Escape Hour – Granny’s House (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“This Funky Grandma be Trippin’!”

Theme:

You’re locked in the home of an elderly Soviet spy who always wanted grandchildren, but never had time to start a family of her own. She’s stepped out for an hour to get ready to finally realize her grandma experience, and you’ll need to get out before she returns to make you her permanent grandkids!

First Impressions:

I was impressed, as it was like stepping into my grandmother’s house. It may not have been the most elaborate set, but barring the escape room standbys of locks and cameras, it was a very convincing set. A brief intro was given, along with your standard rules, and we were set loose on the room.

High Points:

The rooms making up our new, hopefully temporary, grandmother’s house were oddly comfortable and convincing. We joked that it wouldn’t be so bad to hang out with Soviet Grandma if only she had asked instead of locking us in! Puzzles were well clued and the connections were easy to intuit throughout the room. The room was very much non-linear and allowed us all to have something to work on while having loads of different styles of puzzles as well. All props felt very much like they belonged, and were fun to play around with. It was dim in one room without being so dark we couldn’t see and added to the feeling that we’d made it somewhere grandma didn’t want us to be!

Low Points:

Though Granny was supposedly a Cold War spy for the Soviets, her home only had one spot that seemed to point towards this; I figure a little more theming wouldn’t hurt. An early puzzle required an amount of precision that I’m not sure many people can attain very easily, and though we knew exactly what we needed to do, it took us an inordinately long time to get the puzzle to trigger properly. Some later game puzzles were a little too obviously clued and took away what could’ve been interesting surprises. One puzzle required a bit of guess and check, and didn’t seem to have a clue leading toward the correct way to order the pieces. Some wear in the room needed attention, but was not too prevalent as to take away much from the immersion.

Verdict:

Granny’s House was very competently put together and delivered a solid puzzling experience. Nothing too flashy in this room, but enough fun surprises to keep everyone amused and engaged. This room would serve very well for beginners, as it introduces a lot of basic escape themes, but enthusiasts will enjoy the lighthearted theme and the solid puzzles. Book your stay at Grandma’s here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Escape Hour – The Dollhouse (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“No, sir! I did not see you playing with your dolls again!”

Theme:

You and your friends were wandering around the neighborhood when you came across a seemingly abandoned home. On a lark, you’ve decided to check out the weird cottage when you start to realize that someone is still living here. Someone who’s weirdly interested in dolls. When you try to leave, you notice the door has locked behind you! Solve the mystery and get out before whoever lives here adds you to their collection!

First Impressions:

That… is a LOT of dolls. The room gave off that creepy vibe that only mannequins and weird porcelain dolls can provide. Which, in this case, is a good thing! After a short intro video outlining your basic room escape rules, we started going through this oddity of a home.

High Points:

Many different threads wove through the room, giving our fairly large group plenty to work on, even near the end when we were almost done. There was a red herring on one puzzle, but it was easy to determine what was unnecessary, so it felt more like it belonged than your usual red herring. There were quite a few interesting puzzles around, some of which involved interacting with some pretty creepy props, which was a lot of immersive fun.

Low Points:

We had 7 players and were fairly packed into the room before we opened up another space, making it difficult to coordinate well. One room was completely pitch black and did not give us any access to light other than dragging parts of the newly found puzzles into the first room, so while we had more space to work in, we were still limited to the original small space if we wanted to see properly. One puzzle was destructible, but optional.

Verdict:

The Dollhouse is a good beginner’s room barring the lack of flashlights. I feel like adding that to the second room would remove a lot of frustration and allow groups to refocus on the puzzles. Otherwise, a good flow and fun puzzles make this a great introduction to escapes. Enthusiasts may want to try to come with a smaller group, as it wasn’t quite as difficult as other rooms, and they may find themselves breaking out quickly. However, there’s no shortage of puzzles to be had, so a fun time can be had by all. Book your time in the Dollhouse here!

 

7/10 (Good)

Experience the BlackOut – Cell Block 704 (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You either get busy escapin’ or get busy dyin’.

Theme:

A team of BlackOut Agents have been captured and locked up in Cell Block 704. It is up to your team to ensure they are extracted and the evidence against them secured. You’ve infiltrated the prison and have 60 minutes to get the evidence and break out!

First Impressions:

As previously stated in my review of South End Psycho, BlackOut goes all out with their presentation and immersion from the moment you step through the door. The entire opening briefing is woven into the experience expertly, and everyone is encouraged to work as a team from the start. After being blindfolded and handcuffed together, we were put in prison, and our race against the clock began.

High Points:

We were put in separate cells and had to work together passing items and clues between each ourselves in order to access the rest of the room. The flow of the room was a bit chaotic, but made sense between cells. The hint system is well done, and adds to the flow and immersion of the room rather than feeling like a random lifeline to the GM. There are enough puzzle lines to keep a full group occupied, and even though the room is dark, flashlights are plentiful, so the mood is well set without sacrificing our ability to work on the puzzles.

Low Points:

Our group of 4 was matched up with another group of 4, and the room felt very tight. BlackOut has since moved locations and expanded the size of their rooms, so this may no longer be an issue. One puzzle’s solution was dependent on an item already used for a previous puzzle and did not feel well clued. The one actor interaction seemed to drag along too long, stopping the action while our time ticked down. (Update: After speaking with Blackout, they let us know that they give an extra 2-5 minutes to the clock for actor interactions, which they are making sure to include in their briefings, and we were originally unaware of.) A late game puzzle involved a serious leap of logic none of us were able to make without help. Some elements of the room felt out of place, but were not too egregious.

Verdict:

Cell Block 704 is a good room that ties together the stories of BlackOut’s other rooms well. There are a couple of hiccups along the way, but the overall room is well put together and flows in a natural, if chaotic, way. A wide range of puzzles will keep groups occupied and entertained throughout the hour leading up to their escape! I would recommend doing BlackOut’s other two rooms first, in order to get the backstory, but this is not 100% necessary. Book your escape from the Cell Block here!

8/10 (Great)

Experience the BlackOut – South End Psycho (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Theme:

A string of serial killings have been tracked back to a dilapidated cabin in the woods, and you, as BlackOut Agents, have been tasked with infiltrating the house, securing the name of the next victim, and escaping before the suspected murderer returns. There’s only one problem, not only is the killer on his way back, his house is likely haunted too.

First Impressions:

This was my second visit to BlackOut, but my first time in their new location. They have a very comfortable new lobby that fits the overall theme of BlackOut very well. The staff is, as always, in character and ready to immerse you in their world from the moment you step in the front door. After getting settled and signing waivers, you’re given your briefing in a separate room, then blindfolded, and led to your mission. Every step of the process ensures the outside world disappears from the time you enter, until the time you (hopefully!) escape!

High Points:

The briefing room and escape rooms being separate from the lobby allows for total immersion once the game begins, and is a very nice touch. The set design is very well done and the rooms are spacious enough to move around in, even with the maximum players in the room. Puzzles are mostly linear, but flow well into each other, and each is fairly well clued as to where they go. The actors in the room add to the story and drop small hints as you progress. The actors are fun to interact with and unobtrusive as well. All of the elements combine in this room to create a very creepy and horror based atmosphere.

Low Points:

One particular interaction is interesting, but mostly serves to drain time from the clock, which can feel frustrating during a timed event. (Update: After speaking with Blackout, they let us know that they give an extra 2-5 minutes to the clock for actor interactions, which they are making sure to include in their briefings, and we were originally unaware of.) The stricter linearity of the latter puzzles can limit the amount of people actively puzzling, though they allow for more interaction than most singular puzzles. There are a lot of random items in the room, which can lead to a messy experience for disorganized groups.

Verdict:

South End Psycho is a very well done room that not only takes its theme from horror, but actually feels scary at times. This can be a pro or a con depending on your tastes, but we definitely enjoyed a room that scared us at times.  Puzzles were solid and intuitive, and BlackOut creates an experience that is hard to top, through their specific blend of theatrical and escape room elements. You can book your escape from the South End Psycho here!

8/10 (Great)

Escape in 60 – Prison Escape (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

He’s comin’! Let’s get outta here!

Theme:

It’s the 1970’s, and you’re stuck in prison. Luckily, an old cellmate of yours broke out recently, and left a few clues as to how to escape for you, you just need to wait for the best opportunity to break out. Unluckily, it seems the clues lead through the Warden’s office! He’s currently making his rounds, but will be back in an hour, and after suffering one embarrassing escape, he won’t take kindly to another attempt!

First Impressions:

Escape in 60 is situated in the heart of Charleston, in one of the rustic buildings on Market Street. Their open air lobby is inviting, and the staff is very helpful. The Warden’s office was an unassuming, but convincingly laid out room, and we could tell there were many surprises  in store for us. After being given a quick briefing, we started our breakout.

High Points:

The room is laid out as a prison warden’s office in the 1970’s and has some great antique but sturdy props around to carry that vibe. Puzzle threads are non linear, and there is plenty to work through for larger groups, as well as a good bit of variety in puzzle types. There are a few surprising technological interactions that are used sparingly and add to the mystique of the room overall. The ultimate puzzle is highly intuitive, but not so simple that it can be solved immediately. Clues were hidden well, but not unfairly, and the story wove throughout the room in a cohesive way. I enjoyed a prison escape that took place outside of the cell, which is the usual escape room standby.

Low Points:

The hint system was hit or miss, and while some hints nudged us well, others felt too vague. The cluing between solutions and inputs was vague at times, and in others unintentionally clued towards the wrong area. Some puzzles felt a bit less polished than others, which led towards a slightly uneven flow through the middle, but were overall well done.

Verdict:

Prison Escape is very accessible for new players, while still holding a fun challenge in store for enthusiasts. An interesting storyline, along with tactile and time period appropriate props help make this a great starter room, while still being stimulating for those who’ve escaped a few times before. Book your break from the Warden’s office here!

Full Disclosure: Escape in 60 provided comped tickets for our game.

8.5/10 (Great)

Escape in 60 – Ransom (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

Players:  2-6 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Hello, Escapers, I want to play a game.

Theme:

Your son has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper has trapped you in his bedroom in order to teach you a lesson for being absentee parents! (Which fits, I didn’t even know he existed until being locked in…) You have an hour to solve the puzzles he’s laid out for you and find your son before it’s too late! For obvious reasons, this room is rated as 18+ on Escape in 60’s website.

First Impressions:

Walking into the dark, creepy room set the tone well, and a SAW-like video from the kidnapper immersed us even further. The tone of this room is set perfectly from the moment you begin. The room is laid out as a child’s bedroom, and it is done perfectly, nothing feels out of place, and the haunting soundtrack will spook you at perfect intervals.

High Points:

Ransom is an amazing room, from the previously set tone, to the wealth of interesting puzzles, there is something to do for everyone, even at maximum capacity. It is a rare feat, and Escape in 60 should absolutely be praised for it. Each puzzle follows the child’s room theme, and they build well in difficulty and complexity throughout. Several creepy surprises add to the overall immersion and will keep your party on their toes throughout the experience. This room demands teamwork, but is not so overwhelming that it becomes impossible to complete. Two puzzles add in some great thrills when solved, and provide perfect feedback when completed. While not being scary, per se, Ransom excels at keeping the experience intense and exciting.

Low Points:

It eventually ends. The only trouble we had was one puzzle interaction that felt as though there wasn’t quite enough cluing to understand the solution organically.

Verdict:

Ransom is an amazing escape room that should absolutely be tried out by anyone interested in room escapes in the Charleston area. This room blends story, puzzles, and setting to create an experience that thrills throughout. Even though the room has one of the darker themes I’ve played through, it is handled well, and manages to create a room that really sticks with the player long after the puzzles have been solved. Book your time being held ransom here!

 

10/10 (Sublime)

Urban Enigmas – Innocence (Review)

Location: Athens, GA

Players: 1-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Prison sucks. I have to escape.”

Theme:

Framed for a jewel heist, you’ve been thrown in prison awaiting a sham trial that will put you away for life. The warden has stepped out for an hour, making this your last chance to escape and possibly clear your name before he returns.

First Impressions:

Innocence has an incredibly interesting mechanic that I’ve not seen before, and makes for a really fantastic experience. As part of our briefing, we were informed that we had two objectives. Our primary objective was to escape our cell and break into the warden’s office, from which we could escape the prison. Our secondary objective, however, would determine the life we’d lead after our breakout. We needed to find a way to clear our names within the warden’s office in order to walk out as free men and women, otherwise, we could still escape, but it would be as fugitives on the run, forever looking over our shoulders.

High Points:

The sets were both convincing, even if they weren’t ostentatious. We began handcuffed and stayed that way for a while, which added to the teamwork element of the game, which I was glad to see, as most games that include handcuffs allow you some way to get out of them almost immediately. The dichotomy between the two rooms was great, as the prison cell was very much like your usual escape room, while the warden’s office changed the game into an investigative experience. I very much enjoyed this two-rooms-in-one approach. The investigation was assisted through a large evidence board that was a lot of fun to interact with.

Low Points:

Puzzles were solid, but were mostly standard code to lock interactions, which in some cases felt a little out of place for what we were solving. The warden’s office looked like an office, but after the higher set production in the prison, it was a little jarring to suddenly be in a white walled office. One particular puzzle was easier to solve using outside local information, we were told, but was solvable through a different path, so it’s a minor complaint. (6/10/17: Update: After speaking with the designer of the room, it turns out we were misinformed regarding the local information part. We solved the puzzle correctly, but that item was designed to be inconclusive, not solvable using outside knowledge.)

Verdict:

Innocence tries an original approach to escape rooms, and combines escape and investigation into one enjoyable package. The room is approachable for beginners, since you can escape the prison and investigate, but still get out within the time if you don’t fully solve the mystery, but has enough puzzling to work through for enthusiasts as well. I highly recommend trying out this room, and look forward to visiting their others! You can book your break out here! And best of luck beating our record!

8/10 (Great)

The Box Room Escape – Cold Case Killer (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Just a friendly visit from the neighbors!

Theme:

Usually I type my own interpretation of the theme, but The Box has a perfect write-up for their room. Per The Box’s website: Enter the House of Vincent and Margaret Harden, the newest residents of the neighborhood. Explore through their house and follow along the story. But beware, if you uncover the truth you may just find the not so happy ending.

First Impressions:

Stepping into The Box is an always immersive experience, and our second visit for Cold Case Killer was no different. (You can read about our first visit with the Ventriloquist here!) After a quick sign in, Andy gathered us around and gave us our excellent introduction to the story, then led us to our room. The Box continues to do a fantastic job of ensuring that story and puzzles come first from the very start, and the care they put into doing so shows.

High Points:

First and foremost, Cold Case Killer tells an riveting story that our group could not stop talking about hours later. Small things we did during our experience added to our revelations, and it really blew our minds. I won’t spoil anything here, but as usual, it adds a lot to the experience to read the case files provided on The Box’s website. We began the room in a non-traditional way, which was a very enjoyable touch. All puzzles were well clued and the connections set up in the room directed us towards where we needed to be in intuitive ways. There were a couple points of confusion, but they were not frustrating and added to the story, which may not make sense now, but will once you’ve played the room. The overall atmosphere and theming of the room feels very 1950’s, and everything belongs. The staff is really great and personable, but also stay in character in order to keep an immersive feel going.

Low Points:

The ending felt slightly abrupt, and I feel like there was room for more puzzling, but everything already in the room works very well as is, so it’s a minor nitpick. I feel like any more than 4 players may be too many cooks, especially towards the latter half, but our group of 4 felt just right.

Verdict:

With one of the most excellently crafted stories I’ve ever experienced in an escape room, The Box delivers a finely tuned Escape Experience that I highly recommend to anyone visiting the Charlotte area. Beginners and Enthusiasts alike will find something to enjoy about Cold Case Killer, just make sure to read your case files beforehand to get the full experience! We are looking forward to our next escape at The Box, whatever mind bending adventure that may be!  Book your time with the Hardens here!

Full Disclosure: The Box provided our group with Media Discounted tickets.

9/10 (Excellent)

Raleigh Room Escapes – Stronghold (Review)

Location: Raleigh, NC

Players:  2-4

Price: $20 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Theme:

A unique new piece of real estate has appeared on the market, and it might just be a great buy! It’s an old Cold War era fallout bunker, moderately priced, and just eccentric enough for your tastes. It even comes with it’s own AI, making it a sort of Smart-home. You’ve ventured out with your real estate agent to have a look, but when he leaves you to have a look at the property yourself, the door locks behind him, and the AI lets you know that the air filtration systems have been shut down! There’s 45 minutes worth of oxygen left, and you’ll need to make your escape before then, or suffocate!

First Impressions:

Raleigh Room Escapes builds a great set, and Stronghold feels very much like its namesake. The whole experience has that Fallout meets Bioshock vibe to it, and everything looks like it came out of the 50’s. The acting from our Real Estate Agent was convincing and perfectly over the top, and the introduction from our new AI frenemy set the tone well.

High Points:

Though this was a 45 minute room, it did not lack puzzles or feel overly short. The room was non-linear, and comfortably fit all four of our players. The room had many enjoyable technological interactions that made the smaller space feel much bigger as we explored. All puzzles flowed well one into the next, and connected to each other well. The hint system was creative, and we didn’t fully realize what it was at the time since it was so immersive. The finale felt appropriately climactic and exciting.

Low Points:

Our objective felt unclear at first, and we eventually worked out the mission on our own, but a slight bit more cluing as to what was going on wouldn’t be out of place. There was one instance where a hidden blacklight felt anachronistic.

Verdict:

For a 45 minute room, Stronghold felt like a full experience, which I’ve found is rare for rooms shorter than an hour. The excitement of the room keeps up for the full game, and getting out felt like an intense victory. It will be a very fun starter room for beginners, but the puzzles are tricky enough that enthusiasts will feel challenged. Book your showing of the Stronghold here!

8/10 (Great)