Escape Factor – Ghost in the Graveyard [Review]

Apparitional aspirations

Location: Forest Park, IL

Date Played: March 13, 2022

Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $140 for the first 3 players, $30 for each additional player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Slight crouching/ crawling required for at least some players

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Ghost in the Graveyard presented a charming investigation at a quaint cemetery.

Keeping in the general style of Escape Factor’s earlier rooms, Ghost in the Graveyard presented creative puzzle-forward gameplay that led us to uncover various secrets subtly hidden throughout the details of the set. We encountered more varied and refined inputs than before, as Ghost in the Graveyard had more tech and was notably less combination lock-heavy.

A cemetery filled with headstones and lit by two hanging lanterns.

Yet while Escape Factor’s previous rooms thrived in their scrappy, quirky humor, Ghost in the Graveyard took on a generally more somber tone. From the tombstone epitaphs at the start to a somewhat dark narrative twist later on in the game, the seriousness of the environment never quite aligned with the light whimsy of the bulk of the gameplay.

Escape Factor tried to refine their craft with Ghost in the Graveyard. In some respects they succeeded — the set was lovely and clean, and the puzzles were enjoyable. Yet going forward, I hope the humor and energy that made some of their earlier rooms so memorable will persist more strongly in their future creations.

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Twisted Limits Escape Rooms – The Passage [Review]

Making caves

Location: McHenry, IL

Date Played: March 11, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: stairs and strobing lights, though special accommodations can be made

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Passage opened in a breathtaking cave. I’m a sucker for rooms that don’t feel like rooms, and Twisted Limits accomplished that brilliantly, obscuring any evidence that this space had ever consisted of mundane perpendicular walls. Flickery lighting, stylized cave drawings, and a large water feature rounded off the atmosphere.

The Passage was a big step up for Twisted Limits in terms of set design. From building a cave from scratch to concocting a mind-bending “Passage,” it was clear that a massive amount of creativity and labor went into creating this escape game.

The gameplay in The Passage was also creative and enjoyable, though most puzzles centered around opening standalone briefcases and could have felt more deeply integrated with the set. Additionally, certain puzzles could have benefited from clearer signposting.

A room of sandstone with a illuminated pool in the center.

If you are in NE Illinois, The Passage at Twisted Limits Escape Rooms is a unique hidden gem and is well worth a visit.

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CU Adventures in Time & Space – Calling All Villains [Review]

“A lot of guys ignore the laugh”

Location:  Urbana, IL

Date Played: March 12, 2022

Team Size: 4-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player for 4 players, $25 per player for 5+ players

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: a step up for at least 1 player

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Originally designed as a pop-up, Calling All Villains was a visually compelling experiment in escape room design.

Calling All Villains took many risks, and for the most part, they really paid off. The opening scene felt like a Burning Man-esque warehouse installation, absolutely packed with interactive art in a plethora of colors, textures, and materials. 3-4 distinct chunks of gameplay featured a wide range of puzzle and interaction styles. There was a ton to work on in each stage of the game, making this an excellent option for somewhat larger teams. The gameplay was layered and utilized the physical space in some rather creative ways.

Calling All Villains flowed well overall, but compared to CU Adventures’ other offerings, it was a bit uneven. As much as I enjoyed the majority of the set and gameplay, one intermediate space was a noticeable drop in production value and polish, though I appreciated its intended narrative function. Whereas Game Night, which also originated as a pop-up, managed to coalesce into cohesive permanent experience, more elements in Calling All Villains still felt a bit more ephemeral. I’d love to see how the highlights, aesthetic, and ambitions of this game translate into a more permanent future experience.

An old beat up and broken down van beside a robot.
via CU Adventures

Some of my favorite moments at CU Adventures took place in Calling All Villains. While Game Night and Revenge of the Cabin were our overall favorites, I also highly recommend playing Calling All Villains if you have the time.

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Walking Shadow Theatre Company – Cabal [Reaction]

White Stag party

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Date Played: May 31, 2022

Team Size: 6-10

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: Sliding scale $45/ 52/ 60 per player

Ticketing: Public

Accessibility Consideration: Flashing lights and loud sounds

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I first encountered Walking Shadow Theatre Company through Reboot, an online play with puzzles. When the opportunity arose to see Cabal while visiting Minneapolis, I was eager to experience their in-person approach to a play with puzzles.

In Cabal, Walking Shadow Theatre Company made both immersive theater and puzzles approachable for audience members new to either, while also providing a compelling reason to explore both these genres more deeply. With light actor interactions, audience members were part of the story without ever being singled out or put on the spot. The puzzles were equally accessible — complementary to the setting and narrative, and designed more around exploration and process than aha. If you have friends or family who are typically reluctant to play escape rooms, but who’d enjoy a magical dose of theater, Cabal is the show for them.

A performer looking concerned in a beautiful parlour.
Image via David Pisa

Above all else, the actors put on a stunning performance and the setting was utterly enchanting. I loved seeing a space that felt reminiscent of an escape room, yet was built and run as a theatrical set.

For theater lovers in the Twin Cities area, I recommend checking out Cabal. This was not an escape room and should not be approached as such, though I believe escape room enthusiasts will equally enjoy Cabal as an interactive narrative experience.

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Escape Factor – Bonus Fun Time Game Show Challenge [Review]

<insert audience applause>

Location: Forest Park, IL

Date Played: March 13, 2022

Team Size: 3-9; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $140 for the first 3 players, $30 for each additional player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

In Bonus Fun Time Game Show Challenge, we played contestants in a vintage game show montage, in a delightful alternate reality where all classic game show challenges are actually cleverly designed puzzles.

Bonus Fun Time Game Show Challenge fully embodied the distinctive whimsy and humor that characterizes Escape Factor’s design style. This was an older room that had aged quite well. Every puzzle and door we opened provided a fun new game show reference, and our faces hurt by the end from nonstop smiling. With relatively little tech and a modestly sized space, the gameplay felt dynamic and engaging, reminding me how much I still love classic escape room gameplay when expressed through a nonstandard theme.

The Fun Time Game Show set is brightly colored and looks like a 1960s gameshow.

Escape Factor is one of the top companies in the Chicago area. Both Bonus Fun Time Game Show Challenge and The Treehouse Raid at Fort Knocks especially stand out for their unique theming and creative puzzles.

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