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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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?

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!

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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.

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!

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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.

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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.