Exit Strategy North – Subject Zero (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A beautiful set mired in puzzling problems.

Theme:

A mad scientist has locked himself away in a secret military base, building the most dangerous weapon ever to threaten the planet. It is up to your team of elite troops to infiltrate the base, unlock the doors and shut down the experiment before it is too late!

First Impressions:

The set design is some of the best I’ve seen, stepping into the base felt really cool, and the attention to detail was phenomenal. I have been to Exit Strategy several times before, and they generally are very good at building a nice set, but this was definitely well done, even by their standards. I had high hopes starting off.

High Points:

As previously stated, the set design in this room is one of the best in the area, but unfortunately, that itself does not a good escape room make. There was a good puzzle here and there, but overall, our group was hard pressed to find much we were highly impressed with outside of the theme and set design.

Low Points:

There is a running music track that is just too incredibly loud, which makes it hard to hear each other and the clues being given. Many of the puzzles and solutions in the room felt very arbitrary and there were quite a few leaps of logic in order to figure out where certain codes went. Many solutions we came up with on our own felt very much like there wasn’t a certain method to the madness, and it was very frustrating, especially in parts where we needed to try codes in multiple similar inputs. One particular puzzle, which I’m not sure if it was designed this way or if there was a short in the light, required teamwork, and was an otherwise solid puzzle, but there was no way to see the answer in the dark without straining your eyes. I have 20/20 vision and was unable to read the code we needed. The final puzzle set was overall unsatisfying as it felt a little cobbled together, and some solutions were used twice in different ways, even though we were previously under the impression that everything would only be used once. The final puzzles were interesting, but weren’t intuitively implemented, and after shutting down the experiment, we were just given the final code for escape.

Verdict:

I really want to like Exit Strategy, they build some very imaginative sets and have some good ideas, but their puzzles are sorely lacking and require a lot of leaps of logic and attempts to figure out what the designer was thinking. Our group was very disappointed when we left, and though I am very interested in their upcoming Mansion and Ruins theme, I’m not sure if I want to take the risk next time I’m in Charlotte. With the many other options around Charlotte, even though the set is beautiful, until a lot of adjustments are made, I don’t think I can recommend Subject Zero. If you’d like to check them out, however, you can do so here.

3.5/10 (Poor)

Tic Toc Escapes – The Locker Room (Review)

Location: Raleigh, NC

Players: 3-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Score a Touchground in the Big Zone!

Theme:

You are an elite team of athletes preparing to participate in the biggest game of your lives, but the opposing team has decided to play a prank on you, locking you in your locker room 60 minutes before you are due out on the field! They’ve given you a sporting chance, however, and set up a series of puzzles you’ll have to decode and unlock in order to get to the big game on time!

First Impressions:

I really liked how the locker room opened, as we began our experience in the lobby, where we started the game in a highly appropriate fashion with a coin toss, the outcome deciding whether we got to start the game with a certain (non-essential, but helpful), item. Once that had been decided, we made our way into the locker room and began the game.

High Points:

Tic Toc continues to build big, colorful rooms filled with tactile and enjoyable props and puzzles. As usual, the connections in the room between puzzle solutions and inputs are clear, but done in such as way as to be small puzzles themselves. Several surprises popped up throughout the room, adding an element of suspense and excitement. One puzzle involved a comedic moment as we interacted with a “gross” prop that we really enjoyed. Upbeat and energizing sports music played in the background, which was well incorporated, and the sports theme itself was great, even if you aren’t a huge sports fan. The room incorporated all of its parts into the puzzling, and everything felt like well integrated into the game throughout. Well hidden tech is used sparingly, but to great effect. The non-linear and varied puzzle threads keeps even larger teams occupied throughout.

Low Points:

One small physical puzzle required teamwork to solve, but it felt more of a system of trial and error, causing more frustration in obtaining the item. One item was hidden in a weird way that we were unsure about.

Verdict:

Tic Toc again delivers a great, light-hearted theme along with engaging puzzles to create a fun escape experience for beginners and veterans alike. The Locker Room is another fantastic example of Tic Toc’s unique brand of upbeat and imaginative escape rooms, and I cannot wait to try out more! Book your time here, sports fans!

9/10 (Excellent)

The Great Escape Cameron – Mad Hatter (Review)

Location: Cameron, NC

Players:  2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $25 per person or $100 for a private room

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

We’re all mad here, Alice!

Theme:

You’ve popped over to Wonderland for a tea party with the Mad Hatter, and have had a truly a lovely time! Unfortunately, he’s forgotten how to get you back to your world, though he knows it’s locked away here somewhere… Make sure you do so in an hour though, or you may well be trapped in this tea party forever!

First Impressions:

The Mad Hatter room was beautifully done and very colorful, exactly what you’d expect from a Wonderland escape. From the outset, we could see that there was quite a bit to work on, and knew we were in for a different experience from the usual escape room fare!

High Points:

The atmosphere of the room being so colorful, coupled with the fun soundtrack, made this room a pleasure to be locked into! The Mad Hatter is also the only room I’ve experienced to date which requires the use of all five senses to solve, which was implemented in exciting ways, and fit the tea party theme extremely well. Logic used in the room was particularly Wonderlandian, and required us to think outside the box more than usual, but in a well delivered way. One trippy surprise felt magical in it’s implementation, and called for teamwork in a smoothly implemented way. Small Alice inspired easter eggs popped up along the way, and were a delight to see. Flow and theme held smooth throughout.

Low Points:

The room, while very colorful, used similar colors between puzzles, leading to a bit of confusion while trying to figure out what was germane to which solutions. The room was mostly nonlinear, but there were a couple bottlenecks, one of which only allowed for one player to interact, and though it was a fun puzzle, it could take some less dexterous teams some time to solve.

Verdict:

The trip to Wonderland provided by The Great Escape is a wonderful tribute to Lewis Carrol’s classic. Beginners and enthusiasts alike will enjoy the vast array of puzzle types, along with the well implemented “Alice-Logic” that runs throughout. This is definitely a special experience in NC, and I very much recommend trying it out. Book your tea party with the Hatter here!

Full Disclosure: The Great Escape Cameron provided us with media discounted tickets 

8.5/10 (Great)

The Great Escape Cameron – Bomb Squad (Review)

Location: Cameron, NC

Players:  2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $25 per person or $100 for a private room

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Did you have any luck with the bomb?”

“Yeah, it didn’t go off.”

Theme:

You’ve been called to a nearby construction site to deal with a crisis, namely, a bomb that has been planted on the premises! As a veteran bomb disposal unit, this seems like a routine mission, until you find that the location has been secured with… puzzles? You have 60 minutes until the bomb goes off, taking you with it!

First Impressions:

The aesthetic of the room, while it did not set an immediate mood like Cabin in the Woods, was interesting and eye-catching. Another fun soundtrack played when we were brought into the room, and it set a fast paced tone, spurring us to action!

High Points:

Though it was the most linear of Great Escape Cameron’s rooms, we always knew what to work on, and the flow felt smooth. We enjoyed the tactile props and the feedback that most puzzles gave us, and one puzzle in particular was very creative and gave us a great ah-ha moment. The bomb itself was convincing, and had been designed by someone who had experience in this area, which was a great touch. Tech was integrated well, and triggered some surprises that focused our team on cooperation to overcome. Throughout the experience, the room opened up more and more, giving us more to work with, and continually leading us to new puzzles.

Low Points:

Several puzzles felt strange and out of place for the theme, one in particular we collected pieces for as we went definitely seemed strange for a bomb diffusal room. This puzzle also had 4 “correct” answers, but only one would trigger a solution, though a small amount of adjustment would correct this. One puzzle solution was easily brute forceable, and the logic to attain the solution was a bit of a leap, so we found ourselves bruting it to get to the next part. The room felt a lot sparser than Great Escape’s other offerings. The themeing of the room alternated between Construction Site and Survival Bunker, which didn’t always make total sense to us. Due to the linearity, there were some definite bottlenecks that made it difficult for all 4 of our players to participate.

Verdict:

Bomb squad was a good room that had several minor hiccups along the way. I definitely think with a bit more iteration and story based themeing, it could deliver a more cohesive experience, but it is still a lot of fun to play! It is definitely a good introduction to beginners, as escape room logic and tactile puzzles are put on full display. I do recommend giving it a try, and look forward to Great Escape Cameron’s next adventures! Book your diffusal experience here!

Full Disclosure: The Great Escape Cameron provided us with media discounted tickets 

7/10 (Good)

The Great Escape Cameron – Cabin in the Woods (Review)

Location: Cameron, NC

Players:  2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $25 per person or $100 for a private room

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

He’s a maniac, maniac, and he just moved next door!

Theme:

A serial killer with a penchant for photography has been terrorizing the nation, but your team of investigative journalists have recently received a tip regarding his whereabouts, leading you to launch a search. Unfortunately, he has found you and is chasing you through the woods to his cabin. With little time to spare, you need to break in, grab the evidence, and escape before you become another shot for his scrapbook.

First Impressions:

The Great Escape was actually one of the easiest to find Escape Rooms we’ve been to. It seems like a minor thing, but very rarely have we spotted our destination for these sorts of experiences easily. We were blindfolded and led into the “woods” after a quick rules and story briefing, and once we were given the signal, began to break into the serial killer’s lair.

High Points:

Customer service before, during, and after our rooms were impeccable, and we very much enjoyed our interactions with the staff and owners. The room is dimly lit, but does not require flashlights, setting the mood without sacrificing accessibility. I really enjoyed the soundtrack of this room, coupled with a few other atmospheric effects that were unexpected and a lot of fun. There were a few puzzles that we had seen in previous rooms, but they were implemented in creative and interesting ways. Technology was peppered throughout the room in well hidden, but logical ways, and gave excellent feedback as necessary. The room was sufficiently creepy, and used the atmosphere and space well to instill an eerie vibe throughout. Props and clues throughout the room were used well, and the game flow only hiccuped once.

Low Points:

One puzzle’s solution felt a bit tenuous, as the cluing was vague. One particular clue led to a short, but unintended rabbit trail. The hint system worked well, but the speaker was a bit fuzzy, leading to the need for repetition of hints.

Verdict:

Cabin in the Woods sets itself apart from other, similarly-themed rooms in the area by providing a fully immersive experience which is creepy, but not overly scary. The well thought out puzzles will be a sometimes familiar, but fun challenge for enthusiasts, and a great introduction to escape rooms for beginners. This was my favorite room at The Great Escape, and I heartily recommend it! You can book your time in the woods here!

Full Disclosure: The Great Escape Cameron provided us with media discounted tickets 

9/10 (Excellent)

Bull City Escapes – A Study in Murder (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players:  4-8 (We Recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Murder most foul!

Theme:

There’s been a murder in Durham! An eccentric old scholar was found dead in his home and as the Police Department’s top detectives, you’ve been assigned the case. Entering the victims study to search for clues, you shut the door behind you and lock yourself in! Try to put together the pieces to the mystery before the killer comes back to tie up loose ends!

First Impressions:

Our GM was very enthusiastic and introduced us to our teammates and the room in an exciting way, while giving us our rules briefing quickly and efficiently. He gave us our mission inside the room, which had an academic and stuffy feel to it, fitting the theme well. After that, we were locked inside and our timer began.

High Points:

Puzzles were overall interesting, and connected together well. The room on the whole felt sort of like a “greatest hits” of escape room solving, so enthusiasts can have a lot fun introducing new players to the hobby here. Your initial starting point with the room does feel like an old study, and had numerous interesting props to play with, and several puzzles build upon themselves, giving great a-ha moments. The hint system is well integrated and adds to the experience as needed, allowing the GM to adjust group by group. Each solve presented us with new pieces to build toward the next puzzles with, and the progression was well implemented.

Low Points:

Study in Murder feels more like a puzzle room than a storyline based escape experience, which seems to be the case for most rooms we’ve done that are touted as high difficulty. There were a lot of puzzles to solve, but the gating was uneven, which sometimes led to multiple unintentional red herrings. The story that was present in the room did not tie up in a satisfying way, and although we solved the mystery, we still had many unanswered questions the room was unable to give us answers for. The how of puzzles was usually present, but the why felt tenuous.

Verdict:

A Study in Murder was a competently built and solid puzzle room, even if it did not deliver the investigation and story that we had expected based on the description. We enjoyed the puzzles, however, and had a great time introducing new players to the hobby in this room, as it had many of the usual escape room themes, and demanded a fair amount of teamwork to solve. Overall, it is a solid Generation 1 experience. Book your time in the Study here!

7/10 (Good)

Bull City Escapes – Enchanted Kingdom (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players:  2-6 (We Recommend 2-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Your Kingdom awaits!

Theme:

Beyond the forest lies a hidden Kingdom, a place where faeries and dragons exist and magic is real! The crown jewels have been hidden away, and it is up to you to find them and return them to their rightful place in the throne room. But first, you’ll have to find the Kingdom itself, and that’s no small task for a mortal.

First Impressions:

Enchanted Kingdom is extremely well decorated and themed, and the atmosphere created by the décor and soundtrack was very immersive and playful. It’s always nice to see a more light-hearted theme when a lot of the main standbys are prisons, murderers, and monsters. This room was one I’d been in before when it was Bull City’s 90s Room, but they had done an excellent job making it unrecognizable!

High Points:

Beyond the fantastic themeing of the room, puzzles were a great mix between set interaction, code finding, and searching. Though there were standard locks around, there were also a good few technological interactions that surprised us in the best possible way. I wish we’d had  someone in the room to take a picture of our faces after one early “magical” interaction, as it’s definitely one of my favorite puzzles I’ve seen lately, and the payoff was a lot of fun. Flow between puzzles was very smooth, and it was almost always easy to determine what to work on next. Difficulty was handled well, and ramped up at the right points. The hint system is clear, but unobtrusive, and allows for the experience to be adjusted based on the team size and experience.

Low Points:

One puzzle gave very little clear feedback upon solving, to the point we solved it by accident and didn’t even realize it. There was also one particular puzzle that had multiple possible answers, causing it to come into play as a red herring too often.

Verdict:

Enchanted Kingdom is an excellent new room that builds on the successes of Bull City’s previous rooms and delivers a magical feeling experience. The diverse and exciting array of puzzles make it a great room for anyone to start with, and is filled with enough tricks to keep Enthusiasts entertained. This is definitely one of the best rooms in the Triangle area, and I cannot recommend it enough. Book your time in the Enchanted Kingdom here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Elite (Formerly ‘Epic’) Escape Games – Meltdown (Review)

Location: Mount Pleasant, SC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Why is there smoke coming out of it!?!”

Theme:

The nuclear power plant’s systems have malfunctioned, and it’s up to your team of engineers to stop the meltdown! Systems failure is rapidly approaching, and the reactor will hit critical levels in an hour unless you’re able to enter the manual override in time! The only problem is the many locks and puzzles in the way…

First Impressions:

The room was well themed, with button and keypad overload at points, adding to the high tech feel of the room. The reactor itself ominously glowed from behind a door, and spurred us toward action. Our timer began counting up to critical mass, and the race against the clock began!

High Points:

Elite continued to include very tactile and original interactions in Meltdown. Engaging props and bits of technology helped immerse us in the scientific feel of the room, and allowed for many different interactions we’d not seen before. The room at first felt very sparse, but as we solved puzzles, more and more of it opened up, sometimes in really surprising ways. Every part of the room is used, and seemingly innocuous parts end up playing a role throughout the game, leading to some great a-ha moments! The ongoing feedback from the intercom, as well as the reactor itself, keeps the sense of urgency and immersion up throughout the game.

Low Points:

Unfortunately, there are many similar code entries throughout the game, leading to a lot of trial and error entering of codes. At the very least, these entries do not lock out, so frustration on that part is low. Our team was a mixed bag of experienced and new players, and the new players were very much lost during more technological interactions, so the barrier to entry here feels higher than usual. One device for input was used twice in quick succession, but this was not made very clear in game, leading to a bit more fumbling about than felt necessary. One particular puzzle felt a little out of place due to its presentation, but plays a very minor part.

Verdict:

Meltdown is an enjoyable game, even with a few issues holding it back. It was a bit of overload for our new players, so I would suggest playing a couple of rooms before trying this one out, (especially the excellent Undead Outbreak game also at Elite!) but I think enthusiasts might have a better grasp on how the game itself works. Even though it feels as though there is a slight barrier to entry, Meltdown is a solid game, and I definitely recommend trying it out here!

Full Disclosure: Elite Escape Games provided Media Discounted tickets for our game.

7.5/10 (Good)

Elite (Formerly ‘Epic’) Escape Games – Undead Outbreak (Review)

Location: Mount Pleasant, SC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 4)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

The first rule of Zombieland is Cardio.

Theme:

You’ve been running from a horde of zombies for a while, and before they catch up to you, you see an abandoned cabin in the distance! You fight your way there and are able to take a breather for maybe an hour before the horde gets in. Luckily, it seems that someone who was here previously was working on a cure! If you’re able to piece together the clues this ill-fated survivor left, you might just be able to save the world and get out alive!

First Impressions:

Elite Escape Games has a fantastic lobby and a very personable and engaging staff, along with one of the most excellent post-game photo backdrops I’ve seen. Rather than using only the company logo on a blank wall like many others, they’ve worked into the mural every theme that they will have at their location. You can see it in all of its glory above! Customer service here is also a cut above, which is always a plus. (As a side note, if you’re lucky, little Bo man might be there. He is the owners dog, and is enormously cute.)

High Points:

Stepping into the room was fantastic. A beautifully dilapidated, run down cabin was filled with incredibly interesting props and puzzles to play with. As an added bonus, we could see and hear the zombies outside the boarded-up windows, spurring us into action. One of the best implementations of an escape room standby was installed on the ceiling, and was a lot of fun to work with. Several puzzles were very original, and required some entertaining physical interactions. The overarching puzzle was a great surprise and provided excellent feedback on our progress. Each new find was more surprising than the last, building the story one exciting step at a time as what first seemed like a simple zombie escape became something entirely more complex.

Low Points:

There were only a couple issues I found with this room, one regarding an unclued, fairly unintuitive input on one lock, and the other being a fairly small crawlspace that, though our group of 2 had no problems with, may present difficulties for handicapped or larger players.

Verdict:

Undead Outbreak has it all, great puzzles, immersive set, surprising and engaging story, and enjoyable interactions throughout. It is by far one of my favorite rooms, and has me excited to return to Charleston for their upcoming rooms! You can book your race for the cure here!

Full Disclosure: Elite Escape Games provided Media Discounted tickets for our game.

9.5/10 (Excellent)