Last Second Escape – Project 00 (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Price: $25 per person

Players: 4-8 (We Recommend 2-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

It’s not The Bomb.

Theme:

This one is dicey. The website (as of this writing,) says that we’re a team of elite agents who, after taking out a cell of terrorists, need to shut down the launch of nuclear warheads. The Gamemaster said we were spies who needed to break into a hideout and disarm some bombs. The game itself made it out to be a training exercise. What’s the real theme here? Your guess is as good as mine, honestly.

First Impressions:

We’d had a couple of average to poor experiences so far with Dark Carnival and Mine Shift, respectively, but these could be chalked up to newness of the room or unfortunate errors, and both rooms seemed to have potential. Since Project 00 was an older room that Last Second Escape had more time to make adjustments with, I was cautiously optimistic that this might be a better experience.

High Points:

I really liked the laser maze. These are fairly ubiquitous within a lot of escape rooms, but I always have fun doing them. At the beginning of the room, one of us was handcuffed to a briefcase, which was an interesting start, but that spot of interest was short lived.

Low Points:

This room was an absolute train wreck for the most part. At the beginning, the gamemaster mumbled a mostly incoherent story to us, which did nothing to excite us for the mission. Once we found a black light, we were supposed to use it in several uninspired shine-the-black-light-everywhere “puzzles.” To reiterate my thoughts on black light over-reliance, when there are no clues to direct you, which was the case here, it’s just lazy game design. Unfortunately, this was one of the most egregious examples of black light abuse I’ve ever seen, and it showed within the already choppy game flow. Another broken puzzle revealed itself to us almost immediately, but we were assured we’d be able to use it properly later in the game. However, the puzzle never worked due to it being completely worn away in most spots. At no point was an attempt made to correct this severe error, nor was an apology given while we were there. Randomly placed solutions were presented as puzzles, which did nothing to dissuade us from our thought that this game was even more poorly crafted than the others we’d experienced at Last Second Escape. Set design was also incredibly uninspired, feeling sparse and nonsensical in one particular area. The room felt like a converted office space, and was not immersive in the slightest. There were no puzzles we had not seen before implemented more interestingly, and by the time we reached the half way point of the room, I wanted nothing more than to finish up so it could be over. This is, by far, the worst room of the eight we did during our Richmond trip. In fact, I’d put it in my bottom 10 as well.

Verdict:

There is so much that needs to be overhauled to make this room recommendable that I would advise scrapping the whole thing. Whereas the other rooms at Last Second Escape were good ideas with somewhat flawed implementation, this room was just horrible throughout. You can definitely do better, but if you would like to book Project 00, you can do so here.

2/10 (Bad)

Full Disclosure: Last Second Escape provided discounted tickets for our group.

Last Second Escape – Mine Shift (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Price: $25 per person

Players: 4-8 (We Recommend 2-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Willy’s a moron, do we really want to save him?

Theme:

Old Willy’s been working at the old mine for a good long while, and though it’s hard work, he’s always been cheerful and upbeat! In fact, he thinks he’s found what could be his ticket to retirement, so he’s gotten a head start on the day, sneaking into the mine early to get a jump on extracting some gold! Unfortunately, he’s caused a cave-in, trapping himself inside. It’s up to you to save him, but you’ll only get an hour since Willy’s rigged some dynamite to explode!

First Impressions:

Mine Shift was another interesting theme, and the set looked very much like the mine it was supposed to represent, but we were given two extremely poor lights, both of which needed new batteries. We were eventually given said batteries reluctantly after being told they were, “supposed to be dim,” but one still had a short, making our experience immediately frustrating. Not a great start.

High Points:

The technological interactions provide good feedback letting you know when an item is in place and tend to work smoothly. Set design, for what we could see, was well done, feeling like an old prospector’s mine, but at the same time was not overly claustrophobic. The theme was original, and bits of story could be found, accompanied by Willy’s commentary. When puzzles were good, they were very well implemented, but as we came to find out, the bad really started to compound upon itself as we got further into the game.

Low Points:

Reset errors in this room really tanked our experience, and had we not been able to use props to “glitch” past the roadblock, this room would have been rendered unsolvable at best. What really irked us about this is that when it was noticed that a critical piece we needed was located behind the lock it was intended to open, the staff member simply mentioned that that was, “interesting,” failing to offer any sort of recompense or, at the very least, an apology for the blunder. Funnily enough, the room was technically “won” one minute in when I found the box that contained our goal already open. I was initially confused as to why I needed this item until upon a second look at the box, the reset failure became clear. Puzzles made little sense thematically because, as one teammate mentioned, “If Willy is such a weapons-grade idiot, how is he setting up all these logic and math puzzles?” Though there are several technological interactions, a lot of puzzling is presented via laminated handouts, which was highly uninteresting. One of these aforementioned puzzles has two possible solutions, with no way to rule out which is correct, causing an unnecessary guess and check element. Last Second’s love affair with black light overuse became wholly apparent beginning in this room, leading to groan-worthy “puzzles” and smacked foreheads. Some puzzles within had obvious clues towards solutions, but did not have a way to suss out their order, creating even more guess and check nonsense. A lot of puzzles had audio cues that repeated if you moved or removed the items, which slowly eroded our sanity.

Verdict:

Mine Shift really should be Last Second Escape’s best room, but our experience was absolutely destroyed through a combination of reset failures, finicky puzzles, and staff indifference. Though there are some puzzles that would count as a minor groan here and there, these issues magnified the problems within the room and conspired to deliver one of the most subpar experiences we had in Richmond. Until these problems are fixed at a basic level, I’d give this one a miss. You can book your time with Willy here.

3.5/10 (Poor)

Full Disclosure: Last Second Escape provided discounted tickets for our group.

The Resystance – Box 2: Prohibition (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per month

Resyst.

Theme:

From the Resystance website:
We are in danger from unknown forces that conspire against us. The air you breathe, the water you drink, the land beneath you is no longer yours. Perhaps it was never yours. There is no security left in this world. We must band together. Resystance Leaders will be communicating shortly to reveal the danger and train you. History has much to teach. We must fight back, but great danger lies ahead. Be careful. Be safe. Be anonymous. Resyst.

Sounds mysterious, and it is!

First Impressions:

I was initially not sure what to expect from The Resystance. The website seemed to hint at a shadow war that was on the horizon, with agents from both sides battling for an unknown cause. An audio file we received after signing up also promised that The Resystance itself would be contacting us in order to train us to fight against those endangering our world. We received the promised correspondence within a suitably plain box stamped with the Resystance logo, cementing the aura of mystery that surrounds the experience.

20180410_192422256080905.jpg

A suitably mysterious box!

High Points:

When we began our training mission, we found ourselves transported to Prohibition Era America! We were given a letter of introduction from Resystance leaders as well as a few intriguing items and a newspaper to get us started. Within the box there were a couple of envelopes that we were to keep sealed until we reached a certain part of the story, and this functioned as a great way to dole out new pieces of the story as well as more props and puzzles! It was always clear when we had solved the puzzle correctly and were allowed to move forward with the envelopes, providing a more structured progression to the box’s game flow. This was a great and highly original way to keep our focus on certain parts of the game, preventing the sometimes mercurial nature of some subscription boxes from infecting the experience. Puzzles were masked well, but enough direction was given that we did not feel lost in any way, and once we had found the threads we needed, it became clear what our goal was through several satisfying ah-ha moments! The props themselves were high quality, and extremely enjoyable to use, and the newspaper especially was an amazing treat to work through. As this was only the second box produced by The Resystance, I’m looking forward to seeing the items and mysteries in store for the upcoming boxes!

20180410_1921151416736592.jpg

Time-travelling tools!

Low Points:

We received one set of items at the outset that felt out of place, which probably would have made more sense had it been inside one of the progression envelopes. This was later explained to be a minor shipping error, which is completely understandable. The training mission set up is an interesting way to start the storyline, but we didn’t get any insight into the meta-narrative just yet, beyond a audio introduction when we signed up, which was a slight disappointment. Hopefully going forward we’ll get a clearer picture of what lurks in the shadows!

Verdict:

The enigmatic nature of The Resystance was a great set up, and though I expected a more cloak and dagger storyline, the time-hopping training adventure was engaging and presented a great challenge! I look forward to seeing how the storyline develops, and how our training might develop into the meta-narrative and recommend those intrigued by a long term mystery to give this one a shot! Use the promo code ESCAPERA for 10% off and join the Resystance here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Resystance provided a complementary box.

Last Second Escape – Dark Carnival (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Price: $25 per person

Players: 4-8 (We Recommend 2-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Carn-evil!

Theme:

Once a year, the Carnival comes to town, bringing games, rides, and popcorn to the people of Richmond! It also brings a shadowy ringmaster, who steals away children, disappearing them from this world forever. With the vanishings always happening around the time of the carnival, you’d think you’d have the sense to keep away, but for whatever reason, you’ve come to this Dark Carnival and now you must escape before the ringmaster comes for you!

First Impressions:

The set here was simple, but a nice set up of carnival-like games and bright colored lights, and the theme of a bleak, sinister carnival appealed to our team greatly. We were definitely excited to see what dark secrets were hiding just beneath this cheery exterior as we began our adventure!

High Points:

The initial part of the game involves many great carnival game themed puzzles, which are a delight to figure out and execute, with physical interactions mixed within the intellectual ones, varying the game well. The bright designs bring the carnival to life within a simpler set, still bringing a sense of immersion to the theme. Technological interactions are interesting, and bring the room to life in an interesting way.

Low Points:

Unfortunately, the Dark Carnival never really got that dark. We were expecting a sinister horror theme, but it never manifested, instead presenting the bright carnival and what felt like a back office rather than the lair of an evil, mysterious ringmaster. If this had been more of an Escape the Carnival theme rather than a Dark Carnival one, it would’ve fit the room better. One puzzle relied on color and positioning, but two of the colors were extremely similar to the point we could not tell the difference, taking what was originally a fairly interesting puzzle and making it a game of guess and check. A puzzle that was presented soon thereafter had a standard method of solving, but the presentation was banal and even worse, it did not work properly at all, forcing the GM to enter the room and give us the code. The sensors for what could’ve been an incredibly fun carnival interaction were jostled out of place, and when we brought this up to the Gamemaster as an issue, we were told that they were aware, but there wasn’t really anything they could do about it. The connective tissue of the rooms is very sparse at times, leading puzzles to become guessing games of degrees. In these cases, the addition of a simple clue could have solidified solutions instead of leading to vague approximations. There was also an intentional red herring, which did nothing to make a completely bland final puzzle any more interesting, further highlighting that this particular puzzle didn’t have much going on for it, ending the room anti-climatically.

Verdict:

Dark Carnival promises an interesting theme and doesn’t quite deliver what is expected. Though there are a fair bit of great carnival puzzles in the beginning, mishaps and messed up props marred the experience throughout. Last Second Escape has a great idea, and a good foundation to build an excellent game upon, but right now, there is still a good bit of work to be done. This is definitely their best game so far, but I can’t recommend checking it out quite yet, as it is an average disappointment for now. Fixing the issues, connecting the game flow more smoothly, and adding a more sinister air to the room would do this room a huge service however, and I hope they can improve it in the future! You can book your escape from the Dark Carnival here.

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Last Second Escape provided discounted tickets for our group.

Escape Room RVA – Vanity (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Price: $25 per person

Players: 2-6 (We Recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

You’re beautiful, dahling!

Theme:

The theme of this room is actually quite mysterious, and anything I could write to encapsulate the theme myself would spoil some of the revelations gained inside the room, so I’ll just provide you with the description from Escape Room RVA’s website here:

“Stare into a mirror long enough and you will ultimately discover the truth. Past the ever present glow of the cell phone screen the unvarnished reflection of the worlds most famous starlet Beatrice Mary proved too much for her fragile mind. Follow her footsteps into the madness.”

First Impressions:

From the moment we entered Beatrice’s dressing room, it was obvious that she was obsessed with herself. The enormous amount of mirrors and self-indulgent items really gave us an instant picture of the personality of our subject, even before the game began. The sense of mystery that pervaded the room was all we needed to peak our interest greatly.

High Points:

This was a highly different experience than your usual puzzling fare, telling a moody tale of depression, aging, and dependence that I’d never expected an escape room to pull off, but Escape Room RVA pulls it off naturally and with style. The transitions between stages of the rooms were all highly surprising, at times jarring, and launched the narrative forward in directions we never saw coming. Alex, again, was an awesome game master, interacting with us and providing a great tone to the room as we progressed. Some really original interactions were included, combining a cliché trope with a truly fantastic clue to make a puzzle that would’ve been forgettable in any other room and make it memorable. There was another heavily interactive portion of the room that used a technical prop to augment our reality in an astounding way.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle could have used a little more cluing, as it made sense once we realized the answer, but came across as a slightly damaged prop. This particular interaction feels as if it was next to unsolvable without a hint, due to it’s nature, but I could be wrong here. There was a particular puzzle as well that had some misleading language within it’s clue, leading us to believe we did not have enough to solve the puzzle when in actuality, we had almost solved it already. This puzzle also involved a fairly drawn out process that ceased to be interesting before it was over.

Verdict:

The twists and turns of Vanity are great fun, and while there are a few blemishes here and there, (beyond those Beatrice tries to hide,) it is a solid adventure that touches on deep themes you don’t usually experience within an escape room. I think this room is best for mature players, as younger ones may not fully understand the dark storyline inside, but I do still recommend giving it a shot. Investigate Beatrice’s descent into madness here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room RVA provided discounted tickets for our group.