Gameplay

The Great Escape’s The Courtroom combined immersive theater with standard escape room gameplay. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Additionally, The Courtroom could be played simultaneously by two competing teams in a race against both time and one another.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, puzzling, and interacting with characters.

In-game: A gavel beside the scale of justice.

Analysis

➕ The actors delivered a powerful, intimidating, and clever introduction.

➕ The Courtroom set, in particular, looked fantastic. The final set was also exciting with added effects that built the intensity of the escape.

➖ Although we loved the set of the final scene, the puzzles didn’t quite make sense in the space. Many times they almost made sense in the experience, but seemed just a little removed from the reality that was conveyed.

➖ One of the earlier scenes of our escape fell flat. This segment had an implied order that we only learned after we solved it out of order. We were hampered by lack of flashlights.

➕ We especially enjoyed one early puzzle that shed light on our escape route. A later puzzle gave us another perspective from a higher vantage point. These were fun solves.

➕ We’ve escaped a lot of prisons. This was something different. It was refreshing to see the courtroom instead of the cells. The Great Escape used an introduction and narrative to justify what otherwise felt like a prison escape.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot, but it’s hard to find.
  • Minimum age is 14
  • At least 1 person will have to climb.
  • Pay with a Dutch credit card or cash (exact change only).
  • There are actors in this experience. Review our tips for escape rooms with actors.

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

Disclosure: The Great Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room Nederland – The Dome [Review]

I no longer know what’s real.

Location:  Bunschoten-Spakenburg, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: € 144 per team Mon-Thur, € 165 per team Fri-Sun

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Dome was something special. It was an escape room designed to feel like a hallucination… and through the magic of design and technology, it achieved it.

In-game: A beautiful woman in a tight body suit approaching white and blue sci-fi entry way for The Dome.
Promo image via Escape Room Nederland

We loved the gameplay, the puzzles, and all of the magical things that happened along the way.

The Dome wasn’t perfect. The story was really interesting, but I’d be lying if I said that we completely grasped what was going on while we were playing. Also, one of the coolest bits of tech didn’t push the right buttons for us.

Flaws are fine. They’re humanizing.

The Dome was the kind of escape room that’s worth traveling for. If you’re near Amsterdam it’s certainly worth the trek out of the city. This game was in rare company.

In-game: 4 transparent tubes running along the steel wall of The Dome.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technophiles
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • It feels like a hallucination; it’s unreal
  • Engaging puzzles and challenges
  • Magnificent set design
  • Some of the most impressive escape room tech we’ve ever seen

Story

We’d entered a futuristic facility that had been conducting a study using hallucinogens. We were unsure of what to expect, but we’d been told that a previous test subject named Hector Franssen had escaped the facility… and that we would likely lose our grip on reality while in the experiment.

A beautiful woman in a tight body suit, arms crossed, looking into the camera.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

Setting

We entered into a blue, glowing sci-fi set. It was a sleek series of corridors and challenge chambers. It was gorgeous. We quickly got lost in the experience.

In-game: 4 clear tubes and a strange table that seems to have a door within it.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

I’m at a loss for a way to convey where the game took us without damaging the experience. The level of detail never wavered. We were fully and completely in the world of The Dome.

The first full minute of this trailer was shot in-game:

Gameplay

Escape Room Nederland’s The Dome was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A fingerprint scanner mounted to the wall.

Analysis

The Dome was all about discovery. At any given point we had no idea what might come next. This created a magical sense of adventure.

➕ The gamespace opened up… and continued to do so. It was huge, detailed, and amazing.

In-game: The white and blue sci-fi entry way for The Dome.

➕ The gameplay had a smooth difficulty curve. It ramped up slowly, teaching us how to interact with the environment. It then became increasingly more challenging through a diverse array of puzzles. The difficulty dropped off in the end, however, pushing our momentum forward to the conclusion.

➕ As we played through The Dome, we completed a series of tests. As the game revved up and morphed, it stopped feeling like a series of tests and more like a string of hallucinations. We were completely lost in the game world.

In-game: A screen mounted into the steel wall of The Dome.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

➖ Playing The Dome, we couldn’t quite follow the story. Escape Room Nederland explained it clearly after the fact, and looking back it made sense, as much sense as hallucinations do, but as we escaped The Dome we wished for just a bit more clarity on what had just taken place, narratively.

➕ Many of the interactions in The Dome were enormous. Everything in this game had layers.

➕ The puzzles in The Dome varied enormously, requiring largely different skill sets to complete. Our favorite puzzle shed light on the kind of design that made this experience beautiful.

In-game: The entry way for The Dome opened, a sign reads, "Butterfly Safe Zone.".
Image via Escape Room Nederland

➖ One amazingly cool segment overstayed its welcome. This was admittedly one of the coolest innovations in The Dome and my inner 5-year-old loved that it existed. From a gameplay standpoint, however, we found it more frustrating than energizing.

The Dome creatively played with the concept of success and failure.

The Dome excelled at transitions. These were some of the most dramatic and captivating moments of the experience.

➕ There was a ton of technology within The Dome, but it never felt like tech… it felt like magic.

In-game: The Dome's logo glowing on a steel wall.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

Tips For Visiting

  • They have games in the lobby.
  • Leave time after your game to watch the highlight reel.
  • Minimum age is 18.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • You need to be able to walk up stairs and climb a little bit to play this game.

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

Disclosure: Escape Room Nederland comped our tickets for this game.

Next Level Escape – Catch Me If You Can [Review]

Grounded

Location:  Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from € 40 / player per team of 3 to € 22 / player per team of 7

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+]

REA Reaction

Catch Me if you Can was a game highly recommended by many Dutch escape room fans.

Upon arrival, the staff at Next Level Escape was eager to inform us that Catch Me if you Can was the “number 1 escape room in the Netherlands.”

Given the Netherlands has been my personal favorite country to play escape rooms in, and we were coming off of a day of incredible games, Catch Me if you Can set itself a high bar to clear. It didn’t even come close.

That’s not to say this was a bad game. Catch Me if you Can had fantastic set design, taking us to inventive locations. Next Level Escape baked in some great details and even better scene transitions. It was clear that a lot of love went into this game. I can kind of see why people love it so much.

For me, however, Catch Me if you Can felt like it was leaning on realism to a fault. The best way that I can sum up this game is, “Be given an intense mission, go to cool places, and do the most boring things that you can imagine doing in those locations.”

I’m rarely one to kick a company for including a process puzzle that moves the plot along, but there were just too many of them and they lasted too long. As I solved, I found myself imagining puzzle concepts that would have been way more engaging. This felt like going on a date with a very pretty, very boring individual.

Plenty of people love this game and there were lots of things that I did enjoy. If you’re a traveling player visiting The Netherlands and you’re spending a few days playing the top games in the region, I’d lower your expectations on this one. I’m glad that I saw it, but I wish it were as engaging as it was pretty.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great scene transitions
  • The final set

Story

Catch Me If You Can was the sequel to The Suspicious Farmhouse (a game that we did not play). We were an FBI team pursuing a violent criminal last seen at the Hold’em Inn Pub. That’s where we began our investigation, with the hope that we could stop this man before he added to his body count.

Setting

The sets in Catch Me If You Can were strong. The pub that opened the experience looked a lot like an Irish pub near where I used to live… albeit with quite a few more sound effects than the real deal.

The later sets, which I won’t describe because… spoilers… were unusual escape room locales executed well… especially the final set, which was extremely realistic.

Plain text reads: "First time in a while that we can’t show you anything. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The initial set looks like an Irish Pub. It’s pretty much what you’re imagining."

Gameplay

Next Level Escape’s Catch Me If You Can was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, puzzling, and completing substantial tasks.

Analysis

➕ The sets were convincing. The final set was impressively realistic. Each setting in Catch Me If You Can was fun to enter and explore.

➖ Some of the sets were pretty worn… and in one instance, beat up.

➖ Too many of the puzzles in Catch Me If You Can required us to execute mundane tasks. Some of these were so bizarrely realistic as to be boring. Others were just tedious. In their interesting sets, Next Level Escape made odd choices as to how to build in the gameplay.

➕ Next Level Escape included one personalized detail that we appreciated. It was a small thing that made for a neat moment.

➖ Some of the early puzzles required outside knowledge. While much of this was provided as in-game cluing, those clues were onerous. After we had correctly solved a puzzle, we had to take a hint because we lacked the knowledge to correctly apply the puzzle solution to the information at hand.

➖ Catch Me If You Can included a lot of process puzzles. In one instance the emphasis on precision was baffling. The aha had passed long before we’d completed the puzzle. This whole sequence weighed down the game.

➕ Next Level Escape created some phenomenal transitions. They added small details that really sold these moments.

➖ One transition appeared to include a lengthy interlude… until we realized that the clock hadn’t stopped and we were supposed to be playing, despite the situational context. Because of the realism in the environment, we’d instinctively started following the real-world rules of that space when we should have started solving the escape room. This was unfortunate, confusing, and began the final act on the wrong foot.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking garage in the center of town.

Book your hour with Next Level Escape’s Catch Me If You Can, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Next Level Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Kamer 237 [Review]

A lot of play and some work

Location:  Volkel, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: € 118 per team

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

“Kamer” being Dutch for “room,” Kamer 237 was a love letter to both Stephen King’s and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

This The Shining homage was a marriage of traditional escape room puzzles with strong ambiance and clever effects.

In-game: The front desk, with uniformed staff handing us the key to room 237.

At its best, Kamer 237 warped our perspective on how an escape room ought to work. In its weaker moments, it felt like an old-school escape room with disconnected puzzles.

All in all, this was an strong escape game. We’re thrilled to have played it. It had exciting and memorable moments. It wasn’t an earth-moving game, but it was quite moving in the moment.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A great introduction
  • A few brilliant interactions and moments
  • Strong puzzle play

Story

Inspired by The Shining, in Kamer 237 Charles Grady, his wife, and his daughters had checked into a hotel while he worked to finish his novel. As Grady became more enthralled with his work, he lost his connection to reality… and then he disappeared.

In-game: An elevator door viewed from the front desk.

Setting

The facility hosting Kamer 237 was structured as a hotel. The lobby was the hotel bar and our gamemaster was the costumed front desk attendant. The next game existed in a different hotel room.

The game took place on one floor of the hotel. We explored the hallway and multiple rooms, each reflecting the characters that inhabited them. Kamer 237 found an interesting way to manifest the distortion of Grady’s reality.

In-game: Close up the the hotel's key storage. The key for room 237 clearly the focus of the image.

Gameplay

Kamer 237 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The hotel world was charming. From the lobby, to the gamemaster, to the rooms themselves, it was a complete world.

➕ Although a hotel wasn’t the most inventive of sets, this one looked great. The build was polished. Additional details beyond the rooms themselves elevated the experience.

➖ Although the environment was well themed, some of the puzzles felt arbitrary and disconnected from the game world. There were moments where Kamer 237 turned into an old-school puzzles-for-puzzles’-sake escape room.

➕ There was one truly unforgettable moment in this escape room. When you activate it, you will know what we mean.

➖ We encountered a journal that was sort of a runbook because it added some cluing, but added more red herrings than anything else.

➖ While we enjoyed many of the puzzles, in some instances Kamer 237 could have provided tighter cluing.

Kamer 237 provided a good tool for solving the most challenging, layered puzzle in the experience.

➖ A lockout safe was especially annoying given its position in the experience and the type of coordination needed to derive a solution for it.

Kamer 237 was personalized in a small way that enhanced the creepiness of the experience.

❓ This escape room presented some seriously challenging puzzles, and at times lengthy solves. It was also a creepy game that may be scary for some, which makes it an especially challenging solving environment. Your success with these puzzles and enjoyment of this experience will likely vary based on individual preferences.

➕ We played Kamer 237 with the biggest King fan that we know… and she felt that this was a very strong homage.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking.
  • Minimum age of 18; minimum are of 14 with adults
  • Available in Dutch or English
  • At least one person will have to climb.

Book your hour with Kamer 237, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Kamer 237 comped our tickets for this game.

DarkPark – The End [Review]

That ending.

Location:  Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 6, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: € 145 per team Mon-Thurs, € 155 per team Fri – Sun

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I’m a DarkPark fanboy; I love the way that they blend atmosphere, narrative, and puzzles to create haunting experiences. That said, in our reviews of their previous 4 games, we’d knocked them all for the same exact thing:

The weakest part of all of their games were the endings. No matter what heights they reached, for us, they never truly stuck the landing.

That has ended.

In-game: a rundown scifi-esque wall-mounted logo that reads "END"

The End was a thrilling, weird, and thought-provoking experience from start to finish. It was big. It was cinematic. It was loaded with amazing and unnecessary details that breathed life into a strange world.

The End wasn’t puzzley. It started off with an aggressive puzzle or two… and then it kicked into narrative mode. If you’re going to play The End primarily for puzzle play, then you’re going to leave wondering if you missed something.

We loved The End. It was differently intense and intensely different. If you go in with that mindset, you will be in for a treat.

If you’re visiting DarkPark, I’d strongly recommend playing The Freakshow, The Honeymoon Hotel, & The Orphanage prior to The End. I love all of these games, but their latest creation was truly a cut above.

Who is this for?

  • Thrill seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technophiles
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s an intense journey
  • Cinematic and memorable moments
  • Shocking and thrilling moments
  • The end

Story

The End began in a funeral parlor, as we made final arrangements for someone…

In-game: a casket in a funeral parlor.

Setting

We began our experience in a compelling funeral parlor complete with sights, smells, and sounds. It included some interesting character-building choices. Suffice it to say, the place felt… lived in.

I’m reluctant to describe where it all led because discovering that was part of the journey.

The world of The End was an ever-changing and unrelenting thriller. Sometimes it was scary. Sometimes it was intimidating. Every space we entered was visually and tactilely compelling.

In-game: An assortment of urns behind a computer desk.

Gameplay

DarkPark’s The End was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and exploring the unknown.

In-game: Closeup of an assortment of urns.

Analysis

The End took us on an unexpected journey.

➕ DarkPark crafted The End around discovery. Throughout this experience we felt like adventurers, excitedly (and a bit apprehensively, for those less daring) exploring uncharted territory. This was thrilling.

The End constantly surprised us.

➕ DarkPark created a fantastically detailed world for The End. They also engaged many of our different senses, which added depth to the experience. They didn’t need that level of detail to facilitate the gameplay, but the experience was richer for it.

➕ The technology that powered The End was impressive. In one scene, the gameplay required substantial infrastructure and ingenuity. This worked so seamlessly and invisibly that most teams will never stop to think about it.

In-game: A poster of needles labeled, "The end is the beginning of a new tomorrow!"

The End was fantastically dramatic with a full team of 6 players. We recommend a larger group as it will heighten anticipation and reveals.

➖ That said, the puzzles didn’t fully support the full team of 6. Only a few of the puzzles leveraged teamwork. At one point the puzzle-solving became largely linear and we had to wait for each other for substantial periods of time.

❓ Many of the moments of triumph felt individual. While The End was absolutely a team experience, heightened by the presence of teammates, some of the most intense moments were solo interactions.

➕ At times, The End forced us to wait for our teammates. While this normally grates on us, in most instances of waiting in this escape room, it actually heightened our anticipation of discovery.

➖ In one early instance of waiting, however, it was easy for the idle players to become disengaged. We’d become too familiar with our current space and we didn’t have a puzzle or task to keep us engaged while waiting.

The End was not a challenging escape room, but it had a challenging opening scene. Some of the puzzles may need additional sign posting so that teams don’t spend too much time solving before they come to understand where The End will take them. We played during opening week, however, so we imagine DarkPark will assess and tweak this as more teams play The End.

➖ One input mechanism was too precise, which added to the wait time in one of those instances where forward puzzle momentum would have been optimal.

➕ The hint system fit beautifully into the game world. It was fun to need a hint. In fact, I believe some of our teammates took the hints home as souvenirs.

➕/➖ Although DarkPark is experienced in building fear through environment and technology, The End was their first foray into actor-driven emotions. Our actor fantastically captured a specific and strange persona. That said, I think that a more dynamic persona would have improved the overall experience.

➕ DarkPark’s newest escape room was named brilliantly. There were so many levels of meaning here and unpacking that would spoil… The End.

➖ The story didn’t feel quite complete. Although the culminating scene tied everything together, there was a missing story beat needed to pull the narrative together.

The End was dramatic and thrilling, but also hilarious. DarkPark added humor through audio, video, and elements of decor.

➕ One cinematic reveal left us standing awe-struck and put a bow on an already incredible scene.

The End started as a pretty challenging puzzle game and morphed into narrative-driven adventure. We enjoyed this, but we don’t think it’s for everyone. Some folks will find there aren’t enough puzzles. Others will think the puzzles are too challenging. Know that this game will change what it asks of you. Embrace its ask, at any given moment, and there will be a lot to enjoy.

Tips For Visiting

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

Disclosure: DarkPark comped our tickets for this game.