THE BASEMENT – The Study [Review]

Lifestyles of the twisted and criminally insane.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 55 minutes

Price: $34 – $46 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

This was the third and final chapter (so far) in the disturbing story of playful cannibal Edward Tandy.

In the first chapter, Ed locked us up in his torture basement and filled it with some puzzles so that we could solve our way out. We failed… but he graciously decided not to eat us. Yet.

In the second chapter, Ed tossed us into his boiler room and filled it with some puzzles so that we could solve our way out. This time we succeeded and now we were roaming his home.

As expected, Ed’s home didn’t have a beautiful open floor plan, sun room, and herb garden. It was dark, creepy, and gross. As with the previous two chapters, the environment was superbly designed to maximize the yuck factor. It looked great in a dingy, “this is the worst place on earth to die” sort of way.

Image of the Study. A bookcase with a few books on it, a taxidermied buck, and a boarded up window.

The key difference in The Study was that in the narrative, this was no longer a game. We were freely exploring our captor’s home and he was pissed.

Puzzles

In The Basement the puzzles felt completely tacked on to the set, but in The Boiler Room the puzzles felt like they were planned in conjunction with the set. The Study‘s puzzles weren’t tacked on, but they didn’t always feel natural either.

The previous games established a premise that allowed for the puzzles to feel a little trite and gamey, because we were literally being toyed with. The Study had a larger burden of carrying a narrative through the interactions. In some cases it did so disturbingly well; in others, the puzzles once again felt like old-school room escape puzzles tacked on, just because.

Standouts

This was another game with an actor. He was playing a very different role than in The Basement; he was terrifyingly compelling. There was a key interaction with the actor that I cannot explain in detail without spoiling, but it was incredibly well done and so disturbing.

The set was great. There were a few large set pieces that were exceptionally well executed.

For one bold and lucky player… or the one who just went for it (like I did), there was a series of some of the most memorable moments that I have had in room escaping. Isolated and alone, I experienced many of The Study’s finest moments. They were challenging, nerve-wracking, and at their peak, engaged my fight-or-flight response in a way that no other room escape experience ever has.

Shortcomings

That incredible series of events that absolutely blew my mind… no one else on my team got to experience any of it. Some of them were relieved; many of them felt cheated.

While much of The Study was intense and interesting, the first act was surprisingly mundane.

The Study didn’t always live up to its “you’re no longer playing a game, this is real life” promise. Some of the puzzles were strangely out of place and broke the fiction by reminding us that we were playing a game.

The Study contained an interaction that I think should have been edited out for the betterment of the escape room community. If you’re interested in a deeper, slightly spoilery discussion of this, check out our review of The Basement.

The ending was simultaneously cool yet anti-climactic.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Study?

The Study had an awesome set, a great actor, and a few incredible set pieces. There were more than a few great interactions and some of the very best moments I’ve seen in an escape experience. To make the most of this experience, check out our tips for playing with actors.

On the flip side, The Study included some fairly mundane moments and it couldn’t consistently hold its “real life” narrative together.

Additionally, only one teammate will get to experience the very best that The Study has to offer. That last piece is the real kicker. If only one player is bold enough to want those incredible private moments, then it’s a win for everyone. If more than one player wants it, it’s a winner-takes-all scenario.

As with THE BASEMENT’s other games, if you’re in reasonably good health, aren’t too afraid, and are looking for an immersive adventure with a really cool set, then The Study is a superb pick. If you’re a puzzle lover, The Study is an interesting game; it’s far superior to The Basement and a little less compelling than The Boiler Room.

Book your session with THE BASEMENT’s The Study, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Basement provided media discounted tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Boiler Room [Review]

“Into the garbage chute…”

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 35 minutes

Price: $28 – $40 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

Following from the events of THE BASEMENT’s first game, The Boiler Room operated under the statistically correct assumption that our group had lost the first game to serial killer Edward Tandy. The cannibalistic Mr. Tandy, however, likes to play with his food, so he decided to drop us in another creepy puzzle trap.

This small 35-minute game took place in a space that was roughly the size of the large coffee table in THE BASEMENT’s lobby and was themed as the waste disposal system of Tandy’s lair. Somehow the folks at THE BASEMENT managed to resist the urge to make Star Wars trash compactor jokes.

Close up of a wall with copper piping and a gauge on it. It looks like blood is dripping down the wall.

The scenery and set design in The Boiler Room was beyond reproach. The place looked awesome. It was a dark, creepy, and fun place to play. This held true throughout all three games that I played at THE BASEMENT.

Puzzles

There weren’t a ton of puzzles in The Boiler Room. The game derived challenge from clever tasks that made great use of the environment. This was probably the strongest task-based game I have played to date.

There was one set of puzzles that felt incredibly satisfying to solve, but at one point also suffered from a bit of wear that made a critical component far more difficult to interact with than it should have been.

Standouts

There was an exceptional set piece in this game. It was outrageous and I cannot describe it without a spoiler, so I won’t even try.

The tiny space was loaded with interesting interactions.

The environment of The Boiler Room was badass.

Close up of a wall with copper piping and ivy.

The introduction rules video was legitimately hilarious. They showed a variation of the video before The Basement as well, but I played them out of order and saw it – and loved it – here first.

The Boiler Room was also THE BASEMENT’s most approachable and best game. It was dark, creepy, and intense, but it wasn’t scary.

Shortcomings

As mentioned earlier, there was a tiny but significant component that had worn in such a way that it was unreasonably difficult to interact with. Having spoken with a number of others who had recently played The Boiler Room, our team was not the only team to struggle with this.

That incredible set piece had a couple of issues. For one, it was so unusual that determining how to properly interact with it was a strange and unclued challenge. Our gamemaster had to yell into the room to tell us how to use it properly.

Additionally, a portion of the mechanism to operate said set piece was wet. This normally wouldn’t have been an issue, except that The Boiler Room had an unusual and specific rule: “You never have to get wet to win this game.”

Upon feeling moisture, we initially concluded that we should stop advancing. That was incorrect and created a surprising complication. The “don’t get wet” rule wasn’t in reference to trace amounts of water; that wasn’t clear to us.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Boiler Room?

I had a ton of fun in The Boiler Room. It was lean, creative, and unexpected.

While it wasn’t the most puzzle-laden of games, it was a great adventure with fast pacing, an incredible set, and good flow.

If you have a medical issue that limits your mobility, or vision problems that cannot be corrected with lenses, you should probably sit this one out. The Boiler Room might also provide insurmountable challenges to larger folks. If you’re claustrophobic, you should absolutely take a pass. It’s tough to say more without spoiling critical pieces of the game, but feel free to write in if you want to discuss this in more detail.

If you can play The Boiler Room, you should. It’s expensive at $28-$40 for 35 minutes, but it lived up to the hype… and there was a lot of hype.

Book your session with THE BASEMENT’s The Boiler Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Basement provided media discounted tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Basement [Review]

“Do you want to play a game?”

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $34 – $46 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

We were abducted by cannibalistic serial killer Edward Tandy and locked in a SAW-like puzzle room. The objective was simple: escape and live, or lose and be eaten.

After nearly three years of hearing, “room escapes sound like SAW,” this was the first one that kind of felt like SAW. The set was a large, dark, creepy, and occasionally gross basement. Aesthetically, it looked perfect, with many intricate details.

A pair of hands holding open a book on an old table. Four plaiyng cards and a bone rest on the table.
Image via THE BASEMENT.

Puzzles

In stark contrast to the set, the puzzles felt remarkably tacked-on.

The bulk of The Basement’s gameplay centered on finding little bits of laminated paper hidden in all manner of obscure places.

When the puzzles weren’t based on collecting a set of laminated scraps, the game was still all about finding items in dark corners and determining how to use them.

It’s worth noting that The Basement has two sets of puzzles so that players have the option of returning to replay the game. I experienced “version 2.”

Standouts

The Basement employed an actor in-game. This isn’t a spoiler; our gamemaster beat the rules of interacting with the actor into our heads repeatedly before entering. Our actor was superbly convincing and managed come across as both nerve-wracking and bizarrely adorable.

The set. It was awesome and incredibly over-the-top.

There was a point in The Basement that was pretty damn vile and they pulled it off. To their credit, they did this in such a way that the more jittery players didn’t need to be involved. The whole interaction was completely ostentatious, yet artfully executed.

Between the set and the actor, The Basement felt more intense than most escape rooms. This was especially true in the first half of the game, while we were still exploring the unknown.

Shortcomings

The puzzling in The Basement was incredibly weak. The game derived challenge from insanely well hidden clues that turned the game into a scavenger hunt. There were things that we never would have found without the assistance of our actor. This seemed a deliberate design decision to ensure that the team interacted with the actor, but it was nevertheless eye roll-inducing.

The latter half of the game became considerably less intense because we had fully explored the space and eliminated the unknown and the fear that comes with that. All that was left was scavenging and basic puzzling, which did not maintain the otherwise high quality of The Basement’s experience.

*** Spoiler Warning***

***This is a slight spoiler. Skip ahead to “should I play” if you don’t want to read this.***

The Basement and The Study (the third installment in the trilogy) contain the two most spoiled puzzles in escape rooms, in my experience. Literally dozens of people have written to us or spoken to us about The Basement’s haphazard use of electrical outlets for gameplay.

We have repeatedly taken an absolutist stance against the use of electrical outlets in interaction design. We take this stand not because we think it’s impossible to create good, safe, and interesting interactions using electrical outlets, but because we take a broader view of the escape room industry. We are concerned about ignorant players (we all know there are a lot of them) thinking that screwing with electrical outlets is fair play in escape rooms. It usually isn’t.

So, while The Basement and The Study include well-clued, entertaining, and safe uses of electrical outlets, this was still a terrible idea.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Basement?

The Basement offered among the strongest immersive sets and best acting that I’m likely ever going to find in a room escape game. From the sights and sounds, to the odors and textures, The Basement was on point.

From a puzzling standpoint, The Basement left a lot to be desired. The puzzling was categorically weak and felt like an afterthought.

If you’re in reasonably good health and don’t mind (or better yet, are excited by) dark and creepy adventures, then The Basement is a must-play. If you’re drawn to escape rooms specifically because you want to test yourself against puzzles, then you can skip The Basement; it’s not going to be your game.

Do remember that you’ll be playing with an actor, and the quality of your experience will largely depend upon how you treat your actor. Checkout our 6 Rules For Playing Room Escapes with Live Actors to make sure that you make the most of your time in The Basement.

If you feel like seeing video of The Basement, there are more than a few on the internet. It’s spoiler-y, but seeing the video will not ruin your experience even though it depicts many of the most dramatic moments. Living it was very different from seeing it.

Book your session with THE BASEMENT’s The Basement, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.