Red Lantern Escape Rooms – The Hardin House Mystery (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 2-4 players

Price: $60 for up to 4 players, $15 per additional player

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

80s Flashback!

Theme:

From the Red Lantern Escape Rooms website:

The year is 1988. You and your high school pals are trying to find out what happened to a classmate who’s gone missing at Hardin House—you know, the house with all the locks and puzzles? The house where a famous archaeologist disappeared without a trace a few years back? The house where people see strange lights and hear odd noises? What could possibly go wrong!?!

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First Impressions:

I’d seen references to The Hardin House Mystery around some of our usual Facebook group haunts, and it seemed like an interesting take on the escape room genre. With photographs of what looked to be a 70s or 80s style home, and an audio based set up, I was interested to see how Red Lantern Escape Rooms approached this genre of at home game, as we’ve only played a couple other of this type before. We were joined by Lee Ballan, creator of one of our favorite lock down experiences, The Pyramid, and we were looking forward to puzzling through this mystery with him!

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High Points:

The Hardin House Mystery started off with a quick tutorial about how we were going to interact with the game during our adventure. Basically, this game is set up like a somewhat more audio visual Dungeons and Dragons session, but without the dice. A picture of the house or the room of the house we were in would be displayed, and we could ask our Game Master to search whatever we tagged on screen, and as we located pivotal items or areas, a yellow circle would appear to let us know what it was, and sometimes would zoom in on particular points. We could also find hidden easter eggs, which, for us, became a highly entertaining, and often times hilarious obsession! The stage was further well set by including great background sounds and an 80s soundtrack to die for! The whole experience reminded me of one of my favorite Point and Click adventures of late, The Displacement, in that this game uses photographs of real places to deliver a superbly plotted and puzzle heavy experience. Our Game Master’s GMing skills were brilliant, and his enthusiastic descriptions and willingness to improv and play in the space with us was much appreciated. In fact, in true tabletop RPG GM fashion, he was flexible rewarded our crazy ideas when they made good sense. Another game this reminded me of was Gone Home, as the exploration of the titular Hardin House and the slowly evolving story line were a lot of fun, and incredibly interesting. Bits of foreshadowing abound, and each reveal is more satisfying than the last!

Puzzles are great, using each room to their fullest, and hiding clues in plain sight to great effect. The game is mostly linear, with each room tasking players with finding all the important areas and items, which then require some outside the box thinking and puzzling in order to make the connections and arrive at the fantastic ah ha moments that led to opening the door to the next room! All interactions were highly intuitive, and the difficulty curve ramps slowly up, allowing for some easy wins at the beginning for players to find their footing, but introducing some challenging and superbly clever end game puzzles later. Though the game is linear, we traveled through the experience at a good clip, never feeling like any one thing took up too much of our time. Overall, The Hardin House Mystery is easily our favorite audio based escape room we’ve experienced thus far!

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Low Points:

I really don’t have anything critical to say about The Hardin House Mystery. The game went off without a hitch, and our Game Master was brilliant. We had an awesome time, and afterwards couldn’t come up with one low point.

Verdict:

I can certainly say without a doubt that The Hardin House Mystery is the most well designed and perfectly implemented audio escape room we’ve done so far! From start to finish, we were engaged with the story, puzzles, and a unexpectedly joyous hunt for easter eggs. I recommend checking this one out without reservation, and am certain absolutely anyone can have a fantastic time within the mysterious Hardin House! Book your time unraveling the secrets of this 80s adventure here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Red Lantern Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

District 3 Escape Rooms – Haunted (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 2-4 players)

Price: $27 CAD per person (About $19.87 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s actually a real nice house if you can overlook the murders…

Theme:

From the District 3 Escape Rooms website:

The family of this home is searching for a good trustworthy group of people to house-sit their manor for the Winter. During your time there, you learn about the caretaker and the family, the manor’s secrets, and that maybe this isn’t the dream stay you were after.

First Impressions:

District 3 Escape Rooms was recommended to us by the folks at the astounding Mystery Mansion Regina, so we couldn’t wait to see what their neighbors had in store! The spooky theme of Haunted called to me, being a horror themed game, and the sneak peeks I saw of the set during the intro video on their website looked great!

High Points:

The set design of Haunted is really great, starting off in a large room that is just filled to the brim with doors. The massive amount of doors is somewhat unsettling, and gives the experience somewhat of a surreal feeling. There was always the feeling that something horrifying could be around the corner of the balcony or behind any door, and the sense of unease can be palpable. Audio effects came through fairly clearly, though we had to ensure we stayed fully quiet during these moments, as sound came mostly through the room and was therefore slightly muted. Our Game Master/Avatar did a great job of searching the room for us and responding quickly to our directions, even when our directions were largely unintuitive nonsense, along the lines of “push the thingy!” They also did a fantastic job of ensuring that any time something exciting was triggered, the camera was in just the right place to appreciate it. Theming was excellent, and as the story continued to descend into madness, each new room displayed new horrors and surprises to enjoy! There were several awesome moments that were triggered by our progress, and it was interesting after the game to see how it all worked to create an amazingly immersive haunt.

The game flows excellently through a linear progression, and the game translates well to the virtual space. We enjoyed working together through many of the teamwork based puzzles in order to uncover the many secrets this otherwise unassuming house was hiding, and many of the interactions provided great ah ha moments that left us feeling satisfied. Clues were included subtly, but were clear enough to ensure each part of the process of solving the room was intuitive, yet challenging. One particular puzzle I really liked incorporated a lock itself into the puzzling, something I can’t say I’ve seen done before in any of the escape experiences we’ve done! Other puzzles are just as creative, with some solutions hiding deviously in plain sight, we just had to figure out how to find them. At the end of the game, we received points based on our time and how well we completed the room, with achievements for no hints, escaping with a good chunk of time left, and being the Online Division leaders for the room! I love District 3’s point based system, and the achievements were a lot of fun to see as well, as it added a extra special personal touch to the conclusion of the game.

Low Points:

Being one of District 3’s older rooms, it isn’t quite as evolved as some of their newer rooms may be, but we feel this works to their advantage as these sorts of rooms tend to work well virtually. Despite the more solution to lock style of gameplay, we had a great time, but I do know that some enthusiasts prefer a different style of game. Some puzzles may feel familiar to veteran solvers, but overall, I think District 3 does a good job of ensuring these interactions stay fresh as possible. One particular puzzle is a great idea, but suffers from players having to kitbash a method to ensure it is audible viturally between multiple remote sites. It may be helpful for there to be an additional inventory item once teams have demonstrated they know the concept of what is to be done, just in case audio degrades.

Verdict:

Haunted is a great spooky virtual game, and we had an amazing time working through the mystery of the Manor! This game would be perfect for players of all experience levels, as it challenged our group of veterans, but never becomes so difficult as to be obtuse. We had an awesome time with our Game Master, and cannot wait to see what District 3’s next online game is like. I absolutely recommend this room, and you can book your time house sitting here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: District 3 Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Bruum Escape – The Search for the Magical Artifact (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-4 connections (We recommend 3-5 players)

Price: €30-€50 depending on number of connections, see website for details

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

That voodoo you do…

Theme:

From the Bruum Escape website:

He angered the powerful fortune teller Tobar. Since that day his life has changed for the worse. Much worse! He wants to sneak into his trailer when it’s empty to fix things but can’t do it alone. He needs your help!

Gather a team and choose the most convenient moment to take action.

We will make sure that the fortune teller’s trailer will be empty enough time to give you the opportunity to help your client complete the mission.

He will be your eyes and your hands but you will be the minds of the operation.

All you need is a computer, an internet connection, the Zoom program and your skills in deciphering codes and solving puzzles.

Nobody said this will be just a game!

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First Impressions:

One excellent thing about doing so many remote escape rooms like this one, is that we get to experience rooms we’d never get to play together live. Bruum Escape is located in Italy, and unfortunately, it’s somewhat cost prohibitive to ship our entire Keyed Up! team across the Atlantic in order to play escape rooms. However, for this one night, we all gathered together to enjoy an Italian escape, and I’m glad we did!

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High Points:

The Search for the Magical Artifact takes place within a converted camper, and despite the small size of the room, there was an amazing amount of puzzling involved with the experience. Not only that, but we definitely felt as though we were in the caravan of a fortune teller rather than a simple camper, as the set design was well implemented, with spooky touches and awesome tech. Props and items hidden about the room all felt thematically appropriate, and at no point did we come across anything that was jarringly out of place or “because escape room-y.” While there was no inventory system, it never seemed like we needed one, with many items being self contained within the individual puzzles, and those things we needed to come back to were left in plain sight so that we wouldn’t forget about them. Despite the fact that we were thousands of miles away from the room, we had no issues with lag or dropped connections, which can sometimes be a problem with rooms that are a world away. We found our Game Master/Avatar to be very responsive, doing a fantastic job of following our commands while still showing off the room in all it’s glory. Searching is mainly automated, and while we needed to let him know where and what we’d like our Avatar to search, we didn’t need to be overly specific, allowing for general areas to be scoped out quickly, revealing what was important intuitively.

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Puzzles are incredibly creative, and as I’ve said previously, there’s an impressively dense amount of enigmas hidden within the fortune teller’s caravan! The game is mostly non-linear, so when we came across something that had us stumped, we were easily able to make a note of it and move along to another puzzle while pondering the significance of various clues and items. Due to this, the game flow of the room was very smooth, as though we played through the game linearly due to the nature of this sort of adventure, we were never really stuck on one part of the game floundering and unable to progress. There is a great mix of puzzle types, and each member of our team was able to contribute based off of their strengths, and it was fantastic working through many of the room’s satisfying moments of revelation together. Many of the interactions feel magical, utilizing tech and the style of game to allow us to perform some actions that we’d never be allowed to carry out in an escape room normally! This was definitely one of the most creative games we’ve experienced during lock-down.

Low Points:

One particular type of wordplay shows up a couple times, so if your team isn’t a fan of that sort of thing, these interactions may be somewhat underwhelming, however, we did not mind. The camera itself could be somewhat blurry at times, taking precious moments to refocus before we were able to see what we needed to. A couple of moments during the game definitely felt as though they presented more of a solo type challenge, making more sense for one player to take the ball and run with it while the others waited for them to come to the solution. Usually this isn’t much of a problem, but during this type of game, it stymies some of the flow for the player that isn’t actively working on something.

Verdict:

Bruum Escape delivered a magical escape from lock-down for us with The Search for the Magical Artifact! We really loved our trip to Italy (at 1 am Italian time!) for this room, and we had a great time working through this room with our excellent Game Master! I highly recommend checking this one out, regardless of skill level, as there’s plenty to challenge all sorts. Book your time in the fortune teller’s caravan here!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

 

 

 

Logic Locks – Amsterdam Catacombs (Review)

Kara’s Note: This was *totally* written by Brandon. 😉

Editor’s Note: It was not.

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-7 (We recommend 4-6 players)

Price: See website for details.

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Prepare for The Descent

Theme:

From the Amsterdam Catacombs website:

Social distancing and/or unable to visit us? We will bring the horror to you!
The Amsterdam Catacombs now invites brave and foolish investigators into its dark depths in the form of a live video online experience.  Virtually connect to your friends and our actors and immerse yourself in this theatrical online horror escape room. Are you willing to face your fears and unravel the mystery of the demonic forces that shelter beneath the church?

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First Impressions

I was impressed and surprised to hear that “The Catacombs” would take place in an actual basement of a cathedral. I had some reservations about doing the room due to the scary factor, but I had heard really amazing things about it, so I gritted my teeth and carried on!

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High Points

It’s probably no secret that I am not a fan of horror-themed games (despite how many I end up playing), so it’s a good thing I had a chance to do this room virtually because I would definitely never ever be doing it in person. It was a scary experience even without actually being in the room, and I can only imagine how useless I would become if I actually were doing it in person. (As a disclaimer, I should mention that apparently I was the only one of my teammates actually affected like this, so it “wasn’t that scary” – still, I beg to differ). But, I do think my reaction speaks highly of how well Logic Locks did in creating an immersive experience.

Immersion into the game started from the beginning, as we were dropped into the streets of Amsterdam and given a nice introduction to the area as well as the cathedral and the lore of the game. It’s definitely helpful they had the basement of a cathedral to naturally instill some ambiance, but even without it, I think Logic Locks would have had no problem on their own building a great set from whatever space they were given. It’s clear how thoughtful their design was, as the space seemed very creatively used and filled with a lot of thematic props and elements that were a visual adventure on their own. The auditory elements added great touches, and definitely enhanced the atmosphere and story effects that the game elicited.

In addition to the set, our avatar did a great job of developing a rapport with us, making us feel involved and that we really were on this journey with him. He really helped set the tone for the game and was a very believable and natural character. (Also, I would just like to take this time to give a shout-out to all the in-person avatars/staff/game masters out there holding up cameras for 60+ minutes and having to maneuver around rooms and do puzzles while managing our ability to see into the rooms. We appreciate you!)

The different conundrums we were faced were expertly woven into the game’s set and theme, and really drove the story forward. It created a smooth flow of puzzles, and their linear nature helped things from being overwhelming. There was a lot of moving parts and interactive elements with the puzzles and game effects that were really neat to see played out (especially from a virtual distance ;)). They all seemed to be unique from each other, and there was a good mix of difficulty in our solves.

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Pondering Points

While our avatar was great at guiding us through the game, there were one or two instances in which some teammates noticed that he was a little too helpful with the puzzles. In these times, our avatar took a bit of initiative in completing a solve or working out a puzzle based off very little prompting/stream of consciousness thought from us. Certainly, this makes absolute sense for the longer process puzzles to do this once it’s clear we know how to solve it, but there were some leaps the avatar made that made us wonder why he did something. Of course, this type of approach may be more preferable to some groups more than others, and it might not always be clear when a group is actually directing a solve vs. word vomiting (for lack of a better description), but just something we noticed.

Given the location of the game, it is unsurprising that we had just a couple of connection issues with our on-site avatar, but overall not too bad.

Final Verdict

This game was definitely an experience, and I would highly recommend anyone who isn’t too horror-adverse to check it out. Even though we played it virtually, Brandon is still excited to play it if we are ever in Amsterdam, as there seems to be some additional interactive components available in-person. I’ll leave it to him to experience those though. 🙂 Book your time in the Amsterdam Catacombs here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Logic Locks provided our team with a discounted game.

BrainXcape – Room 228: Do Not Disturb (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $49 for up to 2 devices, $15 for each additional device

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You may never want to leave!

Theme:

From the BrainXcape website:

Locked in the hotel by a madman. Trapped and tormented me for days Thank god you picked up. Please, tell me what to do.  Help me, HELP ME.

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First Impressions:

BrainXcape is one of those spots we’ve heard a lot about, and really have wanted to check out, but haven’t gotten the opportunity yet. Luckily, even though we’re stuck at home due to COVID-19, we are able to virtually travel to New York and try out their new virtual escape!

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High Points:

Room 228: Do Not Disturb has a beautiful set, the same one that is used for their Haunted Hotel live game. In fact, this is one of those games in which we would love to be there live, as the whole experience from a set design standpoint was astounding! This game is completely different from the live version, allowing even those who have visited before to enjoy a brand new run of puzzles and story. The game itself is very immersive, and almost feels like live interactive theatre, as no pre-game rules or briefing was included, and our experience started with the in room avatar reaching out to us for help in escaping his captivity. The avatar was our only line to the game world, with no dedicated game master beyond them, but he assisted in searching the room and helping reveal certain key points by subtly guiding us around. They played an excellent character, though at times I did think it felt somewhat less interactive than we were used to. The inventory system is great, and ties into the immersion of the room as well by also providing some backstory on the hotel, as well as integrating into puzzles seamlessly. Game flow was mostly linear, and it was fairly intuitive, minus some late game interactions, and all the puzzles followed a stream of logic that didn’t fall into the territory of enormous leaps or red herrings. The immersive theatre nature of the game was definitely the selling point however, as most puzzles felt secondary to the storyline.

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Low Points:

Though the climax of the room was interesting, the game just ended, cutting off our zoom meeting and falling sort of flat overall. One of the best part of escape rooms is having a chat with the game master or owner after to ask questions about the rooms and generally debrief with your team, but in this case, we were suddenly cut off. The puzzles included were fairly simple, and there weren’t a huge amount to work through, so as an experienced group, we blew through the experience quickly. This game, as it stood when we played it, would probably be great for new players, but enthusiasts might be disappointed with the simpler nature of this game. One escape room cliche was used a few times, and wasn’t terribly well clued, leading us to perform a few aimless actions in order to get certain parts of the game to trigger.

Verdict:

Room 228: Do Not Disturb is a fun diversion built specifically for a virtual audience, and we had a fun time working through the puzzles, but I would recommend a few more interactions and some debrief time after the game in order to round out the experience for more experienced players. New players are going to have an excellent time here, but I’d recommend enthusiasts go in with tempered expectations overall. I do think the game is still worth checking out for the story and room design alone, however. Book your time in Room 228 here!

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7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: BrainXcape provided our team with a complementary game.