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.

 

 

 

Get Lost Escape Rooms – Operation P.R.A.T. (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-4 players

Price: £15.00 (About $18.86 at the time of writing.)

Who you gonna call?

Theme:

From the Get Lost Escape Rooms website:

You are part of the Paranormal Research Anomaly Taskforce. You have been contacted by the infamous Dr Richard Hole to assist in his latest paranormal palaver. Dr R Hole has somehow found himself in a pickle, he appears to have picked up a paranormal pal. He’s issued a desperate plea for help in banishing his unwanted guest as it is proving to be quite the nuisance. Particularly when he’s having some issues keeping PRAT running! Do you have what it takes to identify and eradicate the bothersome ghost?

drhole-768x526

Dr. Richard Hole, such an accomplished man!

First Impressions:

I’ll admit, as someone who loves puzzles, I will give high preference in choosing what sort of games we play to anything with a horror or supernatural theme, followed closely by lighthearted, comedic games. Luckily, Operation PRAT is both! A supernatural investigation with a naturally hilarious tone that was easily right up my alley. Not only that, but we would be working with the illustrious founder of PRAT, Dr. Hole! We invited our friends at EscapeTheRoomers, as we were sure they’d be great comrades for this ghost hunting adventure, and got to work.

an2-300x300

So excited to work with our pal, Dr. R Hole!

High Points:

One of the best things about Operation PRAT is the humor behind it. The video interludes and silly, almost absurd humor was something I really appreciated. Many escape rooms and puzzle games try for comedy, but it’s rare that designers can pull it off well, so I was pleased with how funny I found the game’s jokes. The story line was fun and light-hearted, with enough mystery to keep us invested in how things would turn out for the esteemed Doctor. The adventure itself starts out with Dr. Hole presenting us with his spooky predicament, and giving us a mysterious file as well as access to the PRAT website. There’s a lot of interesting information to go through, which was very well written and organized, with great clues subtly included throughout. Having read through most of the documents initially given, it was highly satisfying to come across a new puzzle that triggered immediate, intuitive connections with what we had read. The game itself flows well once we were able to get all the information settled, and though there was a big information dump at the beginning, it wasn’t overly arduous to manage. From there, things are mostly linear, with a new conundrum presented as we delved deeper into the mystery. The wins started off easier, with a smooth difficulty curve that slowly worked towards what I’d call a moderate challenge. Though things never got mind bendingly challenging, we very much enjoyed the difficulty level. There is a great variety of research puzzles, (which I usually dislike, but here are presented in a way that makes them much more fun than usual,) logic puzzles, and codes. There was certainly something to appeal to each member of our team of four, keeping us engaged throughout the experience.

Scary ghost on dark background

Ghosts are horrifying. They ruin SO many good sheets!

Low Points:

The game starts off a little slow after the introductory video, just due to the amount of information thrown at players to start. There is a small clue to get things started, but since there’s a good bit to have a look at, it’s easy to get started down a rabbit hole and sidetracked for a while. In fact, we had the next puzzle in line solved before we were able to solve the first, so a small bit of gatekeeping might help prevent players from getting ahead of themselves. (I still do recommend reading over everything first, as it will be immensely helpful later, however.) Some passwords are very long, which can be a bit strange for folks used to shorter, succinct words or numbers. For veteran puzzlers, some puzzles might feel overly familiar, as a few are old hat for escape room enthusiasts. I still had a fun time with them, but they may be banal for long time puzzlers. We needed a hint or two a couple times, but the hints were at times a bit too vague for our liking.

Verdict:

Operation PRAT was a fun time, and a great hour long diversion for us during the lockdown! I think newcomers to the puzzling world will like this the most, as it presents a fun thematic game that introduces some standard puzzle concepts well, but as a escape game enthusiast, I still had a great time working through all the conundrums presented, so I think there’s something to entice veterans here as well. I recommend trying it out if you have a chance here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Get Lost Escape Rooms 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?

Amsterdam Catacombs

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!

100073850_1365773400291956_8094725575735771136_o

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.

Online-Escape-Room

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.

The Escape Game – Unlocked! The Heist: Digital Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price:  $10 per episode, or $17 for both bundled

Hahn shot first.

Theme:

From the The Escape Game website:

Volume 1: Chasing Hahn

Thwart infamous art curator, Vincent Hahn, before another masterpiece goes missing.

Volume 2: The Silk Road

Vincent Hahn just barely escaped, but Intel has noticed some suspicious activity in Hong Kong. According to reports, Hahn is dealing with artifacts related to the Silk Road. Your mission is to go there, find Hahn, and capture him before he can get away.

First Impressions:

I always love a good subscription box, but it’s nice to get an adventure instantly rather than having to wait for it to arrive via the US Postal Service. The Escape Game has created digital editions of their physical boxed mysteries, just in time for lockdown. They’re fairly competitively priced, and after having played the excellent Ruins, I was excited to see what sort of puzzles they included!

c700x420

High Points:

Unlocked: The Heist carries on the story of The Escape Game’s physical room, The Heist, continuing the search for international art thief, Vincent Hahn. It’s always great to revisit and expand on stories in this sort of medium, and I love sequels to previous rooms and experiences. The difficulty curve of these games was lighter, though the final puzzles did tend to present a somewhat more challenging solve, and Volume One contained a dense array of puzzles to keep us puzzling for a while. Connections were clear between items used and puzzles, and the clues as presented provided a smooth game flow that kept us moving from point to point at a good clip. The inventories are well implemented, and clues are used once, allowing for players to stay focused on what is important throughout, and though no clues are used twice, there are still layers within several of the individual challenges, ensuring that for those interactions, the immediate information revealed may not be the only thing to find. Inputs into the game are straightforward, and give immediate feedback regarding if an answer is correct, ensuring no confusion or frustration in that regard. Videos that accompany the game are well produced and reasonably entertaining, especially during the chase “scene” of Volume Two, and the story is integrated well into the puzzling. The climax of Volume Two is awesome, giving players agency to make decisions within the game world and delivering a satisfying conclusion to the experience. There are also some great references to other The Escape Game experiences, which I enjoyed.

Virtual-Escape-Rooms-Article-02-1024x575

Low Points:

These games trended towards the easier side, especially for Volume Two, which I was able to complete solo in about 20 minutes. Veteran solvers may find that these don’t quite scratch the puzzling itch for very long, and even for just $10, might not get the bang for their buck that they are hoping for. At some points, the puzzles felt like simple research puzzles that just required us to read the clues and enter information, but luckily those points were early and not ubiquitous.  New players, though, may find that these are a good introduction. The two volumes are rather inconsistent between the two, with each having almost opposite strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Inventory of Volume One includes a lot of information via PDFs, and isn’t quite as polished as Volume Two, while Volume Two tends to be a lot lighter when it comes to density and challenge of puzzles. The story, however, is much more engaging in Volume Two.

Verdict:

While I think that experienced puzzlers and escape enthusiasts are going to find Unlocked: The Heist a rather simple affair, new players who haven’t been quite as immersed in the language of puzzles will find this to be a fun introduction to these sorts of games. These games would also be great for families, as the content is family friendly, but no so much that adults will be turned off to the challenge. We had a good time quickly solving the various challenges, and if the theme and easier difficulty curve appeals to you, I can recommend trying it out. Begin your search for international art thief Hahn here!

7/10 (Good)

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

 

 

 

Crack-A-Nut Mysteries – Root of All Evil (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $155

It’s not so simple as money…

Theme:

From the Root of All Evil Facebook page:

A mysterious crate arrives on your doorstep packed with aged ephemera and artifacts. You are a character in this interactive-literature told through an old journal, newspaper clippings and other peculiar objects. Follow a newly ordained priest as he battles his demons – both real and imagined. Decode puzzles and solve the mystery surrounding an eerie tree on the grounds of the Northern Michigan Asylum. Can you locate the ritual and save the soul of the damned without sacrificing yourself in the process?

81633025_106472107539956_8358714168626380800_n

First Impressions:

Root of All Evil arrived at our doorstep along with four other mystery experiences in early June. It was like an early escapist’s Christmas! I hadn’t told my wife it was coming, and she was confused about the weird box that arrived for her. After explaining what it was, (she’s not a huge fan of horror, so I didn’t let it get too immersive,) she was very intrigued! However, the first order of business was to somehow crack open this box that had been nailed shut…

96290180_154488156071684_6895157260255756288_n

High Points:

As a narrative experience, Root of All Evil has immersion down pat. From the aged, nailed tight box to the many physical props, including a fantastic centerpiece that ties everything together hauntingly, not one item felt out of place within this experience.  Our favorite part was somewhat surprising to us, as the centerpiece of the experience is a journal that took each of us a little over an hour to read while taking notes. Usually we get burned out reading, but this journal is so superbly written, that once we started, we had to finish! The characterization and world building is incredibly convincing, and drew us into the world of Root of All Evil immediately. We usually play games of this sort together and solve in tandem, but due to the set up of this particular experience, we found that a sort of “solo play, but with joint discussions” made more sense. After we’d finished up the main reading portion, we shared our theories and discoveries with each other, and pored over the other items included within the box. As we made connections, we took on several of the puzzles together, and spent the next couple days mulling the items we left on our game table at our leisure, sometimes making satisfying breakthroughs with the puzzles, and other times just appreciating the beautiful props included, or reading back over our notes in an effort to puzzle over the situation we (fictionally) found ourselves in!

Working through Root of All Evil is a great time, and a lot of care has been taken to make sure this experience feels as realistic as possible. My wife said she truly felt creeped out by the narrative, and as we revealed some pieces of the enigma we had previously only read about, the mystery became even more immersive. There are several points of discovery that are immensely satisfying, and there’s quite a bit to find within this hauntingly beautiful adventure. The climax was exciting, and the developers really spared no effort to ensure that it feels like you’ve truly finished the experience by completing the main objective of the mystery.

95566439_154251096095390_2676290342289932288_o

Low Points:

The puzzles within the box are good, but those expecting the mystery to be puzzle focused may be somewhat disappointed. In our experience, solving puzzles tended to either reveal something we already knew, or give us slightly more story, rather than immediately further the experience. Many puzzles are some form of code breaking, so your enjoyment of this facet really depends on how much you enjoy this sort of thing. We did, and there are some well hidden clues, but as the experience is designed to focus on narrative and be solvable without doing the puzzles, so it can feel as though the codes are very secondary. When working towards the ultimate goal of the adventure, sometimes we thought we might like a clue, and were able to get in touch via the Root of All Evil Facebook page, but a self service hint system might work better for players, and prevent questions from needing to be answered personally. Those looking to play this one in a big group may find it somewhat difficult, as my wife and I found the experience really lends itself to solo play, especially when reading the main portion of the game, as previously mentioned, however, this didn’t affect our ability to still enjoy the game together.

Verdict:

Root of All Evil is a beautifully designed and wonderfully written narrative experience that immerses players within its world from start to finish, challenging unwitting participants to uncover an ancient evil, and put an end to the horrors this Pandora’s box releases. Though we would’ve loved the puzzles to have had a bit more bearing on the experience, we did enjoy what was there, and can say that we definitely recommend checking this one out! Begin to dig up the Root of All Evil here! (Click Shop Now to purchase.)

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Crack-A-Nut Mysteries provided a complementary copy.