BrainXcape – The Haunted Hotel [Review]

Haunted McKittrick Hotel.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 24, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: varies by number of players per team and day of the week

Story & setting

Locked in a hotel in the midst of a haunting, we had to find our way out.

BrainXcape created another beautiful set for The Haunted Hotel. It looked and felt like an older living space – maybe from the 1950s – had been ensnared by an angry spirit. It was detailed and dramatic.

In-game: A Ouija board in the foreground, a aged hotel with an old television in the background.

Puzzles

The Haunted Hotel was a challenging puzzle game. The puzzles individually required their own unique detective work with all solutions leading to a lock (and usually a 4-digit number).

Standouts

BrainXcape began The Haunted Hotel in a clever, unusual, and immersive manner.

We enjoyed the set and atmosphere. It was spooky, but not scary. Once again, BrainXcape hired a set designer from the famed immersive theater experience Sleep No More, and this room escape’s set felt like it could exist within that experience. That is to say, it looked fantastic.

All of BrainXcape’s room escapes are booked through private ticketing. This is on the very short list of New York City escape rooms that will never pair you with strangers.

The puzzling in The Haunted Hotel was challenging. We felt like we had earned our win.

Shortcomings

While the puzzling in The Haunted Hotel was fun and challenging, it was still missing a fair amount of clue structure. We were fed a lot of unrequested hints, especially early in the escape room, and frankly, we needed them. While we thought we’d received a lot of hints, we learned in the post-game that compared to most teams we used relatively few. The Haunted Hotel could be significantly improved by baking the most commonly required hints into the experience. Finding a clue always feels far more satisfying than receiving a hint.

Our team of 4 felt severely hindered by the dim lighting and limited number of flashlights. We regularly had someone acting as light holder and other players asking for lighting. Additionally, the flashlight that we had was player powered and required regular squeezing of a lever to get any light at all. More lighting would eliminate an unnecessary source of frustration. It could be added strategically to facilitate puzzling without aversely affecting the ambiance.

In one instance, The Haunted Hotel stumbled because it required precision, but the puzzle wasn’t designed in a way that we could know the exact way to execute it.

Should I play BrainXcape’s The Haunted Hotel?

The Haunted Hotel had an exciting start, a gorgeous set, and challenging gameplay. Additionally, all of BrainXcape’s experiences are private; they will not lock you in a room with a stranger.

Upon entering the room, the set will feel a touch scary to more jittery players. Note that there are absolutely no jump scares or actors in this room escape. It was not a terrifying game. If you can make it through the door, you can make it through The Haunted Hotel.

Newbies will likely struggle through The Haunted Hotel. It will be hard, but playable. Use your hints and don’t be shocked if you lose. If you need to win, try something easier.

Experienced players will find a beautiful set containing a challenging and slightly frustrating opponent. If you love escape rooms and are up for something more difficult than the norm, look no further.

The Haunted Hotel was a big step up from our first visit to BrainXcape. We are looking forward to seeing what they create next.

Book your hour with BrainXcape’s The Haunted Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

BrainXcape – The Old Prison [Review]

Punch-drunk prison.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: February 20, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $31-60 per ticket depending on team size and day of the week

Story & setting

Shut inside an old, grim, and foreboding prison, we had to work through its dark mysteries and find our way out. From the walls to the larger props, BrainXcape crafted an intense and detailed prison set.

In-game: A weathered concrete and brick wall with a gross old toilet and sink.
Possibly the first prison escape game that doesn’t involve shoving your hand down a toilet!

The setup was simple. There wasn’t a complex narrative or backstory explanation prior to beginning the puzzling.

Puzzles

The puzzle types varied, but within typical and expected escape room tropes.

Early on, many of the puzzles in The Old Prison lacked sufficient cluing. As the game progressed, the logic flow improved.

Standouts

Our adventure in the Old Prison began rather unusually. We welcomed this deviation from the norm.

In-game: A weathered metal prison door with an alarm bell mounted to the concrete wall beside it.

BrainXcape focused on immersive set design and it showed. This was one of the most intense and captivating prison sets we’ve experienced. BrainXcape hired a set desigern from Punchdrunk, the team behind Sleep No More, to work on this set, to great effect. We appreciated stepping out of a Manhattan building into another world.

Shortcomings

On their website, BrainXcape claims to be “NYC’s Most Immersive Escape Room Experience.” While the set was captivating, it lacked support in the form of action – the searching, puzzling, and reveals – to be a truly heart-racing, blood-pumping immersive prison experience.

The weakest puzzles centered around props that did not wear well. The puzzling, sloppily forced onto them, was poorly clued and difficult to uncover. One early puzzle of this type was as frustrating as it was unsatisfying.

A 4 digit Masterlock 178 padlock with a text bubble that reads, "Don't forget to push!"

The later portion of the escape room, in particular, was riddled with identical Masterlock 178 padlocks. While a few of them wouldn’t have been out of place in a prison, the sheer volume broke our rhythm at every turn. We had to continually try every possible combination absolutely everywhere until we found a pattern to the gameflow.

Should I play Brain Xcape’s The Old Prison?

If you’re most interested in set design, The Old Prison would be an excellent choice. You will find that you step into another place and time.

BrainXcape’s commitment to set design is truly impressive. There are other sets that are on par with theirs, but you won’t find objectively better sets in NYC.

In-game: A weathered wall with some tally marks on it.

That said, while BrainXcape has mastered one aspect of escape room design, to build a complete immersive experience they have a ways to go on other fronts.

If you’re more interested in narrative, puzzle design, or technology, The Old Prison won’t be your idea of a good time. It was old-school escape room gameplay in an outstanding set.

We believe that BrainXcape is interested in beefing up these other areas to deliver a more complete escape room experience. If they can commit to puzzles and gameflow as thoughtfully as they’ve committed to set design, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Book your hour with BrainXcape’s The Old Prison, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: BrainXcape provided media discounted tickets for this game.