Timed Out – Depth (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 4-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Under the Sea

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

One thousand miles off the African Somali coast, research station Sumundra sits on the ocean floor. Here scientists study the undersea ecosystem. But the station has gone dark, and the team is not responding to communications. The condition of the Sumundra and its inhabitants is unknown. Your team must descend 1,000 feet to the Sumundra, assess its condition and retrieve all records and research to prevent yet another mystery of the deep ocean.

First Impressions:

Last year, we were highly impressed with Timed Out’s three rooms, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to try out their newest experience, Depth, as it hadn’t yet come out. It was a must visit for our next trip out, and was absolutely one of the most highly anticipated experiences for this trip. I’m happy to say it did not disappoint!

High Points:

Depth is an absolutely beautiful experience, with an awesome set that immediately wowed us. I love how Timed Out designs their sets, and the way Depth is laid out is immediately immersive. Lighting and sound design work perfectly in tandem to create a really awesome environment to puzzle within, and all the elements combine to create a truly elevated experience. Puzzles are well themed, and all tie into the mission seamlessly, with an opening that tasks the separated players with getting the power on, and a progressive meta puzzle later that utilizes a big set piece fantastically. In fact, all of the set pieces within the room are beautifully integrated into the puzzling, and every item feels like an important piece of the Sumundra. Many of the props were custom 3D printed, ensuring they are highly original and look fantastic within the context of the room. These props lend a tactile feel to the experience as well, upping the immersion to help us feel like we are actually performing the scientific tasks required to complete our mission.

The game design is great as well, with an almost completely non-linear flow once the game gets going, and multiple teamwork puzzles that kept our group of six fully engaged for the most part. Though we began the game separated, both of the initial rooms feel like they have enough to keep everyone engaged, and there’s no “curse of the less interesting room” to be found here, as both had really fun puzzles to solve. One early stage teamwork puzzle is very clever, and though we somehow glitched past it due to our weird ability to accidentally open stuff, it is very well designed and was only glitchable due to the powerful aura of chaos that seems to surround our team, (with apologies to the no less than three businesses that have experienced freak power outages on days we visit.) During the most open ended parts of the room, we split into teams of two or three, flitting about between some of the coolest puzzles we’ve seen, racking up loads of satisfying ah ha moments as we discovered the hidden meanings behind the room’s many ciphers and clues. Most all of these puzzles involved a large, well designed set piece, adding to the cool, science-y feel of the whole game. In fact, it’s very hard to pick a favorite puzzle here, as all of them were so engaging and interactive.

Low Points:

The penultimate puzzle caused some severe frustration with our group. It is a teamwork puzzle, but is only for four players, so any additional players may be a little left out, especially if one of the tasks doesn’t appeal to their skill set. There was also a small technical glitch with my personal task that made things a lot more difficult. Overall, though, this is a fairly intense interaction that relies on a lot of dexterity and time pressure that did not translate well for our group, especially when we were milliseconds from victory but were forced to restart due to a minor error. Luckily, our GM sensed our frustration, (it wasn’t well disguised, sorry!) and overrode the puzzle for us, a pity move we highly appreciate and embrace with open arms. Though the room was definitely a lab, and was themed aquatically, we would’ve loved if there had been a little more to get across the feeling of being under water.

Verdict:

Depth is an astoundingly good game that kept us all frantically puzzling from start to finish, and minus a highly frustrating experience with a dexterity based puzzle that kept us fully under pressure, we had a wonderful time in this room! It’s certainly one of the most challenging experiences in Charlotte, so I’d recommend having a few rooms under your belt before taking it on, but enthusiasts will have a great time working out the challenges within, and newer players will still enjoy the experience as long as they are open to taking a hint or two as needed. Book your time cracking the mystery of the Sumundra here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Timed Out – Noel (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-4 (We recommend 2)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Well seasoned

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

Ho Ho Ho, Merrrrrryyyyy Christmasss! By the time you receive this I’ll be off on my present delivery run for the year. I was recently informed that one special child, Noel Bailey’s Christmas list was misplaced! The Central Elf Agency has received intel that it is likely at her father’s hunting cabin in northern Vermont. Your elf team is tasked with investigating the cabin and recovering the list, but be warned, we’ve heard that Noel is a rather…. Creative little girl. Find the list within an hour to allow for me to properly deliver Noel’s presents!

First Impressions:

Timed Out is one of our favorite spots in Charlotte, and we were enormously excited for Depth, but first, we wanted to take on their seasonal Christmas room, Noel. This smaller room was perfect for my wife and I to puzzle through while our teammates took on Precinct, a room we had previously loved and recommended. Though December had come and gone, we were still full of holiday spirit and ready to help Santa find Noel’s Christmas List!

High Points:

Noel takes place in what can only be described as the coziest Christmas cabin imaginable! Though I’m much more of a Halloween person at heart, I could definitely imagine spending a holiday in this puzzle filled room! The way the room has been decorated provides an incredibly immersive atmosphere, rife with a super chill vibe, a comfy recliner, and a festive, but not annoyingly so, soundtrack.  The decorations aren’t just for show either, as many are highly tactile props that can be changed and used in deviously clever, well themed puzzles. This may be a seasonal room, but nothing about the build out says “slapped together” like some other temporary rooms do. This could easily be a year round experience. The room is filled with story, and though it is lighter fare, it’s great to see that at all times the experience feels purposeful and tied to the intial mission of seeking out Noel’s Christmas List.

And what an exciting mission it is! Though the room is eminently family friendly, it’s still an enjoyable challenge for seasoned escapists, and my wife and I had an absolute blast working through the incredibly smooth game flow. While the flow is strictly linear, this does not harm the game, as the player limit of 2 to 4 is designed well for a small family or couple, ensuring that no choke points will leave anyone out. Even some of the quicker puzzles have multiple steps that can be worked simultaneously, allowing for players to divide and conquer, even within the bonds of a linear game. Signposting is subtly integrated, and it never feels as though you’re flailing about, wondering what to do, but answers are not just handed over, ensuring that the experience still delivers a reasonable challenge. For a smaller escape room, Noel is densely packed with enigmas, providing a full gamut of puzzles to solve, further ensuring a fully developed adventure. Progress is easy to track, using a very simple meta puzzle that literally builds as players work their way through the room, and it’s very simple to gauge how you’re doing on time. The climactic moment of Noel is just so much fun, delivering a payoff that ties off the mission in an excellently themed finale.

Low Points:

This is definitely an easier room, and while that does not deter us or ruin our fun, it’s good for enthusiasts to know in case they’d like to seek out a more difficult experience. The only real problem we came across was that one particular puzzle that involves deciphering pictures made through the course of the puzzle, and while we were able to determine what was what, three of the five were a mite ambiguous.

Verdict:

Despite the small space in which Noel takes place, the is a fully realized escape adventure to be had within! Far from the stereotypical “seasonal escape room,” Timed Out boasts what could easily be a year round room within Noel’s cozy Christmas cabin. Perfect for families, new escapists, or even a couple of hardened escape veterans, I highly recommend checking this room out when the Season comes round again! Though only available during the holiday season, you can check out all of Timed Out’s wonderful experiences year round here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Timed Out – West (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

For a Few Clues More

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

We’re going back to the days of the Wild Wild West partner! There’s valuable family land at stake and your posse will have to race against the clock to prove you’re the rightful heir! But don’t be dadgum fool and blow yourself up with dynamite while you’re at it! Keep a lookout for five special gold nuggets in this adventure that’ll have you scratchin’ your noggin at the local sheriff’s office, sittin’ around a poker table for a spell, and maybe even tickling the ivories of a mysterious old piano at the town saloon. Cowboy boots, chaps and spurs optional.

First Impressions:

Having already wowed us on multiple levels with Illusion, we were excited to travel back in time with Timed Out’s Wild West themed room! After an exciting introduction, we were set loose on the old town intent on finding our family’s gold!

High Points:

Special shout out to our Game Master, Carlos! Timed Out has some great GMs, and he was no exception, giving great hints and customer service throughout our experience. The set was spectacular, with several different areas to explore in the old West town. Each segment of the game contained several awesome set pieces that contained a puzzle or two that were well integrated into the theme of the room. The majority of the props within the room gave great feedback whenever we had solved a conundrum, and there was even a particular prop that we enjoyed triggering incorrectly due to the amusing feedback it provided as well. The story itself it light, but develops naturally throughout the course of the game, giving a believable impetus for our adventure. The game flow is non-linear, allowing our larger team to split off and still have plenty to interact with during the course of our escape. All these puzzling threads wove together throughout the room to culminate into an exciting and climactic conclusion that ended the room with a bang!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle was iffy on some of the cluing, presenting an otherwise interesting riddle that needs a bit of a logical jump to fully arrive at the solution. Some labels and laminated papers take a bit a way from the immersion, though the inclusion is understandable. The doors to each room are somewhat narrow, resulting in several near collisions between teammates, perhaps a way to keep them open might help alleviate the issue. One puzzle is interesting, and culminates into a nice reveal, but the searching and process of putting everything into order drags a bit. Without a larger group, this one puzzle could become overly tedious.

Verdict:

West is a fun, beginner friendly room that is an excellent adventure for players of any experience level. While the room may be somewhat easier than Timed Out’s other offerings, there is no shortage of surprises and clever puzzling to be found within this Wild West romp! I recommend giving it a shot, especially for families that are seeking an escape room that’s perfect for all ages. You can book your search for the gold here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Timed Out – Illusion (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Now you see me…

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

For years the world has been wowed by the unique and unexplainable magic of “Angelica Steele”. She started just like any other magician, obscure and unknown, until one day, her act changed. From that day forward she was the best of the best. Her rise to fame and years of domination in the magic industry did not gain her friends, but did give her a lot of enemies. You and your team received an anonymous tip that the magician is in fact a fraud! With the promise of good fortune, your team has been tasked to uncover the truth by gathering information and learning the secrets behind her magic.

First Impressions:

Timed Out was one of those escape rooms I stumbled on while planning one of our usual escape marathons. It’s always exciting to see a new business pop up, but even more so when the website has all the hallmarks of a good spot, and this one even had a really awesome blog to boot! We’d been bamboozled before but still, Timed Out definitely seemed as though it would be awesome.

High Points:

Timed Out has some great Game Masters, so I want to start by thanking our GM Chris for his excellent work giving us great hints and feedback during our game! The room itself is one of the most tightly integrated to the theme I have seen in recent memory, with so many excellent illusions and magical interactions peppered generously throughout. There are rooms that are themed as magical, and then there are rooms like Illusion, where the experience actually is magical, and it’s really quite amazing. The items found throughout the room continually deliver surprising reveals, and rather than just being random magic trick props, they are key parts of the puzzles themselves and bolster ah ha moments into moments of awe. The set design is great, and is at the same time a magician’s lounge, a storeroom of tricks, and an elegant parlor for an intimate magic show. Truly this room is a creative marvel, and it doesn’t end with the props and set design!

The puzzles within Illusion are very intuitive, even when many involve some sort of magic trick. Care has been taken by the designers to ensure that no outside knowledge is needed to manipulate these props, and many times, it feels as though they perform their own slight of hand as they are being examined. The room is very non-linear, and though we had a larger group of six, there was always something to do during our game. The story is engaging, and though the focus is on the magical puzzles and interactions, the enigmatic Angelica Steele remains a figure we were very interested to learn more about.

Low Points:

Many lock types repeat during the room, ensuring that there will be a fairly large amount of guess and check to be done after solving puzzles, which could be remedied with clearer connections between the puzzles themselves and the locks they are meant to open. This lack of connection made the game flow a bit more choppy in parts, as several puzzles also tended be fairly stand-alone; their threads terminating at the moment the lock was opened.

Verdict:

Illusion is absolutely one of the most well themed games in Charlotte, with an emphasis on ensuring that each puzzle is magical rather than just magic themed and a bevy of tricks up its sleeve, it is an engaging adventure for escapists of any skill level! Book your time investigating the illusions of Angelica Steele here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Timed Out – Precinct (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It may be an abandoned police station, but it still has doughnuts!

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

Set against the backdrop of three missing police officers, your team’s ability to unravel the story of Precinct will be tested by challenges that require analytical skills, deductive reasoning and collaboration. If you’re successful, you’ll progressively uncover the details behind the mysterious disappearances and seize opportunities to change the outcome of the series of events. But be careful – you’ll need to avoid be pulled into the very things you’re trying to prevent!

First Impressions:

Police Stations and prisons are an old standby for escape rooms at this point, so it really takes a masterful hand to ensure they remain fresh, especially for escape room veterans, and after doing two other rooms at Timed Out, we were sure Precinct would be a lot of fun! We were advised it was their most challenging room, and we were ready to take it on!

High Points:

Our game master for this game was McKenna, and she expertly sent us a couple clues when we began to flounder or became too confident in our wrong answers, she read the room perfectly and did an excellent job! As an aside, she is also the writer for Timed Out’s blog, which I really enjoyed reading through. I’ve never read an escape room blog run by a business that is quite this varied or interesting to peruse, so I definitely recommend checking it out! You can find it here.

Precinct’s set is very well done, with some cool touches to add immersion, and an awesome old style phone booth that was great fun to play around in. The introduction video and the soundtrack of the room keep energy high without being overly loud or intrusive, and helped tie the story in as we progressed. The video that ended the room was also a fitting dénouement, and tied up all the loose ends neatly. The experience is ever evolving throughout the room, and several surprises popped up regularly to keep us saying “wow!” The whole room is really awesome, design-wise, and the owners let me know they were going to further iterate the set to make it even more immersive, which is great to hear!

Challenging rooms, I find, come in two different varieties. Those which are difficult for the sake of difficulty, and those that weave the challenge throughout the room in an engaging, but fair way. Precinct is definitely the latter version. The difficulty of this room comes not from a puzzle designer that wants to “beat” the players, but from one that really understands how to create a fun challenge, packing the room with creative puzzles that force your group to act as a team; engaging keen perception and out of the box thinking to succeed! So much within this room was a thrill to interact with and the puzzle density was just right to keep all three of us fully entertained. The non-linear set up could definitely handle a maximum of eight players, and no one would ever feel like they were just standing around. The game flow is almost perfect, with all props and puzzles having a purpose and integrating into the theme fantastically. The signposting of clues and astounding gating that can be found here is just top notch all around. The climax of the room was an absolute blast, and caught us all by surprise! It added an excellent twist to the room and ended it on an exceedingly high note after a run of already excellent puzzles.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle is rather onerous, as it requires a fair amount of guess and check. It isn’t the most egregious version of guess and check, as you’re able to develop somewhat of a framework to work off of, but it still was a bit too much for our liking. There was a quicker way to solve this puzzle that was a small hack, so that was a relief. One prop activates with some experimentation, but didn’t give us feedback that our experimentation led to a wrong answer, leading us to believe that the green lights we had found were placed correctly. Our GM was quick to redirect our thinking regarding this, but a small bit more feedback would’ve helped.

Verdict:

Precinct was my absolute favorite room at Timed Out, and one of my favorites during our most recent trip to Charlotte! I absolutely recommend giving it a go, though newer players might want to give one of their easier games a shot first to get a feel for escape rooms. The game masters here are excellent, however, and I’m sure they’d be happy to tailor the difficulty for you if investigating an abandoned police station is your jam. Book your time in the Precinct here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.