The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Behind the Wall (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

All in all you’re just another corpse in the wall.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Fairmont Estates is a tightly-knit neighborhood in the heart of Valley Falls. The residents are all white-collar and well-to-do, and any of the homes could be featured on the front of any picture postcard…except the one on Bradford Street. That house has been tied up in probate court after the previous resident passed away and has been vacant for the last three years. The house, understandably, has fallen into disarray and been vandalised on occasion by some of the neighborhood teenagers. When a family is finally able to purchase the home, the first thing they do is begin extensive renovations to return the place to its former glory. As demolition and construction are both underway, the owners are shocked when the remains of a reporter that has been missing for the past year are discovered behind one of the walls. Even more chilling is the fact that she seems to have been interred while alive which is confirmed by one final message she wrote that begins: “To whoever finds me, the Fairmont residents all have secrets. One of them did this to me…”

First Impressions:

Deadbolt have been on a roll with some of their best games ever over the last few months, and Behind the Wall certainly seemed just the right type of creepy for me! From the spooky box design to the mysterious murder in the middle of an otherwise perfect-seeming neighborhood, I loved the theme and couldn’t wait to dig in!

High Points:

Behind the Wall sets up a wonderfully twisted mystery to begin, and things just become even more wild from there. There’s a sinister vibe to the proceedings I adored that carries throughout, and is evoked by the items included as much as by the story. The intensity of the situation we find ourselves in never quite lets up, and as we delved deeper into the story, we never quite knew what was going to happen next. Honestly, this one kept us guessing until the absolute end, with a climax that surprised us more than any other recent box has, so kudos to the writers of this wonderfully demented tale! All of this storytelling added yet another wicked facet to the world of Valley Falls, much to the woe of the town, but to my somewhat sadistic delight.

The puzzles included are fantastically creative, with several implemented in interesting ways we’d never seen nor thought of before. These puzzles, as well as the props, are  designed beautifully, weaving a excellent thematic flair into everything, increasing immersion greatly. There are loads of puzzles, and the non-linear presentation of the adventure ensures that players need to stay well organized in order to solve the mystery, and there are some excellent moments of revelation as detectives follow cleverly subtle hints through the intuitively gated game flow. The experience is non-linear for the most part, allowing bigger groups to divide and conquer, or smaller groups and solo players to jump between puzzles as needed. The difficulty curve is very smooth, with some easy wins at the beginning to get things started, ramping up nicely into some moderately challenging interactions, and finishing up with a multilayered meta-puzzle to finish things off. I found Behind the Wall to be enormously satisfying to solve, and cannot name a single puzzle in this one that I didn’t enjoy!

Low Points:

Behind the Wall, though excellent in multiple ways, does struggle a little with delivering the great characterization that previous Deadbolt boxes are known for. The suspects are mostly talked about, rather than talked to, and though some late game interactions do reveal some of their motivations, it would’ve been nice to have at least a little contact with them to flesh them out a bit.

Verdict:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society has been on a tear lately, with great mysteries coming out month after month, each better than the last! I very much enjoyed Behind the Wall, and despite a minor quibble, can easily say this is one of my favorite Deadbolt stories to date. I look forward to seeing what develops from the new revelations contained inside, and highly recommend players new and old check this one out! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code ESCAPE30! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Deadbolt Mystery Society provided a complementary box.

Emergency Exit Escape Games UK – Exorcist (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: Up to 6 connections (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: £60.00 per room (About $75.84 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Try to keep your head from spinning…

Theme:

From the Emergency Exit Escape Games UK website:

Your Haunted house ghost tour has been cancelled due to lock down. You will join your tour guide via a remote live feed link. You and your friends can join the tour from various online locations where you are safe and sound, However you must also get the tour guide to safety away from the evil manor house within an hour. The legend has it that anyone who stays longer than one hour will simply disappear.

Crowley Manor is famously known for strange happenings. Recently in the news again after the disappearance of a priest sent by the Vatican to investigate the Evil that lurks in the House. The father has also left a trail of clues for anyone else to follow if he didn’t make it.

Can You and your Team lead your unsuspecting tour guide to safety?

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First Impressions:

I love a good horror room, and this one looked like it would really bring the terror. Exorcists and Cult stories are a favorite of mine, (as evidenced by our favorite live escape room of all time,) so I had high hopes for Emergency Exit’s first foray into the remote escape game space.

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High Points:

After the game, our Game Master mentioned they were new to virtual escape rooms, but  with how polished this experience is, I was honestly surprised that they hadn’t been doing this sort of thing for a good while! Exorcist is easily my favorite virtual experience we’ve done, and that’s no mean feat. The whole adventure is incredible, with an immersion level that absolutely sets the bar for this sort of game going forward. We were glued to our screens for the full run time, enraptured with the situation we found ourselves in. It was like being participants in our very own found footage horror film. Many rooms claim their rooms are like being in a movie, but there are very few in which it truly feels this way, and Exorcist creates this atmosphere seemingly effortlessly. Set design, lighting, sound effects, and a few surprising design elements capture the oppressive and terrifying Crowley Manor beautifully. Our tour guide continually engaged with us, imparting “facts” and lore about the manor as well as quipping back and forth with us for comic relief now and then, giving a very convincing performance that elevated things greatly. Unlike many other games, he also appeared on screen, rather than being behind the camera, which made him feel like a member of our team rather than just our “avatar” for the room. While our cameraman, Liam, was silent during the adventure, he too came across as a convincing character based off a few key segments of the game. Liam also provided some very steady camerawork, which was appreciated by my wife, who tends to get a little queasy during games with shakier cameras.

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The story line of Exorcist is also brilliant, injecting the room with some amazing slow burn horror, as well as building on the horrific atmosphere the other elements support. For the amount of horror rooms we have done virtually, this one has my wife’s seal of… “approval,” we’ll call it, in that it actively scared her despite being a remote game. In fact, she told me that had we actively been in the room, she would’ve noped right out of there. So if you’re looking for a truly scary horror experience, this is the game for you! At various points during the room, we activated some prerecorded videos that fit seamlessly into the game, and they moved the story along well while presenting small puzzles for use in the game also. Things became ever more intense as our time continued to tick by and our tour guide became more and more terrified, culminating in an exciting and unexpected climax that left us clamoring for more!

The game itself flows through a mostly linear set up well, and it is certainly a good idea to pay good attention to the tour guide, who literally gives a tour of the room to start. Emergency Exit does a fantastic job of ensuring players know every important bit of the room, and keeping good notes will ensure you’re able to keep track of everything. Though there is no inventory system for this game, I didn’t miss it, and our tour guide ensured that we knew exactly what we had, and gave subtle clues to what we might need to work on next. The difficulty curve works a treat, starting off with some easy wins, and finishing with some challenging, but amazingly satisfying, multi-layered puzzles. Every puzzle is integrated into the theme of the game, and at all times, the adventure feels immersive and real. The experience kept our group of four escape room veterans puzzling up to the last couple minutes, and I can definitely say we felt as though we earned our escape once the credits rolled.

Exorcist

Low Points:

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Verdict:

Unequivocally, I can say that Exorcist knocks it out of the park, and raises the bar for remote escape experiences across the board. The amazing production values, awesome game mastering, intuitive puzzling, and engaging story line all weave together into an adventure that must be experienced. This game wowed me from start to finish, and I absolutely cannot recommend it enough. I cannot wait to escape with them again and find out what new horrors await us! Book your tour of Crowley Manor here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Emergency Exit Escape Games UK provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Escapist NZ – Red Hill Asylum (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  2-5 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: NZ$75 per room (About $48.67 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Enter the darkest depths of your imagination…

Theme:

From the Escapist NZ website:

You are the star and writer of super popular TV Show called Ghost Stoppers. Your work takes you and your time all around the world to investigate haunted old buildings with colourful back story. This time it takes you over to the Red Hill Asylum where the town’s people have reported hearing blood curling screams at night.

The Police have been asked to investigate, but found nothing despite the presence of heavy armed vehicles in and around Red Hill Asylum.

As you begin filming, your night took an unexpected turn as you and your crew found something unusual at the haunted Red Hill Asylum. Will you disprove the ghost story this time? Or is there something more sinister lurking beneath the surface.

First Impressions:

As someone who has enjoyed listening to and running Escape This Podcast audio escape rooms for my wife, I was excited to finally get to do an audio escape room as a player! Escapist NZ has created the Red Hill Asylum to operate like a cross between tabletop roleplaying and escape rooms, and I couldn’t wait to see how the experience would stack up! And what better way to get my start than with a creepy haunted asylum?

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High Points:

The somewhat unconventional nature of this room was explained well to start, and it basically boiled down to the room being a much more intuitive version of an old school LucasArts game, as rather than typing, for example, “take eye from witch,” we’d explain what we wanted to do verbally to our Game Master, and they’d describe what happens. Everything worked intuitively, as moving around and interacting with the room was a completely smooth experience. To get us started, we took turns searching the room, and after were let loose to work through the experience between ourselves as ideas formed. The story line and presentation were great, with pictures being provided to us to more fully flesh out the map of the room and show us the things we interacted with. I really appreciated the sinister art style and subtle clues that were hidden within these pictures, and felt that these really added to the immersion. The escape room vibe was captured well through our GM’s descriptions and the game flow, and there is an undercurrent of creepiness that I appreciated.

Puzzles flowed well through the mostly linear gameplay, (though there are non-linear points, unless we were stuck, the nature of the game requires a small level of linearity at most times,) and each level of the game is intuitive, with connections that make solid logical sense. At no point did I feel we were hindered by “adventure game logic” that required us to make herculean leaps, nor were there any red herrings to lead us down unnecessary rabbit holes. Though the logic and connections come together cleanly, the game is not without a challenge, however, and the difficulty curve smoothly works towards more complex puzzles. In fact, several of my favorites were very creative, leading to some excellently satisfying moments when we finally sussed out what the solutions were. Overall, I had an awesome time with this game, especially as a tabletop role-playing game player and game master myself.

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Low Points:

The ending was unexpected, as we thought there’d be another room in which we’d clear up one final loose end, but things just ended, undermining the climax somewhat, which was a shame, as the rest of the story was engaging and I was excited to see how things came together in the end. A little extra story to ensure the ending feels complete would definitely remedy this well. The inventory system is rather unwieldy, as items are only added, not removed, and things can get buried fairly easily. It was functional, but didn’t quite work as smoothly as we’ve seen in other games.

Verdict:

Red Hill Asylum was a great first audio escape room for me, and I had an excellent time working through the creepy room. The light to moderate difficulty would be great for new players, but the puzzles are creative and challenging enough to keep an enthusiast entertained for the hour. I recommend giving it a shot, and look forward to trying out their new audio experiences in the future! You can book your ghost hunting delve into Red Hill Asylum here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escapist NZ provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

The Escape Game – Ruins: Forbidden Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Theme:

From the The Escape Game website:

You’re on a relaxing aerial tour of a remote jungle when everything suddenly falls apart. You’re stranded at the foot of ancient and mysterious temple ruins – home of a massive fabled treasure. Adventure has come knocking and the treasure could be yours for the taking! Fortune favors the bold. Will it favor you?

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First Impressions:

At the start of our game, we met one of our favorite people we’ve ever met within an escape game, Captain Mac, who would be flying us to the site of our adventure. A man of pure joy and light, we were highly entertained by his beautifully produced and informative educational video, right up until the plane crashed. But, you know, five stars up until that minor incident!

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Captain Mac’s tours are brilliant!

High Points:

Our Game Master Brianna and Avatar “Jungle Scout” were great, helping us explore this beautiful room remotely. Set design is amazing, and made us wish we were physically in the room, but I didn’t feel that much was lost in translation, or that we were missing out on too much of the experience by playing remotely. If anything, it got us excited to visit The Escape Game in Nashville once the pandemic is over! There are a few cinematic moments that truly wowed us, including some crazy set pieces that, when activated, elevate the entire game’s immersion brilliantly! It’s strange to comment on how tactile the room is when we weren’t physically there, but it was cool to be able to virtually interact with so many well built props, and the Jungle Scout ensured we were able to have her manipulate them as we directed. The inventory system is excellent, and items are quickly added and removed as we find and successfully use them, respectively. This keeps the game flow running smoothly and ensures the whole experience is well streamlined. Technical wizardry runs rampant in this room, and is hidden quite well, creating mystical, large scale effects that translate well to the zoom call. As an aside, isn’t it nice to be able to have conference calls that aren’t mind numbing, for once?

The game flows beautifully, as previously mentioned, and searching has been modified in order to keep things running at a good clip, so the puzzling is the star of the show here. The interactions are challenging and logical, and it’s great to see that though the experience has been adjusted for remote play, it remains a fantastic room dense with great puzzles. I really loved that several puzzles still relied on good teamwork to overcome, and the variety certainly allowed for each of us to have our MVP moment! Each stage of the game is somewhat self contained, making each room feel like their own individual meta-puzzles to work through, and this approach works fantastically virtually, and eliminates any dead time from having to direct the avatar to walk back and forth. The climactic puzzle is wonderfully intense, and the touches that combine to build this level of intensity are all insanely cool, even through our computer screens.

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Low Points:

We had one slight hiccup when we asked to search a particular part of the room, and were told it was featureless, only to later find there was a very important interaction there we had previously expected to find. Luckily, our GM was able to get things back on track once she realized the error, which was great. One particular puzzle relies on sound, and it’s a great idea in person, but virtually, we were directly informed regarding the important bits, simplifying it a bit more than we would’ve liked. I understand the reason for the modification, but other games we’ve done have been able to translate sounds to their inventories, which would preserve the challenge here.

Verdict:

As a virtual experience, Ruins: Forbidden Treasure is a pretty awesome way to spend an hour with friends, escaping even when we can’t be in the room together. I really appreciated the production values of the adventure, and the intro video is almost worth the price of admission alone! I can’t wait to check out The Escape Game once we’re able to make the trek out to Tennessee, and absolutely recommend escaping this room virtually in the mean time. Book your time with Captain Mac’s Skyward Tours here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Escape Game provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Escape-topia – Carnival Macabre (Review)

Location: Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Price: $29 per person

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Want a balloon, sonny?

Theme:

From the Escape-topia website:

What child doesn’t love a carnival with rides, cotton candy, games, balloons, and clowns?

Well…maybe not all clowns. You see, there’s a murderous clown on the loose in our carnival and his favorite victims are children.

The local authorities suspect Giggles the Clown but are having a hard time proving it because he only leaves his lair for an hour, maybe less.

They already lost 2 good men in their attempt to stop him, so they’ve asked for your assistance, as FBI profilers, to solve the crime before another child falls victim to this madman – if, in fact, he really is human.

 

First Impressions:

Carnival Macabre was our final room of the day at Escape-topia, and I have to say, I was a little sad there weren’t more creepy escapes for us to puzzle through here, as we were having an amazing time! I have a soft spot for spooky carnivals, so I was excited that we had saved this particular favorite theme for last!

High Points:

Escape-topia are masters of crafting an entertainingly creepy set design, and from lobby to room, this immersion remains unbroken throughout the experience. In terms of creep factor, I think this particular room takes the cake for me, especially during the latter half of the adventure. From a mysteriously large locked box we came across to a group of very… special… children, this room kept us on our toes from start to finish! The props within the room do a great job of world building and characterization, ensuring that the ever looming threat of Giggle’s return remained at the forefront of our minds. Adding in the spooky sound design that permeates the carnival, immersion remained high throughout. I also especially loved the subtle bits here and there that gave us further insight into Giggle’s alleged crime spree. I’m still not 100% sure he did the crimes he’s accused of however… I mean, look at him, he’s so darn friendly!

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The art at Escape-topia is wildly creative… and terrifying!

The game flow is fantastic, with a few different paths and a wide variety of puzzle types available to keep larger groups entertained. Though we personally struggled a bit at the beginning, (due, I think, to us having a case of what we like to call, “the dumb,”) the difficulty curve seemed very smooth once we were able to get going. I especially enjoyed some of the more tactile interactions, and really loved a late game meta puzzle that brought together many of the mysterious items we’d collected during our quest! A few had multiple layers to them, though we had to sort through some subtly clever clues in order to discover them. This subtle cluing was produced some excellently satisfying moments of revelation, and I have to say, this room was definitely one of my favorites during our Fort Lauderdale trip, in terms of puzzles. Overall, this was an extremely well designed experience, and it was great fun to work through Giggle’s twisted games!

Low Points:

One particular interaction was really cool, but it was somewhat difficult to reach, and of the two of us, I was the only one who had the wingspan in order to complete the task. Had I been a little shorter, we might have run into some trouble, though I’m sure Mother’s attendants would’ve been happy to assist. One puzzle we came across needed some slightly tighter cluing in order to prevent a logical leap that was required to fully solve it. Finally, though we had no issues with it, I know some players are averse to math appearing within a room. The problems were not overly difficult, but be aware there is some should you dislike this sort of interaction.

Verdict:

Carnival Macabre is a fantastic experience, and one of the best creepy carnival themed rooms we’ve come across! I had an excellent time facing off with Giggles, and cannot wait to return to Escape-topia for future horror adventures. This room would be a great intro to escape rooms for new players, and still presented a good challenge for enthusiasts, so I highly recommend anyone in the area give it a shot. Book your time in the big top here! Give our regards to Mother!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full disclosure: Escape-topia provided media discounted tickets for our group.