NC Escape – Ex Machina (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players:  2-6 (We Recommend 2-4)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

What’s that? Mold. Should we be breathing it? Probably not.

Theme:

While renovating an eccentric Victorian traveler’s home for the modern era, the construction crew came across a oddly well preserved room, which contained a mysterious vault door. Rather than knock it down, the family has called in your team to help catalog and unravel the mystery of the strange room and vault. However, preliminary search teams have only been able to spend a short time in the room before coming down with a strange cough and being unable to continue. You’ve only 60 minutes to unravel the mystery behind the door, and make your way out!

First Impressions:

NC Escape itself is located in a slightly out of the way area in downtown Durham, but is eminently walkable and centrally located. Decorations on the doors to each room are interesting and just mysterious enough to peak my interest as I walked by each. Our room in particular was beautifully appointed, with an array of tactile and intriguing set pieces. From the second we stepped in, I was itching to get to the puzzling, as so many parts of the room were desperately calling my name!

High Points:

The theming of the room was excellent, and truly immersive, and the main set piece of the room, the mysterious vault door, was a lot of fun to play around with. There were several parts of the set around the room for us to puzzle with, and the nonlinearity kept us busy for our full experience. This was the first room in which we weren’t given anything to take notes with that I feel enhanced, rather than frustrated the experience, which is an amazingly difficult task. Even some puzzles which would feel banal otherwise, were given an interesting twist to ensure they felt fresh. Teamwork is required, but presented in an engaging way, rather than as busywork tasks to extend the time to solve. Every prop in the room, even ones we initially overlooked, were integral parts of the experience. Hints given were good nudges, and directed us well when we were off track. The story of the room unraveled slowly throughout the experience, giving us insight into what exactly it was we were looking for.

Low Points:

Though the hints were well presented, we were presented with them at the GM’s discretion, and it felt that we were receiving them a little too often at times. One solution opened a lock that gave no feedback as to what it had triggered, and we were left scratching our heads as to why we needed that particular spot open. An early puzzle was difficult to make out, and while we had the correct means to solve it, it was a bit of a trial to make out our solution.

Verdict:

Ex Machina is a fantastic addition to the NC Triangle escape scene, and one worthy of being tried out if you’re visiting the area. The experience is immersive and flows excellently, and allows for new players and veterans alike to enjoy quite a few engaging surprises along the way. This is also one of the few rooms where I wanted to waste time fiddling with a major prop long after we’d opened it. While there, make sure to try to beat our second best record of 37:56! Book your time with Ex Machina’s crazy door here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Escape! Myrtle Beach – Race Against Time (Review)

Location: Myrtle Beach, SC

Players:  2-10 (We Recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Is that a bomb? I dunno, why don’t you go see? We’ll be way over there.

Theme:

You are a kidnapped group of CIA agents, locked in the hideout of a terrorist syndicate. They’ve abandoned this safehouse, but have left behind evidence against them in their haste. Luckily for you, a previous captive has left clues to help you get out. Unluckily, the bad guys have also left behind a suspicious looking suitcase, that’s ticking ominously outside your cell…

First Impressions:

Escape! Myrtle Beach has a comfortable lobby, which includes free snacks and drinks for while you wait. The owner seems to run it as a one man show, and provides personable customer service and an upbeat attitude that really got us in the mood for our fourth escape of the day. The over the top, but creative story was given to us along with a basic rules briefing, before we were blindfolded, and led to our cells.

High Points:

This room was just straight fun. The two of us were let loose with so many crazy props and puzzles at our disposal, and jumped right in. This was one of those rooms where all the puzzles were enjoyable to interact with, and our team was giggling the whole way through some of the more creative DIY puzzles we’ve seen in the area. We noted that while 2 puzzles seemed like they would be destructible, both had alternate ways to solve, which was a nice touch had we misstepped along the way. Everything in the room had a purpose, and was blissfully free of red herrings. Inputs were varied, and though the room was a mix of traditional locks and technical inputs, all clues led intuitively to where they needed to be input. The finale felt climactic and appropriate to the story.

Low Points:

Clues were given at the GM’s discretion, and while interacting with the GM was an fantastic experience, we would’ve preferred a few less clues in general. We felt many times that we were on the edge of solving something, and a clue was given, depriving us of a real ah-ha moment. Theming was good, but the room still felt more like an office, not quite bringing us fully immersed into the environment, but the excellent game more than made up for this. Some technology was less hidden than usual, so the inputs felt a little less excitingly mysterious.

Verdict:

Overall, Race Against Time is a great experience for anyone looking for an escape in Myrtle Beach, and I highly recommend trying it out, especially for the more innovative puzzles and fun interactions to be had. Beginners will enjoy the light-hearted nature of the game, coupled with a exciting introduction to escape rooms, while Enthusiasts will find a nice assortment of non-linear puzzling to enjoy. Book your Race Against Time here!

8/10 (Great)

Captive Escape Rooms – Dracula’s Library (Review)

Location: Myrtle Beach, SC

Players:  2-7 (We Recommend 2-3)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Once again… welcome to my house.

Theme:

A team of Victorian investigators, you’ve been looking into a string of disappearances plaguing your city. You’ve not made much headway until you receive a missive from a mysterious contact, inviting you to dinner to discuss what he knows about the case. Intrigued, you meet with your mystery contact, who seems cordial, until you pass out from something he slipped in your drink! When you awake in an old library, you’re met with a note explaining that you’ve been kidnapped by Dracula, and have only 60 minutes before sunrise, when he’ll return!

First Impressions:

The lobby is very nice, and includes a comfortable couch, along with a guest book to write notes to future captives! Props along the wall got us excited for our post room picture, and the staff was engaging and courteous. The briefing delivered the rules and story in a concise manner, and allowed us to get to the puzzling quickly.

High Points:

The later parts of the room felt more like the library and lounge of a Victorian Vampire, and the searching around the room was satisfying. Several ah-ha moments granted good closure to many of the puzzles and were overall interesting. Props were tactile and fun to play with, and the story setup was well delivered. One particular puzzle helped bring in a sense of realism by delivering a tactile interaction that felt natural for the room that it occurred in.

Low Points:

The library itself was incredibly sparse for such a well funded and aged vampire, and many props were off theme for the time period. The final puzzle was extremely unintuitive, and inexact. Too many possible solutions and a reliance on murky logic spoils what should be a climactic moment. Again, as in Charlotte’s Attic, it is a very linear room, which is alright for a small group, but many more than 3 are going to have people standing around waiting for something to do. The hint system here is unfortunately the same as in the Attic, breaking immersion due to the failure to include the now standard cameras and sound systems. Staff must enter the room and have your group explain where you currently are in the room, which is never good for room flow. Some out of place puzzles feel off theme, but aren’t overly prevalent, but the overall flow of the room does not work as well as it should, due to a lack of intuitive cluing.

Verdict:

Captive delivers another competent room that feels as if it’s from the earlier days of escape rooms. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, innovations among other rooms have launched the industry much farther, and seasoned players may be slightly disappointed. Beginners may have trouble, as the room relies on a bit murkier logic at times, and enthusiasts will appreciate the theme, though should not expect too much technology. Again, I can recommend, as it is an overall fun experience, but players should be forewarned that the rooms, while enjoyable, are not on the cutting edge. You can book your time in Dracula’s Library here!

 

6/10 (Alright)

Captive Escape Rooms – Charlotte’s Attic (Review)

Location: Myrtle Beach, SC

Players:  2-7 (We Recommend 2-3)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Redrum! Redrum!

Theme:

Your team of investigators has recently picked up an old case file regarding the murder/suicide of a single father and his two young girls. Something about the file irks you, as it seems not to be the open and shut case the police made it out to be. You’ve arrived on the scene, and have an hour to find out what really happened in Charlotte’s Attic.

First Impressions:

The location Captive calls home is a very impressively creepy older building. Climbing the stairs to the lobby is part of the fun, as the dark wood and antique mirror set the tone for their more horror based rooms. They have a very comfortable lobby and a great, customer service focused staff. The briefing was concise and delivered the rules without fluff.

High Points:

The room itself was themed very nicely, and had the feel of a dilapidated old attic down well. The room felt immersive in that it’s soundtrack and the dark, foreboding atmosphere of the room heightened the creep factor. The puzzles were fun to solve for a small group, though the later puzzles were definitely the best, as they were the most tangible and related to the story very well. The storyline and ending were well done, and the paranoia and madness were delivered in a slowly building way. There was a definite cohesive flow between puzzles that worked well.

Low Points:

The hint system is not well done. Staff do not have any interaction with the room unless you ring the doorbell to summon them, and then explain where in the process you are. There are no cameras or sound hooked up, so your group is led into the room, and are not monitored in any way, leading to such a frustrating and immersion breaking hint system. Progression is extremely linear, which, for our group of 2 was not bad, but any more than that, and you may feel you have too many cooks in the kitchen. Puzzles were competent for the most part, but some random math and off theme puzzles felt out of place, overall.  In the middle of summer and on the second floor, this room did not have air conditioning and as such, it was absolutely sweltering in the room. Though the rooms had only been open for a month, it seems counterintuitive to open the room to the public before ensuring the a/c works. Presumably this is being fixed, but I’d make sure it’s 100% done before booking.

Verdict:

Charlotte’s Attic delivers an immersive and creepy experience, but the game is easily marred should you need a hint, as the system for hint delivery leaves much to be desired. A larger group will have trouble finding something for everyone to do, but a smaller group will be well entertained. The room is a solid classic experience, but does not innovate much in today’s market. Beginners will definitely enjoy this introductory experience, while enthusiasts will find the theming immersive, though they may escape much quicker. I recommend trying this one out if you’re in the area, as it definitely is more of a classic, early escape room experience. You can book your time in the Attic here!

 

6.5/10 (Alright)

Escape Room Entertainment Melbourne, FL– Shipwrecked (Guest Review)

Bonus Review today! Our friend and regular Escape Room Teammate Cathy Nanni recently visited Escape Room Entertainment in Melbourne, FL, and offered to share her thoughts with us! Her review is below.

Location:
Melbourne, FL

Players:  Up to 8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Yo ho, yo ho a pirate’s unlife for me!

Theme:

You’ve been shipwrecked on a Caribbean island. While searching the island for signs of life,  you stumble upon an old pirate’s ship. You go inside and as luck would have it, the galley door slams shut behind you. You’re locked in and have an hour to escape before the ghost of Captain Silver appears.

First Impressions:

Escape Room Entertainment was nicely themed. The lobby had a mysterious feel to it with dim lighting and dark walls. In fact, the 12 year old in our party was ready to start searching for puzzles the minute we stepped into the building!  After checking in, we were escorted into a briefing room where we met our game master and watched a video explaining the rules and the room scenario.

Another thing I really appreciated about Escape Room Entertainment is how family friendly they are. I really wanted to find an escape room that would allow my six year old son and my friend’s twelve year old son to participate. Most rooms have an age requirement of 14+ or require that you book the entire room if you bring children. Escape Room Entertainment is different in that two of its four rooms are family friendly, you don’t have to book the entire room if you’re bringing kids, and kids under 7 are free.

High Points:

The room was well themed. We definitely felt as if we were aboard a pirate ship. The walls and floors were covered with wooden planks.Chests, maps, skeletons, and gold doubloons  were scattered throughout the room. It was dimly lit but we were supplied flashlights. Later on tools were discovered that could help with players see everything better in the dim lighting. There was a fun puzzle involving a major prop that gave me a warm, fuzzy nostalgia for The Goonies (which happened to be our team name).

Escape Room Entertainment offered unlimited clues but if you used more than three you weren’t eligible to be on their Leaderboard. I thought that was a nice compromise to limiting the number of clues.

Low Points:

Even though it was a pirate themed room, I felt the use of treasure chests was a bit overdone in the room. They had a lot of creative puzzles in the room that give us the means to unlock the chests but it would have been nice to unlock something other than a treasure chest.

One puzzle was a complete time suck that required the focus, teamwork, and dexterity of two players for several minutes. After the game we found out that players could trade a hint for a magnet to make the puzzle easier. I’m glad it didn’t get to that point with us because that would be been even more frustrating. I also would have liked to have access to a whiteboard for some of the longer word puzzles. The final puzzle involved a lot of guess and check work on a lock that timed you out for a minute after three incorrect entries. Luckily, we had enough time on the clock but if we had been close to the time limit, it would have been very aggravating.

Verdict:

Shipwrecked was a great experience for the whole family. This was the first escape room for more than half of our group and I felt it was the right mix of basic puzzles for beginners and more creative ones to keep enthusiasts busy.  The room was fun to explore and most of the puzzles were a good mix of challenging and fun.

7/10 (Good)

Backstage Escape Games – The Legend of Atlantis (Review)

Location: Myrtle Beach, SC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $34 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

…in a day and a night, Atlantis disappeared under the sea, and resurfaced in Myrtle Beach!

Theme:

It was the discovery of a lifetime! Your mentor, Hathaway Wren, had found Atlantis, and not only that, a series of what he called power crystals were stored inside. Charged with enough sustainable, clean energy to bring power to the entire planet, discovering them would make him a very rich man, and change the entire world! A greedy person at heart, Wren set out on this expedition alone, not wanting to share the credit, or the money, with anyone else. That was weeks ago, and no one has heard from him since. Now, your team has found the coordinates Wren hid from you to discover his fate, and find the crystals! Unfortunately, the underwater city only surfaces for an hour, and once it goes down, it will take you with it unless you can escape!

First Impressions:

The entrance to The Legend of Atlantis is situated at Broadway at the beach, and stands out beautifully against the shops and restaurants nearby. The georgeous doors beckon, and begin to set the tone for the room long before you enter. The interior of lobby is very welcoming and similarly well decorated, and includes a mirror maze and quick bank vault laser maze for additional experiences. Backstage’s friendly staff led us into the room itself, and a professionally produced intro gave us the rules and background story before the timer began to count down!

High Points:

Absolutely the best set I’ve seen in an escape room so far. The Hollywood quality props and interior grant a level of immersion that most escape rooms can only dream of. The sheer magnitude of the temple when fully explored is impressive, and every detail is used to create a fully cohesive experience, including lighting and sound. Puzzles flow beautifully, and the difficulty curve is implemented well. They are also varied enough to provide something for all types of puzzlers, and give each teammate a way to shine. There is only one timer in the first room, but updates are given throughout the experience, which was appreciated. The storyline weaves throughout the experience, and one particular prop helps deliver it through the puzzling beautifully. This room was also the most challenging but fair room I have experienced to date, and we barely made it with 27 seconds to spare!

Low Points:

The amount of people needed to solve the room fluctuates between the beginning and end of the experience. A small group will be more comfortable during the first half, but the last half opens up greatly, necessitating more players splitting up to tackle the full range of puzzles. Lighting inside the rooms isn’t dark, but underwater colors, while they help add to the theme and immersion, cause the color dependent puzzles to go from difficult to frustrating in places. One particular puzzle is very large and feels as thought it overstays it’s welcome once the main deductions are made.

Verdict:

The best escape room we experienced in Myrtle Beach, this is a must do for anyone who is visiting the area. The Legend of Atlantis is an exhilarating challenge for enthusiasts that beginners can also enjoy, delivering a fully immersive experience. The Legend of Atlantis will surely be a top favorite room of mine for a long time. Book your time in the underwater city here!

Full Disclosure: Backstage Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

9/10 (Excellent)

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)