Escape Entertainment – Time Trap [Review]

Time looped.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date played: June 25, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Pre-review note

In a first for us, the creators of this escape room reached out shortly after we played to acknowledge that we surfaced a number of issues while playing the game. They have assured us that they have remedied them. While we’re publishing the review of the escape room as we played it in June of 2017, it seems like future players should have a better experience.

Story & setting

Our team of time cops had to chase a Carmen Sandiego-style nemesis into Philadelphia’s past. Could we identify where he was going and catch him?

Time Trap had two profoundly different acts and sets to go with them. The escape room began in a time ship and continued in a historic setting. The ship had a sterile look about it, like Apple was suddenly selling time machines. The mystery historical setting had a warm and homey feel.

In game: A stark white, lit blue time ship with astrological symbols on the walls.

Puzzles

Time Trap’s puzzling was in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from Escape Entertainment: a focus on reasoning and challenging puzzles, with a few of them built around large, tangible set pieces.

Standouts

There were some strong physically interactive puzzles that encouraged teamwork.

The time travel component worked well and the different sets elegantly juxtaposed against one another.

We spent some time working through a pair of great big set pieces. These were satisfying to solve.

Shortcomings

Escape Entertainment lost power just before we began our game, and things were… off (including our start time). At the beginning of the game, nothing worked, so we exited, and restarted. Once things got rolling, we still had a tech failure mid-game.

Not all of the big set pieces had sufficient camera coverage, so our gamemasters were blindly dropping useless hints to us. Then, because they didn’t have microphone coverage, they didn’t even know that they were feeding us useless information or that we were becoming frustrated by them.

There were parts of the set that were falling apart and the Time Trap had only been operating for a month.

One early puzzle left us completely baffled. We ended up deducing our way through it using an alternative method of solving it. Even after getting the description of the proper way to solve the puzzle during the post-game walkthrough, we were happier with our workaround.

One of the big set pieces could have used a better set of controls to make manipulating it easier.

Should I play Escape Entertainment’s Time Trap?

There were some great ideas at play in Time Trap, beautiful set pieces, and strong puzzles. Unfortunately, during our playthrough, these were outweighed by flaws in execution.

With a stronger, more resilient set, and better in-game surveillance, Time Trap could be a strong room escape. In its state when we played, it was a mixed bag.

There were puzzles worth solving and plenty worth experiencing in Time Trap. I think these elements would be an approachable and challenging for all skill levels. When we played, however, it felt like Time Trap was in public beta testing, and that’s was not acceptable. I’m glad that they’ve fixed the technical and construction issues.

Book your hour with Escape Entertainment’s Time Trap, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Entertainment comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape Games at Sony Square NYC – The Blacklist Box & Timeless Lifeboat [Review]

Humbled by advertisements.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: October 29, 2016

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 3

Duration: 10 minutes per game

Price: Free; available through December 2, 2016

Story & setting

These two 10-minute games were sitting on the floor of Sony Square NYC, which is Sony’s open showroom to feature its products to the public.

The first game promoted the new show Timeless, a time travel series. We played a puzzle-based rendition of Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego… which was awesome. It was staged in the show’s time machine, the Lifeboat, which looked cooler than its name sounded.

Image of the Timeless Lifeboat time machine play area.

The second game promoted The Blacklist, now in its fourth season. In this game we found ourselves in a TV-style hacking, decoding-type game of tracking down the bad guy. Everything was set within a fancy looking cube, which was clearly from the show; it meant a great deal to one of the other people in attendance.

Image of the Blacklist Box red cube play area.

I haven’t watched either show, so any references were completely lost on me. I cannot report on how well it captured the essence of either fiction. I can say that both games featured recordings from characters in the show, an excellent and unexpected touch.

Puzzles

These games were created by New York City-based Escape Entertainment. Escape Entertainment has historically been one of the region’s most puzzle-centric companies; oh boy did they deliver puzzle-centric games.

Both games had three puzzling stations and each station offered up its own set of challenges. They were tough puzzles, made even tougher by the short 10-minute timers.

Lisa and I played the games as a couple. We approached Timeless Lifeboat calmly because in our past experiences, corporate promotional games haven’t presented a formidable challenge. We lost Timeless Lifeboat by about five seconds. Had we done any number of things slightly differently, we would have won.

Since we screwed up on the Timeless Lifeboat, we attacked the The Blacklist Box… where we lost even worse. We needed at least another two minutes, or more realistically, another teammate. The Blacklist Box beat us.

Both games included serious logic and reasoning puzzles with more layering than we were mentally prepared for. They should not be approached lightly, especially The Blacklist Box.

Standouts

The staging area for each game was awesome. I found the Timeless Lifeboat particularly compelling.

Each game was cleverly engineered for rapid reset. Additionally, their solid construction should also help prevent breakage.

We’ve come to expect high production value from corporate promotional games, and these games were no exception.

Furthermore, these were serious escape games with interesting and fun puzzles. They delivered the challenge we don’t often see in promotional games.

These games were completely free and unlike most of the free corporate games we’ve seen, they will run for over a month.

The Sony Showroom was far cooler than expected. They had free demos of the Playstation VR as well as a gallery of incredible photos captured on Sony gear. They offered some great things out of that space; especially for aspiring photographers.

Shortcomings

Sony’s gear was laced throughout both games and used to drive most of the interaction. In particular, the games relied on Sony’s internet of things adapters, MESH. There were some interesting gadgets in use, but I cannot help but feel like an escape game with a 10-minute timer was the wrong venue for demonstrating MESH’s capabilities. It had a tiny bit of latency, something in the realm of three seconds… but in the context of a rushed game, that time felt like an eternity. That was a shame because the tech was pretty cool.

Both games got pretty wordy, which is ironic coming from a guy who’s writing ~900 words on 20 minutes of combined gameplay. Again, the short game length amplified every moment of the game. Short passages suddenly felt a lot longer.

There was a ton of ambient noise coming from the game and the surrounding area. This made it difficult to hear key in-game audio.

There was no margin for error. We breezed through some puzzles and died on others. Sometimes this was a factor of having the wrong person start in on a puzzle, but in such a short game, there wasn’t time to switch the teammates’ focuses nor any opportunity to recover.

Should I play Escape Games at Sony Square NYC – The Blacklist Box & Timeless Lifeboat?

I’m shocked to say this, but these are some of the more interesting and challenging puzzle-centric games that I’ve seen.

The 10-minute game timer added challenge and intrigue while also adding new complications and flaws, but these were more than forgivable.

If you’re a room escaper with a love of games that lean heavy on puzzles, then these games are an absolute must. They are free. They are quick. They are in a great neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and easy subway access.

If you’re a fan of either show and you’ve given these games a playthrough, please let us know what you thought in the comments below!

Bring three people and explore the show floor before playing. Be sure to have someone show you how MESH works in the context of the game. It will help. Make every second count; each game only lasts 600.

Both games will run through December 2, 2016.

Book your sessions with Escape Games at Sony Square NYC‘s The Blacklist Box & Timeless Lifeboat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Entertainment – Alien Attack [Review]

An ambitious attempt to advance room escape design through tantalizing technology and design direction.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: December 3, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-8

Price: $29 per ticket

Theme & story

You’re on a Russian space craft facing an attack by an alien force. You must initiate some sci-fi-y stuff to help fight off the attack.

Alien Attack Ship Diagram

The room was beautiful. Everything in it screamed sci-fi space adventure. It was well constructed and just felt fun.

The story, however, felt tacked on. The attacking aliens were only referenced once, by our gamemaster, prior to the start of our hour. The aliens didn’t factor in beyond that reference.

This wasn’t a problem, but it made the game feel like the aliens were only included because Escape Entertainment uses alliterative names (Prohibition Pandemonium, Manhattan Mayhem – formerly Monkey Mayhem). The alliterative names are great, but the name “Alien Attack” set up a story that didn’t have a payoff.

Don’t forget your tricorder

Alien Attack leaned heavily on visual scanning technology. Without giving away any details, I’ll just say that there was an escape room equivalent of a Star Trek tricorder in the room; it was an amazing concept.

The scanning technology added both depth and challenge to the game. And it worked, mostly.

There were a few color contrast problems and sometimes the technology didn’t feel responsive enough, but the overall concept was so wonderful that those issues were forgivable.

Spacial puzzles in space

With some slight variation, the bulk of the puzzles in Alien Attack were spacial challenges. There were a few logic games mixed in as well.

Alien Attack Puzzle
Not a spacial puzzle

In the same way that Prohibition Pandemonium leaned heavily on a particular type of puzzle, Alien Attack is a game for a specific type of player.

Not quite enough space

Alien Attack had a few core puzzles that were isolated from the rest of the game. These puzzles had a limited amount of space around them for players to gather and work through their intricacies.

The room itself wasn’t lacking for space, but some of the play areas were too tight. This became a more significant factor later in the game when there were only a few puzzles left and the team started to crowd around them.

Hearing in space

Alien Attack produced a lot of ambient background noise.

For the most part, the background sounds worked well on their own and elevated the gameplay.

However there came a point in the game where the sounds became an agitating annoyance that made it difficult for our team to appreciate a critical puzzle.

Alien Attack Timer

Should I play Escape Entertainment’s Alien Attack?

In Alien Attack, Escape Entertainment created a beautiful, challenging game that pushed the boundaries of how technology can take escape games to new heights.

It also had, quite possibly, the most interesting technology-driven gimmick I’ve ever encountered.

It stumbled in a few places, in large part because the design was pushing these boundaries.

Alien Attack was frequently almost amazing, but a bit agitating.

The tricorder-like scanners were brilliant… But sometimes they were very slow to respond.

The ambient background noise added to the experience… But there came a time where all I wanted was silence.

The puzzles were fun… But they lacked variety and were placed such that they couldn’t accommodate the players in the room.

Each Escape Entertainment room has brought something new to the escape game genre; Alien Attack is no exception. It pushes on boundaries. When a designer does that, some things are going to work and others are going to require refinement. What matters most is that Escape Entertainment went to great lengths to craft a unique experience, and they created one. That point alone makes it worth the price of entry.

Book your hour with Escape Entertainment’s Alien Attack, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Entertainment comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Entertainment – Manhattan Mayhem [Review]

[Formerly known as Monkey Mayhem]

An abstract, tongue-in-cheek game that packs humor and challenge. Brace yourself for the primate apocalypse!

Location: New York, New York

Date played: August 28, 2015

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 6-8

Price: $29 per ticket

REA Golden Lock-In Badge
2015 Golden Lock-In Winner

Theme and story

Ten monkeys have escaped from the Central Park Zoo, and they are destroying Manhattan! You are the animal rescue team tasked with putting the monkeys back in their cages and saving the city.

This Midtown Manhattan escape room is the first game that is set in the Big Apple. It’s about time.

Abstract art

Escape games are art: There is a lot of realism (or attempts at it) in some and others are non-objective.

This game was abstract; every element was a metaphor. In this way it expertly avoided the pitfall of the uncanny valley.

Most of the puzzles in this game were presented on a pedestal that represented an iconic location within New York City. As a player, it was clear what each puzzle represented. It all came together surprisingly well.

Escape Entertainment Monkey Mayhem Statue of Liberty

Humor

Monkey Mayhem never took itself too seriously.

Why did players only have an hour? They needed to go save a beached whale!

It was funny, and it was fun.

Audience

This was an approachable room that still packed a lot of difficulty.

There were elements that were perfect for children. But our team of adults fully enjoyed the artistic creation. Tourists and New Yorkers alike will get excited over the setting.

Puzzle variety

Monkey Mayhem included a variety of puzzles crafted for different intellects. These puzzles were overwhelmingly tactile in nature, and were a joy to solve.

This game contrasted sharply with Escape Entertainment’s other room, Prohibition Pandemonium, which skewed heavily towards a few select skillsets.

Lack of scavenging

More than most games, the puzzles are clearly identified; there was no scavenging in this game. In fact, by the time we captured all of the monkeys, we had left the room less messy than when we entered the scene. This fit the theme.

This design eliminated the need to figure out what was a puzzle and how to link puzzle elements together. While I enjoyed knowing what was a puzzle, I recognize that the unambiguity of Monkey Mayhem may not be everyone’s brand of banana.

Locking locks

This was the first game where I had to close a lock to solve a puzzle. That was unexpected and fun.

… But I recommend that game-masters instruct players how to lock the locks.

Climactic moment

The missing link in Monkey Mayhem was a climax… It needed a King Kong puzzle.

It needed that moment that makes players turn their heads and think, “Wow! That was bananas!”

Optional competitive mode

Escape Entertainment offers two identical versions of Monkey Mayhem. Two groups can come to compete against each other, playing the same game simultaneously.

We’re looking forward to seeing more of this head-to-head style gameplay throughout the industry.

Post game

The staff at Escape Entertainment gave us an exceptional experience in customer service.

That said, we recommend that Escape Entertainment create a standard postgame walkthrough procedure for their staff to follow. Especially in a game such as Monkey Mayhem where single players will each solve unconnected puzzles, it is important to give a comprehensive walkthrough, whether the team wins or loses.

I missed a lot of what went on and a thorough recap would have been very helpful.

Escape Entertainment Monkey Mayhem

Should I play Escape Entertainment’s Monkey Mayhem?

We shattered the record for this game; we won in half the time allotted. We brought one of the best, most seasoned teams we’ve played with yet… And we still had a blast.

Escape Entertainment’s first two games are very different experiences. Each is a work of a different kind of art, and each is worth playing. Player sensibilities might lend themselves to one game over another. But if you only have time for one, play Monkey Mayhem. It’s a stronger game with more puzzle variety, and it offers an experience like no other.

Make sure you bring a intellectually diverse team to this one, you’re going to need a variety of skills to escape Monkey Mayhem.

Book you hour with Escape Entertainment’s Monkey Mayhem, and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Entertainment, NYC: Prohibition Pandemonium [Review]

A debonair room that should enjoy a shot of moonshine, and loosen up a bit.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: August 13, 2015

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-8

Price: $29 per ticket

Theme & story

You are visiting a speakeasy and the police are on their way. Quick – make your exit through the back door. This is a believable-ish fiction. Escaping this room makes sense (if the police are super slow).

The puzzles are generally on theme, or at least within the context of the period design. And while Escape Entertainment uses some homework-style puzzle elements, they integrate them more seamlessly into the physical room than some others who use this technique (mostly because it doesn’t rely on pen and paper puzzles).

The puzzles don’t progress the fiction. It remains as was stated at the beginning: find the back door and get out. There is a missed opportunity to build puzzles into a story and elevate to a climactic, dramatic moment.

Production value

As a company, Escape Entertainment is bringing it.

The waiting room is like a spacious, comfortable hotel lobby. It is a shockingly large for a space in Manhattan. We admired the art on the walls and enjoyed the tavern puzzles before our game began.

When we entered Prohibition Pandemonium, we entered a specific fiction crafted in the same artfully designed manner. The speakeasy setting included period-esque set pieces and purposeful lighting.

Image via Escape Entertainment
Image via Escape Entertainment

Design style

Escape Entertainment made a deliberate decision to make many of the set pieces, props, artwork, and clues immovable. This is a different approach to room design.

In an initial room turnover, we usually pile artwork in corners, stack drawers on the floor, and move clues to a central location. We couldn’t do that here.

On the plus side, the static nature of the room forces increased teamwork.

On the other hand, it dramatically decreases the tactile nature of the game. There are fewer variables and fewer options for play. It’s a different mindset to think “Does this move?” before trying to pick it up.

As a business decision, this style also works to Escape Entertainment’s advantage: Fewer variables probably means less breakage. The staff can easily and rapidly reset the room for the next team. This begs the question: Is the room optimized for the players’ experience or the company and its employees?

Locks

This room suffers from an extreme reliance on five digit combination locks. Some are numbers; most are letters, and it’s repetitive.

To its credit, Escape Entertainment provides clues that make it clear which derived answer solves which lock. Once players realize this, the room avoids many of the problems we regularly see with a lock-heavy room, where one player shouts a code and multiple other players try it in five or ten different places in the room.

Whereas variability would make the game more exciting, the locks don’t stop the players from experiencing little moments of victory.

Variety

For the most part, the puzzles are all designed for a specific type of thinking. They lack the variety that makes players appreciate the brilliance of their teammates.

We walked away with dramatically different opinions of the this room. This is because some players killed it, solving element after element, and others felt that they barely contributed. Most of these puzzles work for one specific intelligence type.

Red herrings

The gamemaster told us to expect red herrings. They are expertly included to remain on theme and steal a little of your time before you realize what’s going on. While we are not generally fond of red herrings, these were crafted more artfully than most, in a way that we appreciated as clever.

Hint heavy

Early on in the game, our gamemaster fed us hints at her own discretion. At least once, she fed us a hint to a puzzle element we’d already determined, on our way to solving that puzzle. Another time, she helped us make a logic leap that sped up the game.

I’m confident we would have made that logic leap anyway; we were already on our way to that. We escaped with about 16 minutes to spare and we would have preferred to win (or lose) with hints at our own discretion.

escape entertainment prohibition pandemonium

Walkthrough

Our game concluded without a walkthrough.

As a 10-player room, designed in a style where puzzles don’t move to a central location, this game could benefit from a wrap-up that shows players how the elements they missed were resolved.

Escape Entertainment has a great staff; I think a post game walk-through should be folded into their responsibilities.

Back door juxtaposition

The physical structure of this final puzzle is ingenious. The puzzle itself is not.

Although the backdoor puzzle departs from the room’s reliance on combination locks, unfortunately, it also introduces technology that is overtly not of the period. A beeping digital number pad illuminated with bright blue LEDs really doesn’t fit.

Additionally, the door puzzle is a letdown. We ultimately hacked the answer, and I’m not sure if there was a smart way to derive the it (a walk-though would have helped clear that up).

That said, the backdoor is created in a particular way that is quite sneaky, in a brilliant, speakeasy-esque way. It’s awesome.

Should I play Escape Entertainment’s Prohibition Pandemonium?

If you like scavenging, over turning rooms, and generally wreaking havoc as you solve puzzles, this probably isn’t the game for you. The same is true if you prefer more tactile game elements.

We’re not sold on this glued-down escape room style of design, because it makes the game feel more like a still life, and that in some ways defeats the purpose of an escape room.

However this game also packs a high level of ambiance; this on its own makes it a must-play.

This is one of two rooms that Escape Entertainment had on opening day, and in that regard, it is a wonderful first room. We’re excited to play their other room, and really look forward to seeing where they go from here.

Book your hour at Escape Entertainment’s Prohibition Pandemonium, and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.