The Escape Game Austin – Classified [Review]

Bazaar & puzzling.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 5, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Story & setting

We needed to stop a terrorist cell by gathering intelligence about an impending attack. This was your typical prime-time television counter-terror staging that steered clear of any specific world events.

We entered a Middle Eastern market. It was detailed, vibrant, and original. The initial setting was striking and beautiful.

In-game, a vibrantly colored bazaar market. Rugs hang from the ceiling. Assorted foods and pots sit on the shelves.

As the game progressed, we found ourselves in a dark and far more generic escape room environment.

Puzzles

Classified was primarily linear.

The challenge came from searching and making connections between relevant finds. It was not a puzzle-focused room escape.

Standouts

This was our first gamespace set in a market. The initial set was not only original, but also detailed, and polished.

The first half of the Classifed had silky smooth game flow.

Classified included neat, well-hidden physical interactions with some of the larger set pieces.

Shortcomings

Classified felt disconnected. The second half of the game lacked everything that made the first half special. It wasn’t beautiful, interesting, or exciting. It also lacked the flow of the first half. It became more challenging, but also dull and tedious.

Should I play The Escape Game Austin’s Classified?

Classified had a great first act. The visual impact of walking into such an unusual and beautiful space was energizing. The gameplay was a older escape room style that made it feel more like a scavenger hunt than The Escape Game’s other offerings. While the initial set was creative and exciting, the second act didn’t live up to the expectation set in the first half. That said, it was still more polished than many escape rooms of its era.

The Escape Game Austin has moved forward since designing this game and we recommend that you try their other games first. We visited Gold Rush, Prison Break, and The Heist at The Escape Game’s Orlando location, but took a peek at them in Austin and feel confident recommending them here as well. They’ve done a beautiful job making slight modifications to construct each of their games into the slightly different space in their Austin facilities.

While Classified wasn’t our favorite of their offerings, The Escape Game Austin is a top-notch facility with excellent staff that will deliver a fun, family-friendly experience.

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

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Austin comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game Orlando – The Heist [Review]

The art of the steal.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 11, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

In this counter-heist, we were stealing back a stolen painting.

Of the four games we played at The Escape Game Orlando, The Heist had the least exciting setting. It looked like an art gallery and a gallery doesn’t have the same dramatic allure as a spaceship, gold mine, or prison. That said, this was one of the more compelling art galleries we’ve seen. By that I mean that it actually looked like an art gallery.

In-game: It looks like an art gallery. White walls with cleanly framed paintings. A velvet rope sits in front of the painting at the end of the room.

While there was a hint of story, The Heist was mission-centric and straightforward.

Puzzles

The Heist was a puzzle lover’s room escape. There was a lot to find and a lot of solve.

The puzzles were primarily of an older design style. To that end, we saw some common tropes, but each was well executed.

Standouts

The Heist surprised us. We weren’t anticipating one particularly neat early-game interaction.

There were cleverly hidden moments of escalation and The Heist managed to steer far from our early game expectations.

Shortcomings

Some of the search-heavy early puzzles became tedious, which may have been amplified in this particular case because we were only two players at the tail end of a escape room marathon.

The lock variety and cluing led to a fair amount of trying combinations in many different locks before the right one released.

We encountered a group of puzzle components that had become rather smelly over time. These were not fun to handle.

Should I play The Escape Game Orlando’s Heist?

The Heist was designed for puzzlers. There was a lot to do.

The set didn’t hold the same allure as some of The Escape Game Orlando’s other offerings. Because of this, The Heist didn’t feel as exciting as the others, but eventually escalated to a more dramatic conclusion.

After playing four games back-to-back with The Escape Game Orlando, we’d noticed some trends in the puzzles and interaction design. While many of these patterns differentiated them from others in the industry, unless they innovate, over time their repeat customers will be able to read their designs.

While The Heist followed common themes, it still managed to defy our expectations.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Orlando’s Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that we played the original version of this game, but The Escape Game Orlando is updating it in each of their locations in early 2017.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Orlando comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game Orlando – Prison Break [Review]

A prison game without a Rita Hayworth poster!

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 11, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

In Prison Break, we found ourselves locked up. The cell’s previous occupant had disappeared, leaving a few clues for how we might follow suit. He may have escaped; we certainly intended to.

While there was a backstory, this was essentially a prison break mission.

This was one of the most visually compelling prisons we’ve been locked in. Cells are cells, but Prison Break presented an exciting adventure between the cells and the exit door.

In-game: A hallway in a prison. It looks intense and heavily weathered.

Puzzles

The puzzles were on theme, but didn’t necessarily build to a compelling narrative.

While the earlier puzzles were more task-based, the late game involved more serious puzzling.

Standouts

The triumph of Prison Break was the progression from bleak prison cells to a compelling adventure. The Escape Game Orlando figured out how to make an exciting and visually appealing prison space. It worked.

Through deliberate design, The Escape Game Orlando took us on a journey and delivered a few wow moments.

The early puzzles made use of some fun and truly funny prop interactions. These props even triggered a more technologically advanced interactions that we wouldn’t have expected in prison.

Shortcomings

Prison Break rewarded observant inmates. Missing just one small detail – of which there were many – could completely stall out the game.

The puzzle structure of Prison Break was uneven and with more than 4 people, it would likely bottleneck.

Occasionally this game was painfully linear. While extra eyes might be handy, adding more teammates could lead to stoppages in game flow.

Should I play The Escape Game Orlando’s Prison Break?

If you want to break out of prison, we recommend this particular prison. Far too many prison escape rooms cannot figure out what to do with the players once they have broken out of the cells. Prison Break knew what came next and that’s what made it stand out.

It was a cleverly designed adventure with some fun and funny moments.

Be observant and expect the unexpected.

Both new players and experienced players will find something to enjoy here.

While it is prison, it’s not at all scary or dangerous.

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

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Orlando comped our tickets for this game… and gave me a sweatshirt because prisons are cold. (Thank you!)

 

The Escape Game Orlando – Mission: Mars [Review]

We have liftoff.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 11, 2016

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Note: we played Mission: Mars late in its beta-testing period.

Story & setting

While landing on Mars, our spacecraft sustained significant damage. In order to return home, we needed to repair the compromised spaceship and launch off martian soil.

Mission: Mars looked sharp. It was a sturdy, polished, futuristic spacecraft. It took us to a different world.

In-game: a control console on the ship

The game was essentially a mission to complete, but the Escape Game Orlando crafted a compelling backstory for the narrative.

Puzzles

This was a modular escape room: orderly repair of each section of the ship. The puzzles fit into this staged structure. Each repair offered a different set of challenges.

Mission: Mars’ puzzles relied on making connections between various tactile inputs. Nothing felt even remotely paper-based.

Standouts

The polished set made every interaction in Mission: Mars that much more enjoyable.

The technology delivered in a way that the interactions felt immensely satisfying.

The Escape Game Orlando created some particularly entertaining set pieces. These weren’t necessarily mission crucial, but added to the fun of the world.

They minded the details and there were more than a few.

Shortcomings

The spacecraft was lockless, but couldn’t always deliver the feedback of a physical lock. There were times when we took an action that unlocked something seemingly unrelated and had no real way of knowing that we had triggered a thing to happen.

Mission: Mars escalated nicely, but it didn’t deliver enough of an emotional roller coaster. There was room for the game to leave more of an impact on us than it did.

Should I play The Escape Game Orlando’s Mission: Mars?

We played Mission: Mars in late beta, before it opened to the public. Although this is not our preference, we don’t find ourselves in Orlando all that often, so we opted to experience the game. The Escape Game Orlando was still iterating on a few of the puzzles and accounting for some of the shortcomings described above. We don’t know precisely how Mission: Mars will change before it officially launches, but we know that it will.

Mission: Mars was a tactile, technological, mission-based sci-fi adventure. It successfully combined game flow with a thrilling environment.

Beginners will be pretty shocked by what Mission: Mars has to offer but should enjoy it nonetheless. Experienced players will likely find plenty to enjoy as well.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Orlando’s Mission: Mars, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Orlando comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escapology – Arizona Shootout [Review]

Not-quite-Westworld.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

In the immediate aftermath of a shootout in front of a saloon in 1881, we found that some of the bad guys had been shot, but others were on the run. We needed to figure out which bad folk had gotten away and then escape from the saloon.

Arizona Shootout was sparsely themed as a saloon. The major setpieces all belonged, but they didn’t create an immersive environment. It was a cute set, but it didn’t feel like 1881.

In-game. An old piano with a beer and horse statue resting on it.

Puzzles

The puzzles weren’t particularly challenging. Arizona Shootout relied on searching, matching, and light indexing. It played out in a standard escape room style.

Standouts

We loved the family-friendly portrayal of the dead outlaws. The adorable design brought what could have been a less accessible theme to a general audience.

Arizona Shootout flowed smoothly.

Shortcomings

The saloon feel was strongest up front. As the game progressed, it felt increasingly like we could be in any building, anywhere, in any time.

One puzzle in particular required heavy searching and anachronistic technology. It didn’t feel like it belonged at all.

The gamemaster sent hints on the screen that displayed the game timer. When a hint appeared on top of the game timer graphic, it was challenging to read.

Should I play Escapology’s Arizona Shootout?

Escapology builds approachable, family-friendly entertainment.

Arizona Shootout would be a good entry point into escape rooms for new players who are unsure about this type of entertainment. The facility was welcoming. The game was solid and accessible.

For experienced players, Arizona Shootout would be an unremarkable game. Neither the setting nor the puzzles delivered excitement, intrigue, or innovation when compared with the broader market

That said, this could be a good choice for an experienced player who wants to solo, speedrun, or bring their multi-generational family and friends. .

Book your hour with Escapology’s Arizona Shootout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Escapology – Cuban Crisis [Review]

I thought it would be warmer in Cuba.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

We found ourselves in Fidel Castro’s office in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We needed to discover who ordered the Cuban military to shoot down an American U-2 spy plane.

An old desk with drawers locked shut. Atop the desk are an old fan, typewriter, and rotary phone.

Cuban Crisis took place in a generic office setting, with light decor that nodded to the era. I don’t know what Castro’s office looked like, but this wasn’t what came to mind when I tried to imagine it. This was a lightly themed, approachable game space.

Puzzles

The puzzles were not particularly challenging or memorable. They relied on searching and observation, along with other typical escape room puzzle skills.

Standouts

Cuban Crisis was a solid, standard escape room. Everything worked as designed and flowed logically.

Shortcomings

Despite the intensity of the Cuban Crisis’ historical subject matter, the game never managed to build emotional intensity. Neither the space nor the information we uncovered were any more exciting than the office gamespace.

A bookcase with a smile pile of books and a

There was a larger setpiece that required a little bit of strength to interact with. We recognized what it was and were certain that this was going to trigger open via some kind of automagical mechanism. This isn’t to say that you should be forceful in this game. Rather, an additional clue might help those who approach game pieces respectfully.

Should I play Escapology’s Cuban Crisis?

Cuban Crisis was an approachable, family-friendly escape room. The game flowed logically and everything worked, but it never managed to build any drama or excitement.

For new players interested in dipping a toe in the room escape waters, Cuban Crisis could be a good place to start. Escapology was a professional, welcoming facility and the game wasn’t scary, intense, or too difficult.

For more experienced players, there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable or intriguing in Cuban Crisis. It would be a fun solve, but without some of the challenge, ambiance, or exhilaration that exist in the wider market.

That said, this could be a good choice for an experienced player who wants to try a solo or speedrun.

Book your hour with Escapology’s Cuban Crisis, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

 

The Escape Game Orlando – Gold Rush [Review]

There’s gold in dem der hills.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 11, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

In this modern story of the California Gold Rush, a successful gold prospector has gone missing and we wanted to uncover his stashed gold before anyone else did. The backstory felt unnecessary, but it was charming. In short, this room escape was a mission to find gold.

Gold Rush started in the cheesiest presentation of northern California woods, but it became rapidly more compelling as the scenery changed.

In-game: A odd looking artificial birch tree beside a log gabin with wilderness painted along the walls.

Puzzles

As Gold Rush progressed, so did the puzzles. They started off easy and relatively uninteresting, but by the final section of the game, we were puzzling against a challenging and interesting opponent.

Throughout the game, the puzzles rewarded the observant player.

The best of the interactions defied our expectations.

Standouts

One exhilarating segment of Gold Rush would never fly in the NYC. It was thrilling to watch David crush this; I would have struggled enormously.

The Escape Game Orlando beautifully crafted the gamespace to allow for the fun and surprising moments. It was a thoughtful, perceptive design. Parts of this set were magnificent.

At its best, Gold Rush executed simple things brilliantly.

Shortcomings

Early on the set was pretty silly.

Not only were the early puzzles easy, some of them were simply annoying.

We experienced a technical failure on a crucial puzzle that really diminished our experience. Our gamemaster was quick to respond, but this failure deflated what otherwise would likely have been the Gold Rush‘s finest moment.

Should I play The Escape Game Orlando’s Gold Rush?

The Escape Game Orlando minds the details. While at times the set was cheesy, it was also deliberately designed and crafted for the experience the company intended. The rough edges were purposeful; the rest was polished.

The game flow of Gold Rush would be an excellent on-ramp for new players. It led us from easy to hard. Both the scenery and puzzling escalated as the game progressed. While we would have loved to see a stronger start, more often than not, escape rooms fizzle as they progress. We’d rather start low and build up than the reverse.

Gold Rush is great family-friendly fun. While it does require a fair bit of mobility and the handling of a heavier object, most of the game offers a less intense path for those who need it.

For escape room veterans, by mid-game, there will be delightful surprises that continue on until you find the gold. And if you’re not from a more left-leaning region, well, you’re in for a treat.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Orlando’s Gold Rush, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Orlando comped our tickets for this game.

 

America’s Escape Game – Faceoff [Review]

LET’S GET READY TO PUZZLE!

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4 or 6

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

Faceoff was a head-to-head competitive room escape game. America’s Escape Game elected to forgo any kind of story or pretense in favor of a red-team-versus-blue-team competition.

The room’s aesthetic had kind of a 1980s TV competition feel to it. Pretty much everything on the red side was painted a slightly washed out red, and nearly everything on the blue side was painted a washed out blue. In the middle there were a number of different ways to interact with the other team.

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but we were moving too quickly to care.

Two head-to-head faces. The red one is on fire. The blue one is radiating electricity.
Faceoff’s exterior wall painting. There was nothing worth photographing inside of the game that didn’t spoil something.

Puzzles

There were a number of different pattern recognition puzzles as well as physically involved dexterity challenges.

America’s Escape Game also mixed in an element of negotiation, which was unusual and interesting.

We split into teams as women versus men: Lisa teamed up with Amanda Harris (to my knowledge, the most experienced escape room player in the English-speaking world). I teamed up with Amanda’s boyfriend Drew Nelson (probably the second most experienced player).

It was intense and we were neck and neck for most of the game… until we were outclassed by their pattern recognition skills. In the closing moments of the game, they pulled off a spectacular win with partial information.

Standouts

Leaving story out of Faceoff was a good decision. The game was us versus them. That was all the motivation that we needed.

The head-to-head competition was good fun. In our particular case, the evenly matched teams heightened the experience and made the stakes feel much larger than in most escape rooms.

The negotiation component added complexity to the competition.

The design of the space created some interesting opportunities for interplay between the two teams.

Shortcomings

One of the more physical challenges was awkwardly constructed and forced most involved to contort into strange positions. Lisa left with a large bruise on her arm from the environment.

That same physical challenge had almost no tolerance for error. This made it shockingly difficult and ultimately anticlimactic. That my team was able to do it at all meant that we won that challenge. It didn’t feel fair.

There were too many locks with the same digit structures. In a game where every second counted, it was annoying to repeatedly try the same combinations all over the room.

The puzzling was a little uneven and greatly favored some puzzling skills over others. Those with strong pattern recognition can power through the puzzles with limited information, which was exactly what Lisa and Amanda did. They didn’t need to negotiate with us because they were that damn good.

Faceoff lacked feedback for when the one team did something that affected the other.

Should I play America’s Escape Game’s Faceoff?

There aren’t a ton of competitive room escapes out there, and this is only the second one that we’ve encountered.

The added intensity of competition was a ton of fun for all involved, even those of us who lost.

I can’t recommend Faceoff for new players. Basic experience and an understanding of how room escapes flow will allow you to focus on the game itself rather than trip up over how to puzzle or how the locks work.

Bring some collaborative teammates and worthy opponents… and you might want to leave the sore winners and losers back home. This could get intense.

Book your session with America’s Escape Game’s Faceoff, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: America’s Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

America’s Escape Game – Crisis at 1600 [Review]

Crash the White House.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

A paramilitary group launched missiles at the White House and we needed to enter the Oval Office to disarm them.

For the most part, Crisis at 1600 was a standard office escape room with a style of furniture and props that suggested a governmental office. It was themed, but the set design didn’t elevate the drama of the mission.

A white wall with a portrait of Lincoln mounted to it.
Image via America’s Escape Game

Puzzles

Crisis at 1600 relied heavily on busywork puzzles. Once we had determined how to solve something, it took quite some time to execute the solution.

The puzzles were not distributed evenly throughout the game. This unevenness created bottlenecking, which would be magnified with large teams.

Standouts

The penultimate segment of Crisis at 1600 was unusually designed and a lot of fun.

Shortcomings

Everything before and after that aforementioned section lacked punch. We were completing tedious puzzles in a governmental office.

One particular portion of the game demanded accuracy while forcing us to use an inaccurate toy as a precision tool. The concept was exciting, but the execution was frustrating. Our gamemaster interrupted this segment to inform us that should we not succeed at the task, we’d have to burn a hint to move forward in the game.

Players with knowledge of American government and history will be able to steamroll portions of Crisis at 1600. We completed a section of the room escape out of order because we had the outside knowledge to both speed up and bypass puzzles.

There was one tedious newspaper-style puzzle.

Should I play America’s Escape Game’s Crisis at 1600?

Multiple people in Orlando have suggested to us that this is the greatest room escape they’ve ever played. We don’t know what to make of that. Did they seeing something we didn’t? Or is it that everyone loves their first time?

This is America’s Escape Game’s flagship game. While Crisis at 1600 may have given the company its start, at the end of 2016, it felt dated. If they want to lean on this experience as a flagship, it needs to be updated. It’s a great concept and there is opportunity to create a dramatic space, an emotional roller coaster, and more interesting puzzles. They could make this game that into that special something.

That said, as we played it, Crisis at 1600 was a very average room escape. New players will enjoy it; experienced players could certainly have fun puzzling for America, but won’t find much to write their representative about.

America’s Escape Game seems a well-managed and disciplined company, but we don’t understand the Crisis at 1600 hype. We hope they can build more drama and intrigue into their White House.

Book your hour with America’s Escape Game’s Crisis at 1600, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: America’s Escape Game provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

America’s Escape Game – Pandemic [Review]

Curing Ebola in an hour or so.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

In Pandemic, we needed to stop an infectious disease from destroying the planet. We took over where the scientists investigating it had left off (or died off).

In-game, an elevator door.

The overall game had a stark medical feel. It felt a bit like a slightly industrial, poorly lit doctor’s office. It didn’t look bad but wasn’t much to look at either.

Puzzles

Pandemic’s puzzles relied heavily on busy work. Once we’d figured out how to solve something, we had many minutes to go before completing the solution. At least five separate puzzles all required this type of repetitious execution.

Pandemic included one dated newspaper-style puzzle that played more like an elementary school reading comprehension exam than an adventure puzzle game.

Standouts

Pandemic included one particularly exciting interaction that we hadn’t seen until we visited Orlando.

The game flowed logically and smoothly.

Shortcomings

Many of the puzzles involved busywork rather than progressive discovery.

One prop was badly jammed and the hint to reinvestigate it was delivered with unnecessary condescension.

Close-up of a wall with gas masks hanging from it.
Image via America’s Escape Game

Asking for one hint resulted in heavy-handed followup hinting. We found this frustrating because we were already back on the right track and it was simply taking time to execute on something that was tedious by design.

Should I play America’s Escape Game’s Pandemic?

Pandemic was a competently designed escape room; the puzzles flowed logically from start to finish.

The set wasn’t particularly exciting, but the gritty environment added a little urgency to our mission.

In late 2016, the game felt dated. Much of the puzzle difficulty was in the execution, not the solution.

Pandemic was perfectly passable. There’s plenty here for new players to enjoy. However, more experienced players shouldn’t expect to be wowed.

That was the thing with Pandemic. There wasn’t a lot wrong with it, but there also wasn’t anything special.

Book your hour with America’s Escape Game’s Pandemic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: America’s Escape Game provided media discounted tickets for this game.