Paradiso – Path of Beatrice [Review]

Adventures in (public) space.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 8-12, 2017

Team size: 1-4

Duration: spread out over a week with shorter options available

Price: from $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant

Story & setting

Path of Beatrice was not an escape room, nor was it a puzzle game or immersive theater. Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) produced by Paradiso, the creators of the escape rooms The Escape Test and The Memory Room.

All of Paradiso’s experiences are set in the same world against the same Dante’s Inferno-inspired narrative: The Virgil Corporation is running experiments on the human brain with unknown goals and there is an underground movement trying to infiltrate, investigate, and stop Virgil from achieving its ends. Path of Beatrice dropped us in the middle of New York City, in between these two warring factions.

Paradiso Path of Beatrice logo, a silhouetted woman looking out a window upon Manhattan.
Image via Paradiso

Over the course of the 5 days leading up to our booking of The Memory Room, we spent our evenings meeting clandestinely with representatives of both the Virgil Corporation and the resistance group, Stop Virgil. Both gave us assignments and tasks to spy on the other. It was up to us to pick a side and execute on the missions assigned to us.

Paradiso staged Path of Beatrice in Midtown Manhattan across a variety public spaces. It can be played leading up to either The Memory Room or Escape Test.

Interaction

We had daily interactions with the characters of Path of Beatrice. Text conversations, email exchanges, in-person clandestine meetings, and missions in public spaces made up the bulk of the experience.

As we explored Path of Beatrice’s real world segments, we could not tell who was a simple pedestrian and who was an actor in our experience.

Participating in Path of Beatrice also changed the gameplay of the culminating escape room experience. Playing Path of Beatrice had a surprisingly significant impact on our playthrough of The Memory Room.

Standouts

Paradiso chose the public spaces that they incorporated into Path of Beatrice wisely. They put these locations to good use. They also reframed how we thought about public spaces that week.

In-game: A monolithic and ornate gate.

The actors that we encountered were impressive. When they weren’t invisibly blending into New York City, they were comfortably improvising with us as we interrogated one another.

Paradiso included some shockingly unnecessary, yet impressive details in Path of Beatrice.

Path of Beatrice conveyed the story of Paradiso quite well. From playing the escape rooms alone, the story could be a little difficult to understand; this filled in so many gaps.

We were given the freedom to enjoy Path of Beatrice as we wanted. We chose the side that we wanted to support.

Shortcomings

Scheduling a recurring week-long experience was a little bit tricky. We keep a busy schedule (not complaining, just stating the fact) and it was difficult for us to get to the locations that we needed to visit at the allocated times. Paradiso worked with us to make this work, but they don’t share scheduling in advance, largely because the story was unfolding as we played. This made Path of Beatrice a challenge for us. It would be similarly difficult for people with families and anyone traveling to New York with a rigid schedule (say, traveling escape room enthusiasts).

Path of Beatrice was expensive. There was no way around it. $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant bought a lot of actor interaction, planning, logistics, and customization. When we stopped and thought about how much was involved, the price point didn’t feel crazy. The fact that the price made sense, however, did not lower it.

The text message and email exchanges seemed like they were trying to create a Morpheus-esque, first 45 minutes of The Matrix vibe. The trouble was that we couldn’t control when these were coming in, so sometimes we’d have to wait hours to reply.

Additionally, I had a problem of trust. The actors were great, but all of the characters operated under the assumption that you trusted them, even when everyone was telling you that everyone else was a liar. When I attempted to make a character earn my trust, I got a “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” type response. Ultimately I just gave in and the experience became a lot more interesting… but I also had to betray my own nature and that kind of stung.

There were a lot of things that we had to read, some of which required a computer. When we received something from a character, we’d then go about our evening in the New York City, frequently getting home after midnight. It would be hours, or even the next day, before we could dive into the Path of Beatrice material. We continually received texts asking if we had done the thing yet. This was clunky. Then we ultimately rushed the reading and missed the important detail (even though it was literally the first thing that I read).

Should I play Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice?

Paradiso does things differently and I mean that as a compliment. Their escape rooms, The Escape Test and The Memory Room, stand on their own as unique experiences. That is a true achievement in an industry where there’s a fair amount of sameness.

Path of Beatrice was another artful and unique experience. This came with unusual idiosyncrasies. The road less traveled has a lot more bumps along it; creating new things is not for the faint of heart.

We interviewed a few different people who played Path of Beatrice 4 and 6 weeks prior to us and they had profoundly different experiences than we did. Ours was significantly improved and Paradiso confirmed that the ARX is always evolving as they and their actors create new and interesting ways to iterate upon their real-world game.

Price is ultimately going to be the big deciding factor for many and that’s understandable. Path of Beatrice stands out as the first experience that Lisa and I have reviewed that we would not have been able to afford if the tickets were not complimentary. I call this out because it’s the first time that price would have kept us out of an experience. This is an expensive experience.

If you’re a puzzler, Path of Beatrice is not for you. You can fully enjoy Paradiso’s escape rooms without completely understanding the deeper story that ties them together.

If you’re drawn to actor-driven immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice is an interesting one that delivers a lot of intrigue and actor interaction. If you’re going to miss the money you spend to experience Path of Beatrice you should not go. If you won’t miss the money, there’s a clandestine world hidden within NYC for you to enjoy.

A few pro tips for those who go: Have access to a computer. While this is no big deal for locals, if you’re traveling it could be a significant issue. Give Paradiso a phone number and email address for each individual ticket holder. They communicate differently with everyone. Make sure that you’ve left ample time in your schedule to accommodate Path of Beatrice. We enjoyed it, but I think we would have liked it a whole lot more if we weren’t always rushing to our actor appointments.

Surrender to the experience, have fun with the characters, and become a character yourself in Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice.

Book your experience with Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

Paradiso – The Memory Room [Review]

More than meets the eye.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 12, 2017

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $35 per ticket

Story & setting

The Memory Room was the second chapter of Paradiso’s saga about the secrets of the elusive Virgil Corporation. We had discovered that Virgil Corporation was researching the human mind and we aimed to save one of their research subjects.

In-game: A dark room with featuring a table lit dramatically with 4 boxes, each with a card greeting a different player.

Upon first glance, The Memory Room looked unremarkable. From the largely blank walls, to the minimalist seating, to the single table set with player greetings, the space appeared practically empty. This stood in sharp contrast to the detailed sets of Paradiso’s first escape room. It turned out that there was far more complexity hiding in The Memory Room than was initially apparent.

Puzzles

The puzzles required astute observation. As the setting transformed and introduced a character and puzzles, we needed to carefully observe, build connections, and make sense of what we were seeing. The Memory Room included more abstract thinking.

While of the most puzzles resolved in a physical lock, there were a few more unusual methods of triggering solutions.

Standouts

While The Memory Room initially appeared unexciting, especially in comparison to the grand staging of Paradiso’s first chapter, The Escape Test, it surprised us. Behind the minimalistic facade, it turned out to be unusual and complex.

The Memory Room introduced a design concept we’d been awaiting for more than 2 years. Paradiso used the unadorned space as a canvas. With technology, they transformed this simple gamespace into a dynamic story and puzzle component.

We’ve never seen another escape room like this one.

In The Memory Room, Paradiso introduced a character whose presence helped build narrative and drive gameplay. The actor in this role was both engaging and withdrawn, intriguing and inaccessible. She was outstanding.

The Memory Room dove deeper into the workings of Paradiso’s Virgil Corporation. The gameplay unlocked a story.

Shortcomings

Although The Memory Room told a story, many of our teammates didn’t fully understand what had transpired. As a standalone experience, The Memory Room didn’t fully communicate to the players what they’d effected and how this connected to the Virgil Corporation.

The set wasn’t particularly well fabricated. More polished construction would improve the stark contrast between the seemingly barren physical space and the complex experience within it.

The Memory Room included one safe-style spinning combination lock that lacked adequate in-game operation instructions. This was incredibly frustrating… and it’s worth noting that spinning safe locks are generally frustrating devices.

Should I play Paradiso’s The Memory Room?

The Memory Room was a unique standalone room escape experience. It manipulated a gamespace, turning a simple setting into an unexpected myriad of environments. We’d never seen anything like it.

The Memory Room had fun and satisfying puzzles, most of which resolved through physical gameplay components.

David and I played Paradiso’s more theatrical Path of Beatrice add-on experience (review forthcoming) in the week leading up to our booking at The Memory Room. The add-on Path of Beatrice enhanced our experience in The Memory Room. Our playthrough included some additional character interaction, which was really exciting. Furthermore, we had a better grasp of the Virgil Corporation, its research initiatives, and our goals.

We didn’t tell our teammates for The Memory Room that we’d been engaged with the Virgil Corporation for few days already. We wondered whether they’d notice that we were executing sneaky side missions. Our friends never realized that anything out of the ordinary had occurred, but they did enjoy the differences once we explained them over dinner.

The Memory Room offered something different in terms of the set and story behind the puzzling and the role of an actor. (Review these tips for playing room escapes with live actors.)

If you’re looking for a grand scale, outrageous set pieces, and large tangible interactions, this won’t be your favorite escape room.

If you’re interested in more cerebral puzzling, as you’re led through an unusual story and a changing environment, visit The Memory Room. It will be memorable.

Book your hour with Paradiso’s The Memory Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

 

No Proscenium Podcast Appearance: a Conversation about Paradiso

No Proscenium is a guide to immersive entertainment, serving LA, NYC, SF, Chicago, and the West Coast.

The newsletter subscribers regularly receive a curated list of immersive shows broken out by region.

We’ve been subscribers of the No Proscenium newsletter for a while now and they’ve directed us to some pretty awesome entertainment.

Logo reads,

Podcast

They also have a podcast that gets more into the weeds about the immersive events that they cover.

On Episode 073 of the No Proscenium podcast, we talk with host Zay Amsbury about room escapes. In particular, we talk about Paradiso.

Paradiso deliberately tried to bridge the gap between theater and escape room. Was it successful? Zay knows immersive theater and we know room escapes. Listen to our conversation.

Spoiler warning

Zay gives you ample warning to stop listening before we spoil Paradiso. But know that halfway through this conversation, we talk candidly about specific moments in the show, spoilers and all. This is the most spoiler-laden public escape room conversation we’ve ever had. Anyway, here is your extra warning.

Subscribe

Hear our conversation and sign up to check out their offerings.

Paradiso – Chapter 1: The Escape Test [Review]

[At the time of this review, this escape room was called Paradiso – Chapter 1. Today it is known as The Escape Test, and it has improved significantly.]

A divine comedy.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 29, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 55 minutes

Price: $60 per ticket $50-$55 depending upon booking time

Story & setting

Paradiso: Chapter 1 had us investigating a secretive organization. The story was heavily influenced by Dante’s Inferno. Without giving too much away, the game began far earlier than our ticket time via a handful of text messages sent to every player on the team. There was quite a bit to take in prior to the game; although most of it wasn’t mandatory.

Game promo image of a silhouetted woman looking out a city window. The name "Paradiso: Chapter 1" appears along the bottom.

Billed as an “immersive theatrical escape room experience,” Paradiso was staged in a large – very large for Midtown – office space and traversed a number of different settings. A different actor presided over each of these intricate sets. The actors carried the detail-heavy narrative and pushed us through the game.

Puzzles

For a game with so many large and intricate set pieces, Paradiso: Chapter 1’s puzzles felt small and simplistic. The puzzles harkened back to earlier era in escape rooms. There was one puzzle that had depth, scale, and gravitas. The rest were forgettable and the low point was literally a crossword puzzle on a small piece of paper.

A mysterious card with an elaborate eye design on it.

Beyond that, most of the game centered on finding the right components at the right time.

Standouts

The actors were superb. Each presented a different character. They were engaging and in control.

The actors also created dramatic tension and sustained the intensity while improvising with us.

The staging and integrated technology looked excellent and functioned perfectly. This was a tech-heavy game that did tech the way I prefer: invisibly. The technology was seamlessly integrated into the sets.

Each set was completely different from the ones that came before and they each had something special to offer.

The story of Paradiso: Chapter 1 created a reason for being in the game. Not enough escape rooms do this and it was an excellent artistic touch.

Shortcomings

Paradiso booked by the ticket and capped out at 10 people. Ten is far too many players for the puzzles in the game.

$60 per ticket, double the industry standard in NYC, was a decadent price point.

After ticket purchase, Paradiso asked the purchaser to input each player’s phone number through a web interface. The system was clunky. We ended up submitting our teammates’ numbers at 1AM. They each immediately received a text, which was unwelcome at that hour.

Name and phone number submission form viewed on an iPhone. The clock reads 12:49 AM and the paste function is visibly broken.
And for some strange reason, the web app wouldn’t let us paste numbers on iOS.

The story, while interesting, overstayed its welcome. The actors delivered a captivating story; however in doing so, they monologued away a good portion of the game clock. It was difficult to stay focused on the actors while knowing that every second mattered for the escape. Additionally, as the game wore on, the story became convoluted and lost its meaning.

The pre-game story provided so much content to explore that those of us who did spend time with the pre-game materials were more disappointed with the narrative than those who hadn’t read much before entering the room.

Paradiso was also pushing an existential story meant to make us contemplate our place in the world in a different way. Having experienced immersive theater like Then She Fell, which a year later still creeps into my thoughts, Paradiso: Chapter 1 didn’t produce the desired effect.

There were a few attempts to personalize the game for the individual players. These attempts, while admirable, were generally dissatisfying for reasons that are too spoiler-y to expound upon.

The aforementioned puzzles weren’t worthy of the setting they were placed in.

Should I play Paradiso: Chapter 1?

Paradiso: Chapter 1’s set, technology, and actors were brilliant. It was created by a group of people with truly impressive credentials. The game was billed as a premium experience and the price per ticket certainly reflected that.

The Paradiso website boldly proclaimed:

Paradiso: Chapter 1 is the next level of the escape room genre. Part immersive theater, part escape room, part existential game, this unique attraction takes you into a world that is not what it seems.”

It was impossible to approach this game with anything short of the highest expectations. For all that it got right, it could not deliver on its claims of superiority, nor its price.

There were too many people paying too much money for an immersive puzzle experience that spent too much time on exposition, and too little time on quality gameplay.

The irony of Paradiso: Chapter 1 was that it was a lot of fun. The setting was magnificent and the actors who brought the game to life were wonderful. However, far too much of the brilliance was buried under excessive speeches and mediocre puzzles. At half of the price and half of the hype, Paradiso’s game would have had some faults, but it wouldn’t have been a sour experience. After all, we enjoyed ourselves.

I’m willing to bet that Paradiso: Chapter 2, should they create it, will be a masterpiece. The talent and passion exists. Paradiso lacked an understanding of what makes for superb escape room gameplay. If they put in the work to master that piece of the experience, I think we’re going to see something truly special.

In the near term, Paradiso: Chapter 1 is only worth it if you go in knowing that it’s an expensive and flawed experience that does offer quite a bit of brilliance in spite of those flaws. If you’re on a budget and wondering, “is this worth the price of admission to two top-tier NYC escape rooms?” the answer is no.

Book your hour with Paradiso’s Chapter 1, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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