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.

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.

Ubisoft Blue Byte – Escape the Lost Pyramid [VR Review]

Climbing Simulator.

Location: Breda, The Netherlands (on the Up the Game show floor, available for license by escape rooms & VR arcades)

Date Played: May 8, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ticketing: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

REA Reaction

A major video game publisher created a VR escape room:

Set in the world of Assassin’s Creed OriginsEscape the Lost Pyramid placed us at the base of a beautifully rendered ancient Egyptian pyramid where we puzzled and climbed our way to the top…  along the way convincing me that I could comfortably do pull-ups. 

In-game: An upward looking show of large pillars and chains in the pyramid.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Ubisoft Blue Byte demonstrated thoughtful escape game design by creating a collection of collaborative puzzles that could not work in the real world. Their stated intention is to continue to create virtual escape games set in their own intellectual property, for license by escape room facilities and VR arcades.

I hope that this concept takes off. I encourage escape room players to play Escape the Lost Pyramid if you are anywhere near a facility that acquires the game.

In-game: a small white rectangle on the floor indicating the VR playspace, beside a sign that says Escape The Lost Pyramid: An Escape Room Set in the world of Assassin's Creed Origins.

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

Story

Set in the ancient Egyptian world of Assassin’s Creed Origins, we began at the base of a pyramid and had to work our way up to the top to earn the artifact that we sought.

In-game: A ray of light shining on a large statue of Anubis.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Setup

Played on an Oculus Rift and wired into a PC, our gameplay area was 7 square feet with a recommended play area of 10 square feet. The controls were straightforward; we could grab/ hold items as well as teleport using one button on either controller. We wore headphones with microphones so that we could hear both the game world and one another.

Someone playing the Ubisoft VR Escape The Lost Pyramid escape room set in the wold of Assassin's Creed Origins.

Gameplay

Ubisoft Blue Byte’s Escape the Lost Pyramid was a virtual escape room. Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: an ornate display of a bow and arrows.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Escape the Lost Pyramid had us puzzling and climbing our way through a pyramid. Most of the puzzles required collaboration with another player. Video gamers will recognize the concept of navigational puzzles as current mainstays of the adventure puzzle genre. Traditional escape room players might struggle to recognize the pathfinding challenges as puzzles… but I assure you, they are. 

Analysis

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Ubisoft decided to make an escape room and created a puzzle tower-climbing game. Gamers will know that tower climbing has become an Ubisoft cliche over the past decade. Ubisoft gets a lot of grief for this…

and has even made fun of themselves for it…

When I first heard that Ubisoft had made a virtual escape room, I unknowingly and sarcastically suggested to a friend that “it’s probably a tower climbing puzzle.” When I say that this concept really worked, I do so knowingly.

In-game: a corridore featuring an image of Horus on a wall of hieroglyphics.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Escape the Lost Pyramid worked because Ubisoft Blue Byte presented a series of challenges that a real-life escape room could not create. They used fire, projectiles, and a ton of climbing. There was only one puzzle that could be completely recreated in a real-life escape room.

+ Ubisoft Blue Byte made great use of verticality. The vertical scale of Escape the Lost Pyramid was imposing. It was brilliant, once again, because this sort of grandeur isn’t possible in real-life gaming.

In-game: A statue of Horus with a beam of light shining from him.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Escape the Lost Pyramid leaned heavily on immersive adventure. The puzzles were in trying to maneuver our avatars through the virtual space. It was less puzzley in a traditional escape room sense. This format, however, played towards the strengths of a virtual space.

+ The challenges required teamwork. We enjoyed figuring out how to work together, from different spaces in the VR, using the tools each had at our disposal. It was exhilarating.

+ When we shot arrows in VR, it felt like we were shooting arrows.

? I didn’t get a lot of Assassins Creed out of Escape the Lost Pyramid. There were whiffs of the mythology in the briefing and conclusion, but it was more environmental. I didn’t see this as an issue. In fact, I felt that it made the game more approachable for those unfamiliar with the series. If you’re looking for a lost chapter of Assassins Creed Origins, however, you won’t really find it here.

– We did a lot of climbing. Climbing was initially deceptive. With each motion, it felt like moving the world rather than moving my own body. This took some getting used to. Climbing was also too easy, as it didn’t have any weight resistance. This was weirdly off-putting. And thus, we might as well have been moving the whole world.

– Escape the Lost Pyramid was missing a culminating puzzle or a finale scene.

+ The vertical movement didn’t cause motion sickness. Even Lisa – who is generally motion sick in all VR – was happily moving up and down.

? While motion sickness wasn’t an issue, vertigo or a fear of heights could be a factor.

– The VR equipment was a small obstacle, especially the wire. We’d constantly step on it, or get tangled in it. To compensate for the small physical space in which we maneuvered, we needed to teleport a lot, even across small distances. This wasn’t initially intuitive and took some getting used to. We did, however, get used to it.

In-game: The avatar customization area. Players are selecting extra props to adorn their characters.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

+ Players could select an avatar and make small aesthetic customizations with hats, masks, and other props. While I couldn’t see my own avatar in-game, I spent a lot of time looking at my teammate’s avatar.

+ Overall, the equipment was easy to use, comfortable to wear, and worked well. The controls made sense.

+ The world of Escape the Lost Pyramid was beautiful and detailed.

Finally, Escape The Lost Pyramid is a licensable game that will only be available through escape room and VR arcades. Ubisoft Blue Byte intends to release new virtual escape games set in other Ubisoft worlds. If this is their starting place, I’m eager to see what they build next.

Tips for Playing

  • If you have a fear of heights or are prone to vertigo, this may not be the game for you.
  • You may have slight motion sickness early on. Lisa almost always gets motion sick in VR, but she was mostly comfortable in Escape the Lost Pyramid.

Connect with Ubisoft Blue Byte to license the Escape the Lost Pyramid, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Exit VR – Huxley [Review]

This made me believe in VR.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 3, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-6 (but if you go over 3, choose an even number)

Duration: 44 minutes

Price: from 69€ per team of two on weekdays or 79€ on evenings and weekends to 129€ per group of 3 vs 3 on weekdays or 139€ on evenings and weekends (detailed breakdown)

Story & setting

We strapped a computer to our backs, put on an HTC Vive and entered the year 3007. We were among the last human survivors living on a space station above an Earth that was devoid of life. Our crew had received a message from the barren planet below: “My name is HUXLEY and I need your help!”

In-game: three beams of light shooting down towards a wrecked Earth.
Image via Exit VR

Huxley’s virtual Earth was a magnificently rendered WALL-E-esque wasteland where we met a WALL-E-esque robot who was a bit angrier than Pixar’s cute creation. No detail was overlooked… and I looked.

In-game: a disabled Huxley hanging from the ceiling of a strange cathedral to him.
Image via Exit VR

Huxley was a 2- or 3-player game. It was also setup so that a pair of teams could race. We each wore an HTC Vive and a computer mounted to an XMG Walker harness that hung comfortably like a backpack. We each played in an isolated 4 x 6 meter space with dedicated motion tracking.

Puzzles

Huxley was a fantastic puzzle game. It had unusual puzzles that took advantage of the virtual world and allowed us to do, see, and solve things that are impossible in meat space.

Additionally, these puzzles required teamwork.

Standouts

It really worked. The motion tracking was perfect. Lisa did not get even slightly motion-sick. Every other time she has ever put on a VR visor, she has become queazy within minutes. She spent 45 minutes in this world without the slightest issue.

The puzzles were smart. There was one puzzle in particular that I desperately want to spoil because I want to talk about it. I won’t spoil it… but I want to. It involved something that is physically not possible in real life.

Huxley was a truly collaborative escape room. Whereas our past VR escape room experiences were either solo games or didn’t include satisfying group interaction, Huxley required teamwork and made it feel natural.

In-game: a pair of avatars with a head and hands on a dead Earth.
Image via Exit VR

We each selected a cute avatar. These were initially a little off-putting, but successfully eliminated the issues that usually arise in VR from having false, non-representative, and non-reactive bodies.

The gamespace was gorgeous. This wasn’t some homebrew virtual world made of purchased and slightly tweaked renderings. Huxley was professionally designed.

Huxley used the substantial physical space in the virtual one. The world was big and open and the mechanism for traversing it was brilliant.

Because we wore all of the gear – including the computer – on our persons, there weren’t wires in the way.

Shortcomings

There was a little too much exposition from Huxley’s title character. He spoke a lot, but observing the game’s world was simply more interesting… so we tuned him out.

One late-game puzzle revolved around a task that felt strange in a virtual world where nothing had weight. We eventually got the hang of it, but it seemed like there could be a better interaction that would downplay some of the idiosyncrasies of VR.

There are a few things about the current generation of VR technology that were simply out of Exit VR’s control, but affected Huxley nonetheless:

  • The weight of the Vive put some strain on the neck over a 45-minute play session.
  • While the laptops on our backs were surprisingly comfortable, we started noticing them more as the game progressed.
  • We needed a battery swap mid-game (Update – per comments, this does not happen in every game).

While the battery swap was handled swiftly and efficiently, I think it could have been possible to work this into the game itself such that it didn’t feel like we’d paused.

Should I play Exit VR’s Huxley?

Absolutely. If you can play Huxley, you should go play it.

We’ve played a number of VR experiences over the past few years and they have been a mixed bag. Until I entered the world of Huxley, I never believed that I would truly want to play VR… not in the current generation anyway.

Huxley was a virtual escape room done right: it limited the impact of the weaknesses of VR, while creating gameplay that wouldn’t be possible in the physical world. It was a great escape game.

In-game: Lisa in her dedicated space wearing the VR rig.

Huxley is available for licensing. I know nothing about their pricing, but I would love to see this game proliferate. That said, please do not license it unless you have the space and will to do it right. Don’t cut corners. This game is too much fun for a hobbled experience.

Go play Huxley and join Lisa and me among the other converts who now believe in the power of VR.

Book your hour with Exit VR’s Huxley, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

Full disclosure: Exit VR comped our tickets for this game.

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game [Review]

Haunted with ads.

Platform: iOS & Android

Release date: November 12, 2016

Price: Free – ad supported

Story & setting

A self-described “escape the room” virtual reality game playable with Google Cardboard or as a standard point and click escape game, Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was straightforward: I was trapped in a haunted house and needed to escape.

In game: a ghost in a hallway holding a chainsaw.

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was broken up into 6 episodes, each playable in less than 5 minutes.

It looked and sounded pretty good:

However, look and sound only carried it so far.

Puzzles

Calling Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game an “escape the room” was a generous description. The puzzles were non-existent.

In game: a piece of paper reads, "5-30-7" above it a message displays reading, "This might be a clue!"
No kidding?

At best this was a virtual scavenger hunt. Items either screamed “USE ME! I’M BRIGHT RED!” or, on a couple of occasions, they required pixel hunting because they were the same drab color as the background.

If I touched a thing that needed “solving” it straight up told me what to do.

In game: a door, a message reads, "It's locked. Maybe I can try shooting it?"
I’m not sure what I should do. Could someone give me a hint?

Standouts

It looked pretty great, especially for a free game.

Shortcomings

There was no depth to the story, puzzles, or frights. It was staggeringly one-dimensional.

The puzzles were lame and would barely even qualify as puzzles.

There were jump scares, but they didn’t impress. These were seriously overused.

Every milestone triggered an ad. Exiting the game triggered an ad. Opening doors triggered ads. (Don’t get any ideas, escape room owners.)

Should I play Rabbit Mountain’s Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game?

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was not an escape room game. It was a reasonably pretty ad-supported tech demo.

This app got a lot of press, so I figured it would be worth playing at the low cost of free. I was wrong. It wasn’t worth my time.

Escape Games Canada – Geist Manor VR Demo [Review]

Frightening, fast, and fun.

Location: played at the Chicago Room Escape Conference, but available in Toronto, Canada

Date played: August 13, 2016

Team size: 1

Price: Free at the conference, pricing TBD by hosting facility

 

Story & setting

Played via the HTC Vive, Geist Manor was a one-player virtual horror escape room experience. I played the 7-minute demo (of a 10-minute game) that was available at the Escape Games Canada booth at the Chicago Room Escape Conference.

This is a game that Escape Games Canada created in partnership with a EscapeVR. The game will be available for players to experience in Escape Games Canada’s facility, as well as a number of other escape room facilities that have purchased the rights to use the game.

Set in a haunted house, the game was dark, creepy, and a little bit freaky. Everything from the staging to the lighting to the sound pushed me deeper into the experience.

In a beautiful way, I felt like I was in a horror movie.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit haunted room.

Puzzles

The puzzles were your basic seek, observe, and input interactions that I’ve encountered in my previous Vive escape room experience.

Standouts

Escape Games Canada likes to toy with their players’ minds and this game was no exception.

It looked great and sounded even better.

Escape Games Canada did a masterful job of throwing off my equilibrium and playing with my senses.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit cabinet. A drawer is open and containing a cup of dice. Beside the dice the words "ROLL THE DICE" appear in blocky chalk writing.

The setting truly enhanced the experience. Lisa was a bit rattled by the horror; during her playthrough she had more trouble focusing on the tasks at hand.

The hinting was heavy handed, but well executed; it was clearly designed to keep the player moving.

Shortcomings

There were some physics problems, both those within the game and those inherent to the Vive.

It wasn’t particularly puzzley.

If you don’t like horror, then that’s going to be a deal-breaker.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit long spooky hallway. A small femine figure stands in the shadows at the opposite end.

Should I play Escape Games Canada’s Geist Manor?

Escape Games Canada put me in an experience that I knew wasn’t real and managed to make it feel intimidating.

This is only for folks who are open to a horror adventure and don’t get motion sick in a VR environment.

If you’re down for an excellent immersive experience that is light on puzzles and heavy on brain-tricking interactions, then this is your game.

It’s brief even at full length, which makes it a great add-on to a room escape outing at Escape Games Canada’s Toronto facility.

Contact Escape Games Canada to book your session with Geist Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Madame Tussauds – Hyper-Reality Ghostbusters Experience [Review]

“Wait, wait, wait! I’ve always wanted to do this…”
– Dr Peter Venkman

Location: New York, New York

Date played: July 18, 2016

Team size: 3, only 3

Duration: ~10 minutes

Price: $49.75 per ticket

Story & setting

Madame Tussauds Ghostbusters Experience wasn’t an escape room, but it was an immersive “hyper-reality” game that absolutely overlapped with escape rooms and where the escape room world is heading.

We were Ghostbusters on a mission to bust ghosts. It couldn’t be more familiar or straightforward.

Image of two players weaing the VR gear.

How did it work

We were outfitted with proton packs on our backs, the corresponding blaster in our hands, and a virtual reality visor on our faces. Once it was turned on, we were in a virtual world where we could walk around, interact with objects, and most importantly wreck everything around us as we shot and trapped ghosts.

As we walked through the physical space of the game, we saw detailed 3D renderings of rooms, elevators, the Manhattan skyline, and ghosts of all shapes and sizes.

When I took my visor off, I could see that the room’s shape mirrored what we saw in the game, but everything was painted flat black.

The Ghostbusters Experience felt like being a ghostbuster, right down to the comically callous disregard for property damage.

Another nifty feature was how we saw each other as ghostbusters. Our heads rendered at the correct height based on the positioning of our visors, and the game programmatically built bodies down to the ground. It was neat.

Standouts

It worked really well. After a brief adaptation to walking in a virtual world while knowing that my body was in an unseeable physical space, things felt strangely natural.

The shooting was so much fun. Seeing the damage and destruction we caused was a riot.

The last half of the game was badass. There was a brief moment that messed with all of our equilibrium and that was uncomfortable, but awesome.

I saw the climax of the game coming a mile away, but it didn’t make it any less incredible to be a part of it.

Shortcomings

It was short… like 10 minutes, short.

While I couldn’t do a side-by-side comparison, I think that the HTC Vive’s commercially available VR visor had a better screen and equally good motion tracking.

The visor was incredibly uncomfortable with glasses. The Vive and Oculus Rift are both better for glasses-wearers.

During one of the most dramatic moments of the game, the room was structured in such a way that it encouraged us to move into a space that was a motion tracking dead zone. When I moved into this place, I lost control of myself in the game. (The exact same thing happened to my father during his run after ours.)

It was strange that all players were rendered in-game as adult white dudes. My 9 year old cousin Angie looked like a very short 30 year old guy who hadn’t shaved in a couple days. Lisa and I looked like taller versions of the same guy. Given the emphasis that the 2016 remake put on non-sexualized female protagonists, this was odd and disappointing.

Should I play Madame Tussauds’ Ghostbusters Experience?

This game was pretty damn cool, but it was expensive and short. There are a few factors to determining whether the Ghostbusters Experience is right for you:

If you’re a Ghostbusters fanatic, it’s a must-play. While my passion for Ghostbusters has waned over the years, it was my very favorite movie when I was 3-4 years old. There was a moment while playing where my mind wandered back to being a kid chasing “ghosts” around the backyard and basement with my toy proton pack on my back. It was a moving, intimate, and special moment.

$50 per ticket is serious money, especially for approximately 10 minutes of playtime. The Ghostbusters Experience ticket also provides full admission to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. This held no appeal for me, but if that’s your jam, then it certainly expands the value of the ticket.

Finally, the ticket value depends on your access to current gen VR. A proper VR rig is a lot less expensive than it used to be, but it still ain’t cheap. If you haven’t experienced VR lately, this is a good chance to see just how far VR technology has come.

Book your session with Madame Tussauds‘ Ghostbusters Experience, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

VR – Vacate The Room [Review]

It’s like a flashy Flash game.

Platform: play at home on an HTC Vive

Release date: July 15, 2016

Price: $4.99

Story & setting

A good friend recently acquired an HTC Vive virtual reality rig and set it up in his livingroom. Upon learning of this, I encouraged him to acquire the new VR escape room game Vacate The Room.

The single-player game had me locked up in a small room searching for objects and determining how to use them to ultimately spring myself from the room.

The experience lasted about 15 minutes per player. It was really only worth playing through once as it would take about 3 minutes to run through if you knew what to do.

Puzzles

Vacate The Room felt like a Flash-based escape room brought into a 3D space. It was heavy on searching and tasks and light on puzzles.

In-game image of a hand holding a glowing object.

Standouts

The Vive in general was cool because you could walk around with it on. Also, the learning curve in Vacate The Room was soft. Lisa has never been a big video gamer and she mastered the controls in minutes.

The graphics and controls were solid and vastly superior to the VR room escape we tried in Los Angeles earlier this year.

It felt like an escape room. If you know what you’re doing in a real life escape room, then you’ll know what you’re doing in this virtual escape room.

It would serve well as a basic escape room tutorial.

The virtual space was a fun place to spend a quarter of an hour.

I found it strangely amusing to throw unneeded objects around knowing that I couldn’t break anything.

Shortcomings

One particular object was hidden in a high place within the virtual environment. At 6’1, I found it easily, at 5’4, Lisa couldn’t see it at all.

The physics of the room were a bit funny. Dropped objects all fell at the same rate, in the same way, and produced identical crashing sounds. This was especially off-putting when I dropped a single sheet of paper.

The physics were also a bit problematic because the objects weren’t solid enough. It was easy to drop items through shelves or desks. You could also drop objects through the floor (never to be seen again) and reach through seemingly solid items. It got a bit weird. I expect that some of these issues will be patched.

Also, there weren’t enough puzzles.

Should I play Vacate The Room on the HTC Vive?

Vacate The Room is a fun, quick, and basic escape room. It’s interesting to play with a group because everyone takes their turn in isolation while being watch (and judged).

At $5 and lasting 15 minutes, if you have a Vive and love escape rooms, Vacate The Room is an easy purchase.

It would be insane to purchase a Vive and computer powerful enough to run it just to play Vacate The Room.

Download it on Steam.

 

Maze Rooms – VR Cosmos Game [Review]

It’s a video game. We’ve come full circle.

Location: Los Angeles, California

Date played: March 20, 2016

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4

Price: $30 per ticket (minimum purchase of three tickets)

An entirely virtual escape room

Escape rooms are a physical manifestation of a video game genre that is three decades old. We were intrigued when we learned that Maze Rooms was offering an entirely virtual escape room.

I’ve been following virtual reality’s leaps and stumbles over the course of decades. I have played with the Oculus Rift, Facebook’s $2 billion VR acquisition, since its first publicly available iteration with uncomfortably chunky pixels. This was my first foray into a virtual reality escape game.

Lisa and David in chairs wearing VR masks and headsets, gesturing as they play.
Oculus Rifting

A bold experiment

Our experience in the VR Cosmos Game was bumpy.

This was an early game in what I think will become a more common trend in the escape room world. This review should be read as feedback on a bold, early experiment, not condemnation of creativity.

We fully anticipate brilliant VR puzzles in physical escape rooms and more virtual escape rooms. Having attempted video game design myself, I recognize how brutally challenging it is.

How did it work?

We were brought into a small dark room that contained 5 gaming rigs. Each rig consisted of a:

  • big, comfy, pivoting chair
  • PC
  • Oculus Rift headset
  • over-ear headphones
  • motion sensor

We put on our headsets and headphones and we were in the game.

We could look around the virtual environment by moving our heads, and move, as well as interact with the environment, via basic hand gestures.

We could also see each other in-game and communicate by speaking.

How well did it work?

The head tracking was pretty good.

The gestures were finicky and required very specific and subtle movements to achieve the desired result. Some of us found these easy to achieve and others did not.

There were times when the controls were glitchy and one of our teammates had her controls completely break down mid-game, requiring a controls reboot.

The vocal communication was a bit irksome because we heard one another in-game through an echo-y com system, but we could also hear each other speaking because our headphones didn’t kill the external noise. We needed in-game communication or out-of-game communication. Both got a bit messy.

The headset worked just fine with glasses (provided they weren’t massive), but it was less comfortable for glasses wearers. If you have contacts, you should put them in.

Motion sickness

Those on our team who experience motion sickness absolutely felt it in-game. However, no one had to stop playing because of this.

What was the game like?

It was set in a space-based sci-fi ship. It had a Halo vibe to it, without the guns, explosions, or religious extremist aliens.

It was fun to fly about and play within the limited physics of the game environment.

Unfortunately, much of the game was centered upon learning the controls. The puzzles themselves were pretty rudimentary. Had these puzzles been in a physical escape room, I think that we would have solved them all in about 5 or 10 minutes.

The high point

The second stage of the game (it was broken out into a few individual stages) offered the most collaborative, creative experience in the game. It was the only part that felt like it fully required VR to achieve. I kept hoping that the rest of the game would live up to this, but it never quite made it.

Learning curve

If you’re a gamer, you know how much more quickly gamers take to new games than non-gamers. This shouldn’t be breaking news to anyone.

The learning curve and stage-based structure of the VR Cosmos Game created uncomfortable situations where the gamers in our group finished their tasks swiftly and then had nothing to do but futz with the physics or look around the environment while those who were less experienced interacting with virtual environments rushed to catch up.

Should I play Maze Rooms’ VR Cosmos Game?

Maze Room’s VR Cosmos Game felt like a prototype. We haven’t encountered anything like it before. It was a bumpy, imperfect experience.

The controls weren’t as responsive as we were expecting and the puzzles lacked the intellectual challenge that we’ve come to expect from escape rooms, but the price-point was just the same as a traditional escape room.

The game offered a steep challenge to non-gamers and little resistance to experienced gamers. Because of this, it makes sense to bring a consistent team: go as a group of gamers or a group of non-gamers. A mixed team felt awkward for everyone involved.

If you’re looking to experience VR, then the VR Cosmos Game is a great way to get a bit of time behind the Oculus Rift’s visor.

If you’re seeking an attempt at serious innovation in escape rooms, then this is a game worth playing.

If you’re looking for an excellent escape room, then the VR Cosmos Game is going to fall very short of your expectations.

Similarly if you want to play a strong escape room video game, then there are many that cost a fraction of the VR Cosmos Game, and are objectively superior experiences.

We have no idea what Maze Room’s regular games are like and we will return to play their physical escape rooms on our next trip to LA.

Book your hour with Maze Rooms’ VR Cosmos Game, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Maze Rooms comped our tickets for this game.