Mindspark Escape Games – Terminal [Review]

Derailed

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $39.95 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Mindspark Escape Games can build phenomenal sets and amazing moments.

The first half of The Terminal was exciting and fresh, with an aesthetic that felt as cool to play within as it looked.

In the second half, however, The Terminal chugged along slowly. The set was uninspired, the gameplay dragged, and the conclusion was unsatisfying.

The rails are laid. With a few changes, Mindspark Escape Games could easily turn this train around.

Although the wow factor wasn’t sustained and the gameplay became tedious and cumbersome, we recommend The Terminal for players in Austin who are interested in sets, engineering, and thrills. That first half was quite a ride.

In-game: A weathered and damaged subway car.
Image via Mindspark Escape Games

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The train car. Wow.
  • Memorable moments.

Story

Our subway car had abruptly derailed and crashed into an abandoned station. As we searched for a way out, we happened upon evidence of a global criminal conspiracy.

Setting

Terminal opened up big, with a detailed rundown subway car that looked and felt fantastic (except for having more luggage than one would expect to find in a subway). This set was gorgeous and memorable.

Unfortunately, the late-game set, which was where we spent a lot of our time, was a significant step down from the initial amazingness that Mindspark Escape Games introduced us to. We entered through greatness, and concluded in a generic, nondescript basement-like space.

In-game: In-game: A weathered and damaged subway car.
Image via Mindspark Escape Games

Gameplay

Mindspark Escape Games’ Terminal was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and parsing clues from red herrings.

Analysis

➕ Our escape room started aboard a moving train. It looked great. We felt like we were on an adventure. It was outstanding.

➕ Mindspark Escape Games knows how to deliver epic moments. The train wasn’t the only memorable reveal in Terminal.

➕ We enjoyed many of the puzzles in the first half of Terminal. These puzzles used the space and props in interesting ways.

➖ The gameplay derailed in the second half of the experience. The puzzles were tedious. One puzzle required extensive calculation with no methods for self-check along the way. We ended up repeatedly calculating each part to find minor errors long after we’d solved the conceptual puzzle. Another puzzle was only partially clued.

➖ The later half of Terminal was riddled with red herrings. As experienced players, we mostly avoided these, but newer players will be lost in a sea of information with no way to determine what’s relevant.

➖ Why did we happen upon evidence of a global criminal conspiracy… in a little back room full of wall scrawling and papers? Why couldn’t we have puzzled through an adventure aboard the train or in the spacious and interesting train station?

➖ Terminal lacked a climactic ending. In fact, it lacked an ending all together. Nothing opened, revealed, or otherwise changed to signal that we’d won this game.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Let your gamemaster know if you struggle with motion or have balance issues.

Book your hour with Mindspark Escape Games’ Terminal, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mindspark Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Boomtown Escape Games – The Saloon [Review]

I was told there’d be smores.

Location:  Georgetown, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

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

Duration: 48 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Saloon placed traditional lock-and-key escape room puzzles in an unconventional set up.

Come for the puzzles, stay for the gamemastering. If you’re looking for straightforward puzzle-play, know that The Saloon is just as much about interacting with your in-character gamemaster as it is about solving puzzles. Embrace the interaction to get the most out of this escape room.

If you’re in Austin and you like puzzle-focused escape rooms, but want to see a twist on that standard, head over to Georgetown for The Saloon.

In-game: A bar top in a wooden room surrounded locked boxes.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People looking for an experience that’s quirky and cute

Why play?

  • The gamemastering
  • The vibe

Story

While traveling along the Chisholm Trail, we had stopped in a local saloon for a drink. It turned out that we were visiting a dry county and the owner of the establishment had grown mighty lonely… so she had hired a local blacksmith to create a series of puzzles to ensnare patrons in the saloon and force them to keep her company.

In-game: a wooren room with a small card table.

Setting

The Saloon’s set was mostly wood, which gave it a unique look, even if nothing about the gamespace was particularly fancy. It was simple, effective, and on-theme without any bells or whistles.

In-game: A few crates and a basket.

Gameplay

Boomtown Escape Games’ The Saloon was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with the in-character gamemaster.

Analysis

➕ Our gamemaster was a character in our experience. She was phenomenal. Her energy made this experience more than just a collection of puzzles.

➕ We loved the unique story and set up for this escape room.

➕ The wooden saloon aesthetic worked well. The lock-focused gameplay made sense in the narrative. (Boomtown Escapes could replace the more modern locks with period-esque locks to sell the story.)

➖ Some of the puzzle components were too small for the scale of the gamespace. Better integration of the puzzle’s components into the props would have been an improvement over the many small sheets of paper that held much of the game’s content.

In-game: An ornate covering over the fluorescent light.

➕ The puzzles offered variety in type and difficulty. They were traditional in style, but still offered challenge.

➖ One challenging puzzle seemed unsolvable without requesting a hint or substantial time for trial and error. We burned a lot of time before realizing that we didn’t have enough information.

➖ The gameplay was level. The Saloon lacked a big reveal or otherwise memorable team moment.

➕ The saloon owner was just a bit sneaky. We liked this about her. She made us think a little differently, in terms of escape room gameplay.

➕ Boomtown Escape Games had some lobby mini escape games that were delightful. We played The Loot and truly enjoyed it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street metered parking.
  • Georgetown has an adorable town square with lots of shops and restaurants. Boomtown Escape Games offers recommendations.
  • Boomtown Escape Games offers portable / lobby games. We enjoyed The Loot, a 15-minute add-on experience.
  • Embrace the in-character gamemastering to get the most out of your experience.

Book your hour with Boomtown Escape Games’ The Saloon, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Boomtown Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

The Exit Game – The Zodiac Killer Legacy [Review]

Handcuffs, ciphers, & astrology.

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.95 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [F] No Emergency Release

REA Reaction

The Zodiac Killer Legacy was a standard murder-basement style-escape room: minimal decor and a creepy vibe.

The Exit Game delivered standard gameplay with a bias for cyphers. While a few of the puzzles needed refinement or maintenance, it flowed pretty well and built towards a climactic conclusion.

We started The Zodiac Killer Legacy handcuffed without safety releases. For this reason, we cannot recommend the game. While this worked well from a gameplay standpoint, the reward wasn’t worth the risk in a post-Poland fire world.

In-game: Closeup of a glowing red light in a dark room.

Who is this for?

  • People who like the idea of a scary themed experience, but don’t want to actually be afraid.
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Creepy vibe without true horror
  • Some interesting puzzles

Story

We’d been kidnapped by a hopeful Zodiac Killer copycat. He was planning to begin his killing spree with us.

We had to escape before he returned to his murder basement and began his new venture.

In-game: A handcuff along a chain and padlocked to a concrete wall.

Setting

In The Zodiac Killer Legacy, we were chained to a wall in a dark basement-like room with minimal decor.

The Exit Game created a space that functioned as a convincing basement environment. There wasn’t anything remarkable about it.

Gameplay

The Exit Game’s The Zodiac Killer Legacy was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ /➖ We began this escape room with the entire team handcuffed along a wall. The handcuffing didn’t last long. It focused us on a single jumping off point, freeing ourselves to explore the room. Forced to collaborate as a team, and thematically appropriate, I can see how this could be an exhilarating beginning. That said, the handcuffs lacked safety releases. The thrill of the handcuffs wasn’t worth the risk they entail. The Exit Game absolutely needs to add safety releases if they continue to include handcuffing.

➕ The set of The Zodiac Killer Legacy looked appropriately murder-basement-y. It was spacious and relatively barren, which could come across as foreboding. It was serviceable.

➖ The bare bones set had only one intriguing element… but its use didn’t warrant the intrigue.

➖ Some of the cluing seemed a bit off. In one case, overly complex cluing was perhaps a ghost puzzle. In another, the flavor text seemed a bit of a stretch. A third seemed just a bit too ambiguous.

➖ The Zodiac Killer Legacy relied too heavy on reading and ciphering. It quickly became tedious and repetitious.

➖ One prop was wearing away. This was simultaneously making the solve too easy – we could intuit what past teams has done – and too hard – as it was needlessly challenging to take the action.

➕ As we played through The Zodiac Killer Legacy, we built toward the most exciting solve of the game. Given its nature, it was rightly placed as the culminating action.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with The Exit Game’s The Zodiac Killer Legacy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Exit Game comped our tickets for this game.

Maze Rooms Austin – The Shed [Review]

Dinner & puzzles

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $45 per player for teams of 2 or $30 per player for teams of 3-4

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [B] Mechanical Release

REA Reaction

The Shed was an intense escape room for a small, trusting, and communicative team. Chained to the walls (with safety releases) and each able to access only a corner of the small space, we had to work together to escape this serial killer’s lair.

The Shed lacked some essential clue structure. Maze Room knows this, and has worked to mitigate the issue, but they have a ways to go before the gameplay will truly flow.

These frustrations aside, The Shed was unique and exhilarating. If you’re looking for a dramatic and challenging small-team escape room in Austin, we recommend this dinner date.

In-gameA wall with chains a digital display and a handprint in a gritty murder basement.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who are comfortable with physical restraints and a dark, unnerving environment

Why play?

  • Unique staging
  • Intense environment
  • Forced self-reliance
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

Good News: Our new friend had invited us over for dinner.

Bad News: We were unaware that our new friend was referred to as “Austin’s Cannibal” by local police.

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Setting

The Shed fell comfortably into the category of escape rooms that we’ve taken to calling the “murder basement.” While it was physically small, it was convincing without being too gory.

Each of 4 players was shackled by the wrists (with a simple mechanical safety release) to a different corner of a small room with a central pillar. The environment was grim, detailed, and foreboding.

In-game: a menacing hooded man in a workshop.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Gameplay

Maze Rooms Austin’s The Shed was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

It was atypical because each player was handcuffed to a different corner of the room for most of the experience. We had to solve the puzzles without moving around in the space.

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

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Analysis

➕ We played most of The Shed with both wrists chained to the wall. These were the most comfortable handcuffs we’ve ever been strapped into. We were free to maneuver without causing any scraping or bruising to our wrists. Our handcuffs were attached to the walls by a length of chain and safety clips. The setup was great.

➕ The opening sequence of The Shed worked beautifully. It was hard to get started while chained to a wall and search capacity was limited, but The Shed had an onramp that taught us how to play within its confines.

➖ We had a lot of props in play at any given time. It could be overwhelming to ascertain what was immediately relevant and it was challenging to keep everything we might need in reach. It was also difficult to stay organized with all of the props while restrained.

➕ The Shed did a lot with a small gamespace. It looked great in a dark and creepy way. It hid its secrets well.

➖ When we triggered a solve, we rarely knew what we’d opened. Maze Rooms could add stronger lighting and sound clues to draw players’ attention to the reveals. Providing this immediate reward for any solves would have allowed us to focus on the puzzles rather than searching.

➖ The clue structure didn’t quite support the gameplay. Maze Rooms has mitigated this by adding a runbook. While we appreciated that additional cluing, it was annoying to spend most of the game with my head in a notebook. This was especially frustrating given the dim lighting and that both my hands and any flashlights were restricted by a length of chain.

➕ The gameplay emphasized communication. We couldn’t explore, or even see the entire game. We needed to communicate well and trust our teammates.

➕ Our favorite moments involved multiple players coordinating information and actions to solve puzzles.

➖ When we eventually freed ourselves from the restraints, we had access to new spaces… that our teammates knew intimately. We had to pause to share knowledge or waste time re-exploring known spaces.

➕ The penultimate sequence came together well with a surprising reveal and a plot twist.

➕/➖ The Shed required each player to rely on their teammates and hold their own. If one individual couldn’t find/ solve/ interact with an element, there was only so much the other teammates could do to help. We mostly found this exhilarating. Sometimes it made the game stall for a bit too long. Your choice of teammates will significantly impact your experience in The Shed.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Accessibility: Height Requirement of 55 inches (4’5”ft) or taller
  • You can play this game with 2 – 4 people. You cannot add additional people. 4 people is the optimal number.
  • Left-handed players may find this game more challenging than right-handed ones will.

Book your hour with Maze Rooms Austin’s The Shed, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Maze Rooms Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Nervous System – Radial Puzzle [Review]

A snowflake.

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 24, 2018

Team size: we recommend 1-3

Piece Count: ~80

Price: $65

Publisher: Nervous System

REA Reaction

Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle was a fairly quick solve at 80 pieces. The unusual piece shape, however, made for an interesting puzzle.

The colorful, circular, assembled puzzle.

Each Nervous System puzzle is programmatically generated and laser cut, meaning that each is unique.

It’s a lovely gift for a jigsaw puzzler, but at $65 for less than an hour of puzzling, it’s probably not an everyday purchase.

Who is this for?

  • Jigsaw puzzlers looking for something a little different
  • Laser cutter fans

Why play?

  • It’s beautiful
  • It’s strange
  • It’s a quick yet satisfying solve

Story

The Radial Puzzle was a generatively created jigsaw puzzle “based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys.”

Additionally, this colorful puzzle featured whimsy pieces that were inspired by microscopic lifeforms.

The entire puzzle inverted showing the unusual cut pattern.

Gameplay

Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle was a small but unusual jigsaw puzzle with a higher degree of difficulty when compared to other similarly sized puzzles.

An assortment of pieces, with two whimsy pieces flipped. One is signed by the artist, the other is marked with the Nervous System brand.

Analysis

➕ Radial Puzzle, like everything we’ve seen from Nervous System, was a work of art.

➕ The strange, organic-looking pieces required a mindset shift when it came to puzzling approach. I enjoyed working with pieces that had so many little variables.

➖ The many tendrils of each individual piece were fragile and required more care than most puzzles.

❓ I enjoyed a quick an interesting solve… and part of me even preferred a quick challenge. If you’re looking at value specifically as a function of time / money, however, then you’ll likely find the Radial Puzzle wanting.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: A small table
  • Be gentle with the pieces; the tendrils can be fragile
  • It’s not a difficult puzzle, but it will require far more effort than your average 80-piece puzzle

Buy your copy of Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you to Amanda Harris & Drew Nelson for loaning this puzzle to us.

Premier Escape Rooms – Foreign Agent [Review]

Licence to Puzzle

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Foreign Agent was a traditional, puzzle-focused escape room.

Premier Escape Rooms focused on the gameplay rather than decor or adventure. Foreign Agent played well. Although it lacked grand reveals, it delivered some nifty moments.

If you’re in San Antonio and you play escape rooms for the puzzles, we recommend you see what you can uncover here.

In-game: A computer with a world map on the lockscreen in an office.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles
  • Crafted with care

Story

One of our colleagues at The Agency had been suspected of being a double agent. We had to sneak into his office and find evidence one way or the other.

In-game: closeup of a black envelope labeled "Confidential" in red ink.

Setting

Foreign Agent was a compact game set within a nefarious spy’s office. Premier Escape Rooms decorated the space with various props and interactions that referenced poplar images of spycraft.

Premier Escape Rooms’ gamespace was lovingly created with a couple of surprises, but nothing mind-blowing. They put a greater emphasis on puzzle play than on set-driven adventure.

Gameplay

Premier Escape Rooms’ Foreign Agent was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A trench coat and fedora on a coatrack.

Analysis

➕ Foreign Agent took place in an office. Although the set wasn’t particularly inspiring, Premier Escape Rooms had added a richness to the otherwise mundane office decor, which we felt as we played.

➖ Our mission wasn’t inspiring. Office gamespaces are inherently unexciting, even when they are well designed. The experience felt like a still life. There was opportunity to breath more life into the story and our role in it.

➕ Premier Escape Rooms created custom computer programs for Foreign Agent. They were fun puzzles that engaged multiple players. They also worked well with the staging for this escape room.

➕ We wanted to race to solve one beckoning puzzle, but we needed to wait for it to give us the green light.

➖ Foreign Agent required substantial searching, sometimes with less than adequate gear.

➕ Interactions were well clued. The props may have been your typical office essentials, but they were deliberately designed into the gameflow. Foreign Agent played logically.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Premier Escape Rooms’ Foreign Agent, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Premier Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

The Split Team Regrouping Problem in Escape Rooms

The longer a player or a group of players works within a space in isolation, the harder it becomes for teams to fully reintegrate… and it’s often better for players to stick to the space that they intimately know.

The problem becomes more pronounced over time. It’s barely noticeable if the teams are only split up for a few minutes. When teams spend half of the game split, it becomes an annoyance. When teams spend more than 3 quarters of the game split, it can be downright irritating, even if no one has the language to vocalize it.

Stylized image of a woman's head splitting in two.

The Situation

When a player enters a space that has already been thoroughly searched and solved, that player has three options:

  1. Start playing normally and “find” a ton of stuff that’s already been found or solved. This usually leads to exchanges along the lines of, “hey… did y’all see this little trap door?” A teammate who has been in space from the beginning will have to stop and explain that it’s been found and used.
  2. Stop the entire game while teammates catch one another up on what’s been found, solved, and what still requires the team’s attention.
  3. Stay put. Nobody crosses the boundaries and everyone sticks with the content that they already know intimately.

We had been feeling this problem for years, and only started to put our finger on what was going on last year after playing The Order at I Survived The Room. Prior to identifying it, under circumstances like this, we would just say something like, “Hey… I think it’s easier for me to just solve this.” Which is a polite way of saying, “You don’t know what’s going on and you’re in the way.”

Stylized image of tomatoes and potatoes split up into separate piles.

Our Dominant Strategy

When faced with a challenge like this, if we’re choosing to play efficiently, we usually stick to the spaces that we have mastery over, even when free to roam. 

The pro is that we maintain efficiency. The con is that everyone kind of misses out. Another potential con is that we could really use person A’s skill set in space B and we’re avoiding that situation.

Regardless of what we choose to do, it usually feels like a bit of a wash because getting up to speed on someone else’s mostly solved section of a game is tedious.

Unevenness

It can be challenging to follow this strategy when the spaces are really different from one another. If the other space looks really inviting, as players, we have to go against our instincts to follow this efficiency strategy.

If we instead take the time to fully explore another teammate’s space, some players invariably feel like they drew the short straw, and they would have preferred to spend the majority of their time in the other space, the one the group deems more fun or more exciting.

Stylized image of a road splitting around a mountain.

Mitigating the Regrouping Problem

There are a few ways that we’ve thought of to prevent this problem from emerging: 

  • Limit the amount of time that teams spend split up. This is a problem that becomes increasingly pronounced with time.
  • Once the teams regroup, push them forward into a new space. If the previous spaces aren’t really relevant, then it’s a nonissue.
  • Make all of the puzzles within the split-team portion joint solves, so that seeing the other space feels more like seeing what you’ve already participated in, rather than something new that demands exploration.
  • Don’t bring the team together. If you want split-team gameplay, keep it split the entire time.

The regrouping problem isn’t a gamebreaker, but it can be a late-game momentum killer… which is less than ideal for both players and game designers. Teams should be excited to regroup. That momentum plays a crucial part in building the right vibe for any given moment of a game.

I Expect You To Die [Review]

Do you expect me to talk?

Location:  at home

Dates Played: November – December, 2018

Platform: Playstation VR, Rift & Vive on PC

Duration: about 5 hours, 7 hours for secrets and commentary

Price: $24.99 on PSVR and Steam

Publisher: Schell Games

REA Reaction

I Expect You to Die was a series of five lovingly designed VR escape rooms in a 007-esque world. It embraced the storytelling advantages of having me in a VR environment while mitigating the challenges of having me escape these rooms while swiveling in a chair.

The attention to detail and love for both the spy genre and escape rooms continued through to the last mission. This was the way to do VR escape rooms at home.

Who is this for?

  • Escape room players of every stripe
  • Quick thinkers who are cool under pressure
  • James Bond fans with a sense of humor

Why play?

  • Solid, well-clued puzzles
  • Excellent graphics, VR physics, and immersion
  • Surprises galore 

Story

I began I Expect You to Die in my spy office. My unnamed boss, speaking through the intercom, walked me through the basics of being a modern spy.

My mission changed from level to level, but they all involved foiling the nefarious plans of the evil Dr. Zor of the Zoraxis Corporation. In my first mission I started off captured by Dr. Zor. To escape, I simply had to drive a malfunctioning car out of an airplane that was filled with poison gas at altitude.

My boss was with me the whole way, providing a bit of guidance in my ear when I tried to do something I wasn’t supposed to do and scolding me when I “wasted time” doing something silly like shoot a doughnut with a gun.

I Expect You to Die followed the escape room industry trend of giving me a mission rather than asking me to actually escape a room. One level had me neutralizing a bio-weapon while posing as a window washer. Another had me in a one-man submarine at the bottom of the ocean. Each was creative and became thrilling as the events unfolded.

Setting

The environments were realistically constructed with a dash of cartoonishness. It was real enough for me that at one point I attempted to put my real-life controller down on a solidly virtual desk.

The five levels were also unique to one another. Perhaps most importantly, the various situations would be at home in any James Bond movie but didn’t feel ripped off from any existing installment of that franchise.

Gameplay

The game was built to be played while seated in one spot (although some swiveling was necessary). I wasn’t limited to items within my reach, however, because the spy agency had fit me with telekinetic implants. I could point at something I wanted in the distance and bring it right to my hands. I could also freeze items in midair for easy access in the heat of the action.

Puzzles were a mix of linear and non-linear. Most solutions relied on my ability to observe, make connections, and improvise when a bad situation got worse. There were few traditional puzzles. At times, the solution was straightforward: use this item with that item. Other times it was necessary to understand the presented concepts on a deeper level for me to be successful. It was an extra challenge when I had to do something urgently or with good accuracy in an attempt to quickly save my skin from Dr. Zor’s devious traps.

However, like the best Sierra & Lucasarts adventure games, part of the fun was dying in hilarious ways. Because this was a video game, each mistake taught me what not to do and I got faster as I tried it again. In fact, each level had a “speed run” time. I often dove back in to see if I could do a level in 45 seconds, one which had originally taken 45 minutes to beat the first time through.

Analysis

➕ One worry I often have with VR simulations is whether the items will behave as I expect them to. In I Expect You to Die, physics were not a problem. Flammable things burned when lit, plastic cups bounced while ceramic ones did not, and lasers shined in a straight line.

➕ Attention to detail was fantastic and took full advantage of the VR environment. When I was posing as a window washer, I was able to look over my shoulder at the city below me, even though there were no puzzle elements there. In the train level, I looked out off the bridge and saw flocks of birds flying by.

➕ I knew I was in good hands from the opening credits. I was drifting through a two-tone 3D animation that riffed on every famous Bond opening title sequence. Bullets flew by my head and missiles launched from below as an excellent Shirley Bassey-style ballad soared through the theme song to “I Expect You to Die”.

➕ I was rewarded for messing around. Eat a moldy sandwich! Put a hat on a bear! Light your cigar with a burning log! When I finished a level, the game presented me with extra goals called “souvenirs” that hinted at other fun things I could have done. This added greatly to the replayability.

➕ The telekinetic ability to summon objects from afar was a clever narrative and mechanic workaround. Most VR goes the route of allowing the player to teleport around the environment; telekinesis felt considerably more grounded in this scenario (even if it was fantastical).

➖ My telekinetic implants allowed me to freeze items in mid-air. While this was useful for hovering code-breaking sheets where I could see them, it was just plain weird and oddly reality-breaking. It bothered me more than opening a cabinet from 20 feet away. I expect this mechanic was invented for players using traditional controllers, but it would be nice to disable it for VR controller users.

➕ What I Expect You to Die did best was surprises. Moments of victory were followed by unexpected moments of peril. Then having survived it, an even greater feeling of accomplishment.

➖ Some levels contained items like bundles of money that had no purpose. While not strictly red herrings, they occasionally got in the way of items I actually did need.

❓ In some worlds, it was possible to lose items I actually needed. While throwing stuff over my shoulder was immensely satisfying, I learned to think twice about whether I may need the thing in the future.

➕ After I had completed the main story, I had the option of turning on commentary! This was something I had never expected. There was lots of it and it was full of interesting insight into the design decisions of making the game.

Tips For PLAYING

  • While this game can be played with a traditional controller, it’s more immersive to play with two VR controllers.
  • Try everything. Sometimes there are multiple ways to solve a level, and lots of fun things to discover!

Purchase your copy of I Expect You to Die on PSVR or on Steam for Vive & Rift.

Extreme Escape – Master of Illusions [Review]

Is this your card?

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Master of Illusions was a beautiful escape room. It combined ambiance with puzzling. It all came together like magic.

Master of Illusions played well, but it didn’t rock the boat.

If you’re looking for a straightforward, puzzle-focused escape room with thematic decor and a few little tricks up its sleeve, this would be a great choice. Extreme Escape’s newer and more epic games were at their other location; The Cursed was a must-play.

We recommend Master of Illusions for anyone visiting San Antonio, regardless of experience level.

In-game: A magic prop with the image of a queen on it beside a gold art deco statue of a nude woman and the stage door.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Elegant environment
  • Fun puzzles 
  • Opening and closing moments

Story

It was 1929 and the greatest illusionist since Houdini was suspected of sabotaging and murdering one of his rivals. We had to investigate the magician and learn the truth.

In-game: A locked trunk and milk can in a room surrounded by other magical props.

Setting

Wide open with selective spotlighting and lightning effects, Extreme Escape’s Master of Illusions embodied the golden age of magic.

The set was detailed without being extravagant or massive. Simply put: it felt right and got the job done.

In-game: An ornate chandelier with magical props illuminated in the background.

Gameplay

Extreme Escape’s Master of Illusions was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Master of Illusions began and concluded with a clever and elegant trick. It was a nice touch and set the tone for the game.

➕ The gamespace felt comfortable and believable. It was beautiful and thematic. The lighting and music added ambiance. It was a fun space in which to solve puzzles.

➖ Extreme Escape presented us with a discard box, specifically for used puzzle elements. Then they reused a key component. Clue reuse is fine, as are discard boxes… but they don’t mix well. This felt needlessly deceptive.

➕ The puzzles were on-theme and solved cleanly.

➖ Many of the props were secured with multiple locks. This meant that opens would frequently yield nothing new. It was frustrating to repeatedly reap no reward from a solve.

➕Extreme Escape encouraged us to Instagram our experience! Master of Illusions was a beautiful room and highly Instagrammable. It’s smart marketing! We didn’t actually Instagram during gameplay – we were too focused on playing – but we did shoot a little video for our Patreon supporters from the room at the end of the game.

Tips For Visiting

  • There are plenty of food options in Extreme Escape’s plaza.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Extreme Escape’s Master of Illusions, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Extreme Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Room News: February 2019

Art deco news bulletin kiosk.

The monthly escape room newsletter is a new feature on Room Escape Artist. Please share your news with us.

Books & Movies

At Home

  • Throw Throw Burrito is coming soon. It has far exceeded its Kickstarter goal… and you can still back it. Game designer Elan Lee is an avid escape room player. We beta tested it at an escape room enthusiast gathering we attended in Los Angeles last summer.
Amanda Harris posting about Throw Throw Burrito reads, "I playtested a version of this and can confirm that Lisa is straight up savage at dodgeball face-off."

Online

  • The 2019 Cryptex Hunt begins on Friday, March 1 at 9pm Eastern. Play online and through Cluekeeper. It’s free! And yes, there will be prizes! The first person to complete the whole hunt with no hints wins a Nevins Bolivian Rosewood Cryptex. There also will be a drawing among all those who complete the full hunt by March 31 for a standard Cryptex.

Research

Los Angeles, CA

San Francisco, CA

  • Ticket sales are open for Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace. Visit Palace Games with us June 1-3, 2019. On this tour you will play 4 incredible escape rooms, including the Golden Lock-In Award-winning The Edison Escape Room. If you’re a traveling player, this is your chance to visit Palace Games!

Orlando, FL

  • Escape Effect just opened a new 2-hour game called A Knight to Escape.

New Orleans, LA

  • Ticket sales are open for Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans 2019. Join us July 12-14, 2019 to visit some of the most amazing escape rooms in the world including multiple Golden Lock-In Award winners such as 13th Gate Escape’s Cutthroat Cavern. Last summer’s tour to New Orleans sold out, but we didn’t want anyone to be left out, so we brought it back again for 2019!

Whitefish, MT

  • Hidden Key Escape Games is opening its third game Saving Camelot. King Arthur and the Knights are away when Mordred attacks. Can you unlock the secrets to release Excalibur for the King?

St. Louis, MO

Santa Fe, NM

New York, NY

Rochester, NY

  • Omega Escape Room is now open in Rochester, NY. You can visit them there or at their original location in Hamburg, NY.

Seattle, WA

Brantford, ON, Canada

Multiple Cities

  • Halo Outpost Discovery is going to have a traveling Halo experience that will include an escape room-style experience called Covenant Escape where players explore a reclaimed section of a Covenant ship. It will travel to Orlando, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and Anaheim this July and August.

Commentary

  • We agree with this list of escape room pet peeves, compiled by Nate Martin, owner of Puzzle Break in Seattle, WA.
  • We expound upon one of them in this longer piece about red herrings.

Videos

  • Niall Horan & Julia Michaels must escape a room on the Late Late Show with James Corden to perform their song.

How To Submit News

Share your own news here!

News items include:

  • Facility openings & closings
  • Game openings & closings
  • Special events
  • Escape room-related products
  • Escape room-related intrigue of all sorts
  • Celebrity visits (if you have a post-game photo that we can publish)
  • Escape room pieces in the general press

Send us your newsworthy information via our news submission form: