Mission X – Mirage (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

I must be dreaming…

Theme:

You’ve fallen into a deep deep sleep, and have ended up in a room that feels familiar, but is all wrong! It’s dark, everything has twisted around, and the only way to wake up is to find a your way back to normalcy! Sort through the dream and figure out how to move through the twisting perspectives and awaken!

First Impressions:

After a good chat with the staff at Mission X, we were quickly briefed and set upon the darkened room, each armed with a flashlight. Though not quite as elaborate in design as Vampire Manor or Butcher Shop, Mirage’s décor delivered an thoughtful take on a more abstract theme, which was an interesting way to begin.

High Points:

Puzzles play with perspective in fun and imaginative ways, building upon the theme of the room while delivering new challenges that require keen observation. The twisting nature of the room is an entertaining approach, delivering original approaches to puzzle design and room flow as well as a floaty, dream-like theme. The room is set in darkness to create effective mood and immersion, but every player is equipped with a flashlight, so it serves it’s purpose without being an unnecessary  detriment to the game.

Low Points:

Hints are still the weak point of Mission X, as the gamemaster must enter the room to deliver hints, though it is appreciated that they pause your time to do so. Hints during this trip were less hints than actual walkthroughs of the current puzzle, which was frustrating as it removes a sense of accomplishment. The room itself was a bit sparser than the other two rooms we’d played with Mission X, due to the less elaborate décor, and also because this was an easier room than the others.

Verdict:

Though perhaps a bit too simple for enthusiasts, Mirage is a great introductory game for beginners and families, delivering a light hearted theme along with an easy to follow game flow. I definitely recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking for a good starter room, or an approachable one for friends new to the hobby. If you’re an enthusiast, however, it will be a fun if simple room, but if that isn’t your style, I’d recommend you try out the more challenging Vampire Manor or Butcher Shop instead. Book your time in the dreamlands here!

7/10 (Good)

Conundrum Escapes – Conjurer’s Dungeon (Review)

Location: Garner, NC

Players:  2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $27.63 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Welcome to the Dungeon!

Theme:

A foul tyrant has taken over the kingdom, but a mystical sword could break the hold she has over the people. Unfortunately, the creator of that sword, a powerful wizard, was trapped in the dungeon and the weapon has gone missing. It is up to you to break into the dungeons and decipher the clues left behind by the wizard to find the sword and ensure the defeat of the evil queen!

First Impressions:

We had a fun time escaping Conundrum’s previous room, Airship Legacy, and were excited to hear that they had opened a new game. Once we had an opening in our escape schedule we booked and had high hopes for this adventure!

High Points:

The latter half of the game is where Conjurer’s Dungeon really shines. One particular prop gives a sense of direction to the rest of the game, and allows the puzzling to flow quite nicely. Connections in this half are clear and direct, without taking away from the challenge of the room. The room is well decorated, if sparse, due to it’s nature as a dungeon. The general ambiance of the room feels chilly and appropriately lonely. One puzzle in particular I really enjoyed due to it’s engagement of a sense that’s rarely used in escape rooms.

Low Points:

The first half of the game was a slog, as much needed cluing and direction was absent. This led to too much ambiguity and murky logic, as well as a fair amount of wasted time trying to find the path we were meant to be following. A good bit of iteration and the addition of clues to fully flesh out the challenges during the beginning would go a long way towards ensuring the room flows well and feels logically balanced. Especially with one main puzzle being original and well implemented, but obtuse if you don’t already know the solution. The room gets better after the initial unclear puzzles, but the frustration lingers through the rest of the experience. A large amount of unclued scavenging comes across as more of a time sink, and doesn’t provide as entertaining an experience as a few more puzzles might.

Verdict:

Conjurer’s Dungeon is an uneven experience that starts weakly, but finishes strong(er), so I’m sure with a bit of finesse and iteration, this room can be great. Currently, however, I can’t recommend it due the lack of connective tissue between many of the puzzles and the frustration that causes. In the meantime, I still recommend trying out Airship Legacy and am confident that with a bit of tweaking, Conjurer’s Dungeon can be a great challenge. You can book your time in the Dungeon here!

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Conundrum Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our group.

The Final Door – The Sacrifice (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

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

Price: $25 per person (Tues, Wed, Thurs) or $28 per person (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

The Pact is sealed with blood!

Theme:

You’ve been kidnapped by a fanatical cult, intent on using you as a human sacrifice in their next dark ritual! You and your fellow kidnappees have only one hour to figure out how to get out of the dark holding cell before they come back for you to complete their evil work, summoning forth who knows what vile creatures!

First Impressions:

For The Sacrifice, there are two versions, standard and advanced; we played the advanced version. The offering to increase the difficulty is a nice touch, and fun for enthusiasts looking for a greater challenge! As we were led to another masterfully themed briefing room, we could already smell incense in the air. It was a great touch to get us excited for our 3rd room of the day, and was yet another small detail that helped up the immersion factor of the room. There was a good, if lighter, introduction to this room and afterwards we were left in our cell to rot.

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High Points:

As we had come to expect from The Final Door by now, barring one major hiccup, the room’s puzzles connected incredibly well from one to the next, and an evolving story that tied everything to the theme was woven throughout. The progression from the early to mid and late game felt natural, and the set evolved to reflect our progress. Another great out of the ordinary hint system was in place, keeping everything within the universe of the room. Fantastic interactions that rose above and beyond locks and keys, (or even basic technological interactions,) enveloped us in the narrative and made for some amazing storytelling. The penultimate puzzle pulled everyone together to finish the room with a thrilling and appropriate culmination, capping off an amazing run of escapes from The Final Door.

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Low Points:

The room stumbled quite a bit at the beginning. Our initial excitement became frustration as we worked out the solution for a puzzle, but were unable physically to complete it, causing us to spend an overly long time uncomfortably attempting over and over to finally get past it (with a wee bit of assistance from our fantastic GM,) and onto the rest of the room. (After our visit, I was told that the game flow has been reworked to alleviate the frustration of this particular puzzle, and though I cannot comment on its effectiveness, I think it is definitely a positive change!) It was, fortunately, all uphill from there. The room itself was very well designed, but felt a bit less complex than Blackout and The Vampyr. That being said, it was still head and shoulders above most other rooms in terms of presentation.

Verdict:

It says a lot that even though it wasn’t my favorite room at The Final Door, The Sacrifice was one of the best I’ve played. The business as a whole is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen, with only one puzzle I didn’t like during the course of three rooms, which speaks volumes about their amazing design! If you are looking for a place that combines all the best elements of escape rooms and elevates game design from craft to art, this is the place to go. I highly recommend anyone check out one or all of the rooms here, The Sacrifice included. Book your time with the cult here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Final Door provided Media discounted tickets to our team.

The Final Door – The Vampyr (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

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

Price: $25 per person (Tues, Wed, Thurs) or $28 per person (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Let’s hunt some monsters!

Theme:

A wealthy nobleman has contracted your team of monster hunters to take care of a big problem he has with his newly inherited castle. Unfortunately, it seems he’s unable to move in since an extremely powerful and ancient vampyr has taken up residence inside! It is up to you to break into the castle and find out where the fiend is currently hiding while he sleeps. Once you do, make sure to destroy him before the sun sets, or it’s lights out for you in more ways than one!

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First Impressions:

The lobby at The Final Door is well appointed, containing a bar as well as a nice selection of party games and puzzles to enjoy with your team while you wait. Staff is very friendly and are escape room enthusiasts as well, so trading war stories with them was great fun. Our experience started even before we entered the briefing room, which was a fantastic and mysterious way to begin the introduction. After our briefing, we were led to the castle and began our hunt!

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High Points:

What a room! It combined two of my favorite little things for escape rooms to do, the first being a well decorated entry door, and the second I can’t reveal so as not to spoil the surprise! As with other rooms at The Final Door, puzzle flow was marvelous, there were no points at which we felt the tasks were too ambiguous or we were flailing about to determine what we needed to do. Set design was convincingly done, and fully immersed us into the story of the room. Some rarely used senses came into play for a fun and, for our team, hilarious puzzle, and the hint system was interestingly integrated into the theme as well. The taks presented involved our entire team throughout, and rewarded communication and cooperation. The climax of the room was extraordinarily satisfying, delivering a great interaction and end to the story. This is, without a doubt, the best room I have done in South Carolina.

Low Points:

None. This is an amazingly crafted experience and we had no problems with it at all, it was truly great from start to finish!

Verdict:

Another astounding experience from The Final Door, The Vampyr excels at weaving together challenging gameplay, smooth flow, and immersive production values. As satisfying to puzzle through as it is to experience the set design, this room keeps the surprises coming throughout! This is definitely the most challenging room available at The Final Door, so beginners may want to try out an easier room or two, (such as the equally fantastic Blackout,) before taking it on. Enthusiasts and more seasoned players, however, will love the fantastic adventure that The Vampyr offers! Book your time in the castle here!

10/10 (Sublime)

The Final Door – Blackout (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

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

Price: $28 per person (Tues, Wed, Thurs) or $33 per person (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s weird that getting kidnapped by a serial killer has become a normal Sunday morning

Theme:

The Columbia Killer wants to play a game, and has taken you and your friends hostage in his basement making you unwitting players! A huge storm is sweeping across the area, and to make matters worse, it has caused a blackout. With only the lightning to guide you, you’ve no choice but to play along with the killer’s twisted machinations, or be yet another missing person in tomorrow’s news!

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First Impressions:

We could already tell that we were in for something very special when we were briefed in a specially tailored room that fit the theme perfectly! After the quick rules run down, we were very surprised by the beginning of the experience, which I won’t spoil here. Once complete, we doffed our blindfolds and got to the task of escaping the dank, dark basement we’d found ourselves in!

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High Points:

I want to preface this by saying that there is so much I enjoyed about this room that may not translate into words (or would be too big a spoiler,) and that you should absolutely go and have your mind blown like we did. The experience weaves immersive theatre and personal touches throughout in order to remove you from the outside world and truly set you inside a psycho’s basement. Special effects and set design are impeccable; providing a convincing environment without being so Hollywood that it still feels artificial. Puzzle flow is flawless, and each step is logical and challenging, but fair and direct enough to remove any possibility of frustration. Puzzles themselves are highly satisfying across the board, and deliver excellent feedback when they’ve been solved. Delivering surprises again and again, I can confidently say that Blackout is easily one of my favorite experiences to date.

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Low Points:

The introduction set the scene well, but it got a little too scream-y for our tastes, which took it a little further over the top than we reasonably wanted to go. Everything else was spectacular!

Verdict:

There is no doubt that Blackout is one of the finest escape adventures I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing! If you are anywhere near Columbia, I highly recommend planning a trip out, as this room is like no other! This is a finely tuned, fully immersive escape room adventure that delivers an intense, well thought out spectacle that is sure to entertain beginners and enthusiasts alike. Book your kidnapping here!

10/10 (Sublime)

Full Disclosure: The Final Door provided Media discounted tickets for our team

Exit Strategy North – Spy Trainer (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Spy vs. Spy

Theme:

As top trainees of a shadowy government agency, you are expected to be the best of the best, and your mission today will test whether you become a full fledged spy, or return to desk jockeying for the CIA. You’ll be given a series of tasks to test each area of competency, but if you cannot finish them within 60 minutes, you will fail. In order to raise the already high stakes, another group of trainees will be placed in an identical test, and you will be expected to finish before them for top honors! Will you be able to complete your mission and earn bragging rights over the other team, or will you crack under pressure?

First Impressions:

This was my first run through a competitive room, and though I am confident in my team’s abilities, I still felt the extra pressure of going head to head against another team. In fact, we didn’t meet them until we were lined up at the two red and blue doors, minutes away from our face off! An excellent video intro played to give us our mission and the stakes, and we jumped into action as the clock started, spurred on by the thrill of competition!

High Points:

As previously stated, the competition aspect of the room gives it that extra kick of adrenaline, even though we were playing against strangers. I would imagine with other enthusiast friends, the pressure would’ve been greater! Some highly original interactions and puzzles were very exciting to complete and puzzle through, and the room ran a gamut of puzzle types to keep things fresh. Though sparse, the set changed based on where we were in the game, and added new obstacles, mysteries, and clues as we went. Immersion was well done, as we felt the tension of being tested, (in a good way!) throughout the experience.

Low Points:

The room is highly linear, so even with the small maximum of 6 players, there isn’t always enough to do to keep the whole group engaged. Some fuzzy logic during a couple of the tests, as well as a few clues that were extremely well hidden, caused the flow to break down fairly hard. The room itself is nowhere near as beautiful as some of Exit Strategy’s other offerings, though it does fit “Government Training Facility” pretty well, so it’s a small thing.

Verdict:

As Charlotte’s first Competition based room, Spy Trainer fits the bill for an exciting race against your friends. Several blemishes keep it from being as amazing as it could be, but for the first room of its type in the area, it’s a good jumping off point. Beginners and enthusiasts alike will enjoy testing their mettle against friends, and I highly recommend Spy Trainer for a large group that wants to do a room, but doesn’t want to have too many cooks in the kitchen. You can book your final exam here!

7/10 (Good)

Codescape – Shipwrecked (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 4-10 (We recommend 5-6)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It belongs in a museum!

Theme:

Long ago, the Asi Sword, a legendary weapon of untold power, was stolen by a group of pirates. While making their escape, however, a violent storm swept over their ship and they disappeared without a trace. Rumor has it they were shipwrecked on the coast of India, but no one has seen evidence of the disaster until now! Your team of archaeologists has arrived on the scene in search of the artifact, but unluckily so has a team of ruthless treasure hunters! You’ll need to find and solve the mystery of the Asi Sword quickly, otherwise, it might soon be lost again!

First Impressions:

Though we were unfortunately disappointed by The Experiment, Shipwrecked came highly recommended, and we definitely wanted to give Codescape another shot! The initial feeling we had about this room was definitely more exciting, as the room was very elaborately decorated, with a Hollywood style set that evoked feelings of a haunted jungle shipwreck and displayed several interesting set pieces to puzzle with.

High Points:

Puzzles flowed well from one to the next, and there was no ambiguity or guessing required. A worthy challenge was presented, however, as this clarity didn’t make things too simple for us. A nice mix of non-linear interactions allowed for several spots where our team of six were all working together throughout, with very little downtime. Themeing was spot on, and provided a spooky vibe through theatrical lighting and set design coupled with a slowly developing story that immersed us in the mystery of the Asi Sword. Teamwork was rewarded heavily, as many set pieces demanded we solve puzzles by communicating effectively.

Low Points:

One large scale puzzle was a the final requirement to get to the next stage of the game, and while our whole team could work on it, it was a large time sink that felt repetitive after a while. Another puzzle was solved easily enough, but confused us as it was fairly finicky, requiring us to fiddle with it further even though we had the correct answer.

Verdict:

Shipwrecked is a large scale puzzling adventure that lived up to the hype, delivering a spooky pirate adventure that was able to keep our larger group engaged throughout with tactile and satisfying puzzling. For beginners, this will be a highly accessible, but challenging adventure, and enthusiasts will enjoy the original puzzles and great flow. Book your archaeological expedition here!

8.5/10 (Great)

 

Masterpiece Escapes – Metro Mayhem (Review)

Location: Indian Trail, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

We’re superheroes. We save the world. It’s what we do.

Theme:

Doctor Devastation has finally been nabbed by the Good Guys! The supervillain was picked up just today for jaywalking, but can only be held for so long before his team of lawyers bail him out. You’ve been called in to infiltrate his office, and find out what evil machinations he’s been up to. Work quickly through his traps and puzzles, and shut down his nefarious plans once and for all, but make sure not to trigger any deadly security measures! 

First Impressions:

We found ourselves with a large gap in our escape schedule during our last trip to Charlotte and were looking to fill it with another room, (because what else is there, really?), leading us to seek out a business we’d not been to before. Masterpiece Escapes had a few interesting themes, and when we reached out, they were more than welcoming, so we decided to give them a shot! Most rooms that we passed were decorated to fit their theme, which is always one of my favorite touches, so I had high hopes!

High Points:

Metro Mayhem accomplished something that has become rarer as I have escaped more and more rooms, which is provide me with a genuine surprise! I can’t elaborate too much without spoiling anything, but there were three separate occasions in which something triggered that I absolutely did not expect. The room expertly ratchets up in intensity as the game moves forward, subverting initial expectations and delivering a challenging puzzling experience throughout. Several original, hand-built props and large scale puzzles are a lot of fun to interact with, bringing the whole team together to overcome obstacles. The climax is appropriately exciting and well integrated with the theme of the room.

Low Points:

There were a couple of points in which technology had failed, so we did not get to experience the full potential of these sections of the game, but workarounds were provided so as not to get in the way of the flow of the puzzles. One of the penultimate puzzles was an interesting idea, but the excitement of that particular interaction wore off as it took quite a while to fully complete.

Verdict:

Metro Mayhem, which I was surprised to hear is Masterpiece Escape’s first room, is a skillfully crafted escape experience that provides entertaining  surprises throughout. Beginners and enthusiasts alike will enjoy this superhero adventure, and I very much look forward to visiting again to take on their other rooms! Book your showdown with Doctor Devastation here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Masterpiece Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Exit Strategy South – Quest for Honor (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Have fun storming the castle!

Theme:

An ancient and powerful dragon has awoken from its slumber upon its hoard of gold, and is attacking the Kingdom of Westwend! The great wizard Merlin has called upon your team of burgeoning wizards to come to the castle’s stronghold and defeat the dragon! You’ll need to find ancient relics and a powerful spellbook in order to slay the monster and bring peace to the Kingdom once more.

First Impressions:

For this room, we were assured that we were in for a different type of escape. Instead of finding codes and unlocking boxes, we’d need to use “magic” to progress. Intrigued by the fantastic set and colorful windows looking out over the too quiet Kingdom, (and energized by our escape from The Final Sacrifice just minutes before,) we began our quest with gusto!

High Points:

There are truly very few locks at all in Quest for Honor, in fact, I believe we only saw two during our full run. Magical technology is peppered throughout the entire experience, making the quest extremely immersive. Performing spells correctly leads towards exciting effects, and can have unexpected results throughout. As the goals of the room are achieved, the quest evolves and updates through new updates from Merlin, as well as shifting within the room and a fun set piece that adds a fantastic new element to the game.

Low Points:

Some leaps of logic become more esoteric when inputs are “magic,” leading to several places where the flow is dammed up. One admittedly fun part of the room can wear out its welcome due to the nature and necessity of its use. While the set is overall beautiful, there are two points of anachronism that can feel a bit jarring to the immersion. One particular puzzle stays overlong and can be unwieldly due to it’s length and the inability to write anything down.

Verdict:

Quest for Honor is a fun but uneven experience that hiccups several times, but recovers well in between. The mystical nature of the room make this a must play for families and those who are interested in a magical adventure. A fine introduction for beginners, and a new experience for enthusiasts who are getting burned out on the usual solution to lock cliché, I definitely recommend trying out this solid room. Book your fight against the dragon here!

7/10 (Good)

Exit Strategy South – The Final Sacrifice (Bonus Review)

To preface, The Final Sacrifice was retired on September 17th, 2017, the day just after we played. We made a special trip to Charlotte to do so, and we’re glad we did. The only regret we have, is that we can’t recommend others go! I figured I’d still do a review, however, as this room is, (Spoiler Alert,) definitely worthy of the praise I’m about to heap on it here.

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommended 8-10)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Praise Baruta!

Theme:

You have been following The Church of Light and Dark’s teachings as an acolyte to the cult, but today, your faith is to be tested as part of an initiation ritual to contact and bring forth their dark god, Baruta. You have a limited window to do so, however, and those who fail this test will be sacrificed to sate his anger! As evidenced by the blood on the altar, many have failed, but those who succeed are promised immortality! Break free from your chains and complete the ritual, and you will become one of the few worthy of eternal life!

First Impressions:

Exit Strategy South’s usual rules briefing is turned completely on its head, as the normally bright room is pitch dark save for a single lantern when you’re led in. The employee who leads you in slips away and you’re left in silence (or in our case, loud joking rowdiness,) with your team, waiting for your game master to arrive. When he does, it is a exciting bit of theatre, and for our team, a hilarious back and forth with the cult leader! This briefing set the tone for this intense, creepy, but unexpectedly light-heartedly humorous adventure. Once our introduction was complete, we were hooded and led half of the group at a time into the sacrificial chamber. There, we were chained to the wall, (or in one unlucky initiate’s case, the sacrificial table,) after which our time began!

High Points:

After that splendid introduction, we were immediately thrust into the meat of the room. To start, the big reveal that one of our friends had been chained to a table was a startling, (and let’s be honest, amusing,) start to the room. A linear, one room experience, The Final Sacrifice somehow was still able to immerse all 10 of our group members in the expertly crafted story and puzzles. Once we began to unlock each other from our restraints, it became obvious that teamwork was absolutely necessary to our success. This was one of the few rooms where it really felt like each person was integral to our overall success, and breakdowns in communication could be deadly. The lighting and sound effects really made the room come to life, not to mention the great props to be found within. Macabre surprises lurked around every corner and within every unlocked area, and every solved puzzle felt like a victory. The hint system and GM interactions were perfectly executed, and I could not have asked for a better overall experience as story, puzzles, interactions, and flow came together to provide an intense and immersive experience I’ll never forget.

Low Points:

We didn’t have many, though I can see one particular puzzle ruining the experience for some groups, especially if they are mostly strangers, as teamwork is heavily required here. In fact, one of our friends was unable to join our group, but played in the next time slot after our excited recommendation to do so, and the fact that she played with less than friendly strangers tanked the experience for her. But that’s more an issue with playing with strangers in general. Also, two players are locked down for longer than the others, and that can be a pain in the butt, especially if other teammates don’t work quickly! The only other low point is that this room has been retired, which is a shame!

Verdict:

As of around 100 rooms, The Final Sacrifice is, without reservation, my absolute favorite escape adventure to date. Marrying an immersive theatrical experience to a solid puzzling quest, it set a new standard for escape rooms. A true enthusiasts room, it was a tough, but insanely rewarding challenge that demanded teamwork, observation, and time management, doling out an increasingly amazing story as we delved deeper into the mysteries of The Church of Light and Dark. I hope that whatever replaces this experience is just as fantastic!  In the meantime, you can check out Exit Strategy here!

10/10 (Sublime)