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.

 

 

 

Trapped! – Operation X-13 (Online Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $59 for the first 2 connections, $15 for each additional connection

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

…we’ll do it live!

Theme:

From the Trapped! website:

You have discovered the enigmatic Cybortek corporation has been developing a formula, known as secret formula X-13, which they plan on using to genetically engineer normal people into killing machines for mercenary groups around the globe. You have learned the secret formula is being stored in their headquarters before it is sent to their secret lab for manufacture. Can you sneak into their headquarters and steal the formula while there is still time?

First Impressions:

We were invited by our fellow reviewers at Escape the Roomers for this, our first full scale live online escape room! We had played a live online escape before with YouEscape and had an excellent time, so we couldn’t wait to see what an actual room would be like to play remotely.

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Special thanks to Escape the Roomers for inviting us on this adventure!

High Points:

The singular greatest thing about Operation X-13 during our remote experience was, hands-down, our in room Game Master/Avatar, the “Recruit.” The game was a great time on it’s own, but the inclusion of so much personality and character from our GM truly made this room special. He added so much humor to the game, (following even our stupidest requests, up to and including, “parkour that chair!”) subtly delivered in room hints to us via what I started to refer to as “idling animations,” and truly felt as though he was a part of our team. Throughout the experience the Recruit was well integrated, bolstering the story, immersion, and interactivity greatly. Another fantastic thing about this remote experience was the streamlining of the searching elements within the game. While we are naturally horrible at finding things in a room live, we figured it would be even more difficult to uncover hidden objects via a Zoom call. Luckily, the Recruit was able to pull those items together for us naturally, allowing for us to enjoy the puzzling without an arduous pixel hunt. In a time sensitive game that could be made so much more complex by the online element, it was great to have this streamlining present in order to ensure things were only as complicated as they needed to be to present a fun challenge.

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The game flow is fantastic, and while it can feel a bit linear due to the limitation of there only being one camera within the room, this is alleviated via the amazing inventory system, which includes 360 views of each room in the game, allowing players to digitally search for new puzzles and items to look at, even while other things are happening on camera. Puzzles are woven superbly into the world of the game, and everything makes logical sense, with no red herrings or leaps to be found. All reveals and satisfying moments of revelation are just as effective from the comfort of our home as they would be live, and that in itself is a triumph for the designers! Actions that would usually require physical, in game interaction have been streamlined as well; incorporated digitally to allow players the freedom to take these puzzles on individually. There are loads of surprises, and a few interactions we would never have guessed would show up in this sort of adventure, all of which culminate in an immersive experience beyond what we figured to be possible for an at home game. It is obvious that a lot of care has been taken to ensure that this isn’t just an experience hastily put together for an online platform, and every element of the game fits naturally within the remote experience.

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Low Points:

There wasn’t much I could denote as a weak point during this experience. The only minor quibble we had was that the ending wasn’t quite as climactic as it could be, but short of actually being in the room, this experience delivered the feeling of being in an escape room fantastically.

Verdict:

Operation X-13 is an amazing experience for enthusiasts stuck at home, and I highly recommend checking it out! Boasting a fun story, well crafted puzzling, and a truly entertaining in room GM, I couldn’t have asked for a better first remote escape room experience! Book your time investigating Cybortek with the Recruit here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Trapped! provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

YouEscape – Magnum Opus (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-5

Price: $30 per team

Time to Escape: 60 minutes.

Escaping together even while apart!

Theme:

From the YouEscape website:

The greatest alchemist of all time has mysteriously vanished. It rests upon you, his loyal apprentice, to discover the reason behind his disappearance. Your alchemy guild allows you to access his rooms for 60 minutes, before sealing them completely to prevent the misuse of his secrets.

First Impressions:

At the time of this writing, the world is currently in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and many of us are still in lockdown. YouEscape seemed like the perfect remedy for our current situation, providing a live puzzle experience via the magic of Google Hangouts. As we had not been on one of our escape room marathons with our regular team, Keyed Up! in over three months, we were excited to get the band back together for a puzzling adventure!

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We had a live screenshot, but it unfortunately did not survive the computer shutting itself down. Thanks Windows!

High Points:

I can say with certainty that YouEscape does a fantastic job bringing escape rooms directly to you in the comfort of your own home. I’m sure all of us have been feeling isolated during this pandemic, and the ability to see friends and puzzle through an adventure like this with them in real time was wonderful, especially knowing we may not be able to get a new escape marathon together for a while yet. YouEscape’s format is unlike anything we’d seen before, but does an excellent job of mixing together an online puzzle experience with the feel of an escape room. Our GM, Jared, sent along a Google Hangouts call, and once we had all connected, he went over the rules with us via a concise, but informative introduction. We were given a link to a google drive that would contain pieces of the puzzles, and were also informed that we would use anything we could see on his screen to work our way through a series of locked boxes and ultimately unlock the Alchemist’s greatest secret! Jared was an amazing GM, and worked brilliantly with our group to ensure we had an excellent time.

The game flow is very linear, but works well within the format and conceit of the game, ensuring there isn’t too much visual overload while still allowing players to discover all the secrets of the game for themselves. (Even those players, like ourselves, who are still absolutely horrible at finding hidden objects when there are only like, three to five things on screen. We wear the cone of shame.) The difficulty curve is very smooth, starting off the game with a fairly simple win to get players used to the format and jump start the experience, and slowly ramps up towards the final, multilayered conundrum that had us really thinking to unlock that final box! At no point did anything feel frustrating, and moments of revelation were just a few logical steps away. Puzzles ensured that we needed to work as a team, especially during the latter stages of the game, when it truly took all of us working together to crack the final locks. My favorite puzzles involved some cool interactions that played with perspective, as well as a couple of puzzles that, had they been set up in a normal escape room, would usually be solo endeavors, but had been expanded to allow for a more team focused interaction. Everything included within the “room” is important, and all props are used effectively to deliver a great run of puzzles throughout the game’s run time.

Low Points:

There is one specific interaction that doesn’t quite have an on screen “clue,” and though it does make sense on the back end, it would be nice to have a subtle marker on screen to denote that the action that needs to be taken is available. It was still a very clever puzzle, however, I felt there could have been more of a visual representation in order to ensure players know that this is an option. The set is also very basic, so those looking for something flashy may be disappointed. We thought everything was used effectively however, and in the overall scheme of things, this is a minor detail. The story itself is a good framing device, but generally is fairly basic and feels secondary to the puzzling, which we don’t necessarily mind, but a well integrated storyline would elevate the game even higher.

Verdict:

YouEscape is the perfect antidote for lockdown boredom, and is a brilliant way to get together with your favorite group of escapists for an escape! Using everyday props to deliver an exciting, smoothly produced and excellently designed game experience, I heartily recommend giving YouEscape a shot, and cannot wait to try out another of their adventures. Book your time with YouEscape here!

8.5/10 (Great)

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