Ubisoft Blue Byte – Assassin’s Creed: Beyond Medusa’s Gate (Review)

Location: This game is available from many locations, we played at VR Zone DC in Washington, DC

Players: 2 or 4, either of which is a great time

Price: Varies, based on location.

Time to Escape: Approximately 60 Minutes

Back to the Animus!

Theme:

From the Ubisoft Escape Games website:

Beyond Medusa’s Gate is set in the re-creation of Ancient Greece from Assassin’s Creed® Odyssey. Two or four players team up and have 60 minutes to find a way out of a vast Aegean coastal cave where the legendary ship of the Argonauts is anchored. To successfully escape, players must use cooperative teamwork, problem-solving skills and precise timing to solve riddles and find their way out of this room-scale experience. Players start the adventure by choosing their avatar from among six diverse characters, and can customize them with Ancient Greek accessories.

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First Impressions:

Escape the Lost Pyramid got us hyped for more VR escape adventures, and luckily, we had Beyond Medusa’s Gate scheduled just afterwards! The initial stages of the game were similar, but boasted loads more options, and we knew we were in for an extremely good time after enjoying an ink bottle “food fight” of sorts within the initial avatar selection/costume customization area seen below!

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High Points:

Being an enormous fan of Assassin’s Creed, especially Kassandra’s adventures in AC: Odyssey, Beyond Medusa’s Gate was one of my most highly anticipated games for our recent trip to Northern Virginia. We were not disappointed, either, as this massive evolution in gameplay over the already great Escape The Lost Pyramid was an absolute blast to puzzle through. Inviting players into an even larger escape adventure than the previous game, this is truly a can’t miss experience. The initial parts of the game involved getting acquainted with the VR controls and selecting from a wider, more artful set of avatars, as well as various costume colors and adornments. As a big fan of character customization in video games, I was delighted with the expansion of this part of the game, as well as the inclusion of many ways to differentiate your character, as three of us selected the same avatar.

The gameplay for this romp through Ancient Greece is legendary, putting a much larger emphasis of enormous teamwork puzzles, and ensuring that everyone stays involved throughout, removing many of the individual choke points of the previous game. Traversal feels much smoother here, and the joy of one armed pull ups remains present, as does shooting your friends with arrows. Climbing the many tall walls was a fear for one of our teammates, and luckily, should this trigger anxiety for players, most teamwork puzzles only require one of the players to climb, which was a nice touch. The interactions presented via Medusa’s Gate are incredibly varied, and much more complex, throwing some real challenges at the team, while remaining intuitive and deliriously fun to work through. The moments of revelation are great, and working out the solutions alongside friends is an excellent time. Many points split our four player team into two, and the ability to switch off teammates is present, which is a great new addition. On the whole, however, there are quite a few four player interactions that are flawlessly inserted into the game flow, and allow for everyone to take a starring role in the adventure.

The climax of the game is also much improved, with an epic boss battle that requires quick and accurate teamwork between all four players, capping off an already excellent journey with an exhilarating large-scale interaction. We were also treated to a quick but fun photo taking session to commemorate our achievement, and I’m so glad we were able to actually receive these photos!

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Low Points:

Beyond Medusa’s Gate is a mostly flawless VR escape experience, but we did run into a couple of places where if your teammates aren’t quite as quick as you, there’s some waiting around, but not nearly as much as was experienced in Escape the Lost Pyramid. There were also usually some items to mess around with during this time, so the waiting never became unbearable. Near the end of the game, we experienced a fairly big glitch, as a key item popped out of existence for around five minutes, causing a lot of frustration as well as the confiscation and immediate disposal of a bucket.

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Verdict:

Beyond Medusa’s Gate was one of the most memorable escape room experiences I’ve ever had, and expect I’ll remember our journey through this one for a good long while. Able to insert fun and adventure into every facet of the game, I highly recommend checking it out! If you’ve not played it’s predecessor, Escape the Lost Pyramid, that’s definitely worth doing first if possible, as this game will likely feel more natural after a warm up in Egypt. Find a room near you here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: VR Zone DC provided media discounted tickets for our game.

Insomnia Escape – The Patient (Review)

Location: Washington, DC

Players: 2-9 (We recommend 2-3)

Price: Varies, see here for details.

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Doctors have loads of paperwork to go through…

Theme:

From the Insomnia Escape website:

Detective thriller in a psychiatric hospital. Investigate the mystery, but don’t lose your mind…The early 1970s. You are a group of journalists sent to investigate strange things that happen around St Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital…An unsettling atmosphere of a mental asylum and unexpected scenario twists in the new thriller detective escape room The Patient.

First Impressions:

I always like a good spooky hospital thriller, from abandoned, ghost-infested asylums to the labs of mad doctors, I eat up this sort of theme! I was a little disappointed about the set up of this hospital, however, as it seemed clean and sterile, just the sort of hospital we’ve seen a bit too much of in our escape journeys, but I was hoping that we could peel away this sanitary veneer to uncover the dark secrets beneath!

High Points:

Though the set wasn’t quite what we expected, it is competently designed and does present a doctor’s office fairly well. The most interesting thing about the room, however, is the two patients locked up beyond a couple of cell doors. The technology presented to bring these patients to life is pretty astounding, and interacting with them is definitely the most fun part of the game. The acting is little more than okay, but the tech that brings their actions to life more than makes up for it. The climax of the room is a great finish, and getting there does feel urgent, overall. The room starts out with some very engaging puzzles and interactions, and while it lasts, everything is streamlined. Unfortunately, as clues pile up, even the most organized groups will start to have some issues keeping everything straight. There are some really great ideas housed within The Patient, and it may be worth the price to some players just to see some of these innovations.

Low Points:

The Patient felt more like an at home subscription mystery box, as a lot of the game was bogged down in paper notes and written clues, rather than using the room to it’s fullest. In fact, as an at home experience, I think this could be a pretty great mystery, but as it currently stands as an escape room, it feels very bare on the whole. The game flow is very much mired in piles and piles of paper evidence, and though the technology is cool, the cool factor wears off quite a bit during the long stretches between said interactions. As the room is strictly linear, and somewhat small, the adventure does not support the five players we had, much less the maximum nine that can be fit in the game. I’d say the sweet spot is two or three, and that third player will probably still have a fair bit of down time. The story isn’t well conveyed by the game itself, and though the outline is there, it never really shines like an escape room story should. Most of the revelations are underwhelming and take a leap of logic to grasp.

Beyond the game flow hiccups, the connections between puzzles and inputs leave a lot to be desired, and the inputs themselves can be incredibly fiddly to work with, and with so many red herrings and random rabbit trails to go down, players will end up futzing about with them to the point of frustration. The puzzles themselves, beyond the vagary and overall frustration of their presentation, are eminently forgettable, with no real mind blowing moments at any point. On the whole, the experience just falls flat.

Verdict:

The Patient just fails to excite. While there are cool technological touches here and there, the small size of the room, conjoined with banal puzzling, frustrating amounts of paper, and an overly linear set up, doom the experience to mediocrity. While not a bad game, it certainly needs a fair bit of work to be recommendable. However, with a small team, there is a neat surprise or two, but there are much better games to be played in the area. You can book your time at the St. Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital here.

5.5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Insomnia Escape provided media discounted tickets for our game.

Escape Room Herndon – Maritime Mutiny (Review)

Location: Herndon, VA

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Here there be py’rates!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Herndon Website:

The pirate captain Ravensbeard has been cheating you and the crew out of your rightful share of plunder! Now that hornswoggling scoundrel has barricaded himself in his quarters. You and your mates must break in to reclaim what be rightfully yours and send that scurvy dog to Davey Jones’ Locker. If you’re crafty enough, mayhaps you’ll even commandeer the whole galleon. All hands on deck!

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First Impressions:

Most of the Keyed Up! A-team love a good pirate theme. While they’re fairly ubiquitous, especially over on the east coast, our main stomping grounds, we still have a soft spot in our hearts for them. Knowing Ravenchase rooms’ proclivities for great sets and interestingly engineered puzzles, we were excited to see what sort of high seas mischief we’d be getting into!

Mutiny

High Points:

Maritime Mutiny is housed within yet another beautiful set from Escape Room Herndon, who does an amazing job with their designs. The set reminded me of the astounding Lost Jewel of the James from sister company Escape Room RVA, with a more streamlined and easier to traverse set. Every technical item has been hidden away well, and the room itself has been artistically created to evoke a high level of immersion. Lighting and sound design add to the experience greatly as well, and I always appreciate a good ambient sound track that ensures players feel as though they’re within a living world rather than a converted office space.

The game flow itself works fantastically, with a bevy of well clued puzzles that will cater to an array of puzzlers. Each prop within the room feels important, and the intuitive nature of the enigmas within Ravensbeard’s pirate ship ensure that everyone will be completely engaged with the adventure at all times. The signposting is subtle, and presents an almost invisible road map for players that keeps the game challenging while ensuring that there are no red herrings to drive them off track. This is a very tactile game, and when the set opens up to present its secrets due to an action taken in the room, it’s a very satisfying. Progress is well marked during the game, and it never feels like the game is dragging at any point.

Maritime Mutiny is a special game in that the advertised difficulty is a 5/10, unless players opt for the bonus puzzles, in which the game becomes a 10/10. The decision to take these puzzles on is made after escaping the initial room, so no need to worry about if there’s time (or mental energy,) until the option presents itself. This is an awesome way to ensure folks who tend to fly through easier rooms still get their full 60 minutes with the game. I also love that solving these puzzles grants a better climax to the room, as hinted at in the room description. Our team definitely felt the pressure as these were some devious challenges, but know that the reward for solving these optional puzzles is absolutely worth it!

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Low Points:

While the bonus puzzles are a great addition for seasoned players, they were more puzzle hunt style than most are used to seeing in an escape room. I personally am not the biggest fan of this style of puzzle, which tend to feel overly vague and logically unsound. However, most of the puzzles presented are well implemented and they are, of course, optional, so it’s a small matter of mostly personal preference as to whether you’ll enjoy the bonus. Overall, we did, but I can certainly see where they would become frustrating. The initial set of puzzles are definitely some of the easier ones, so escape room veterans looking for a challenge will have to wait for the bonus puzzles. Overall, the dichotomy of the room is best for new players who don’t mind missing out on the bonus and better climax, or hardened escape enthusiasts looking for a bigger challenge, but not as much for those in between experience levels.

Verdict:

Maritime Mutiny is an astounding room that accomplishes the impossible task of being a great room for new players and those looking for a mind melting challenge as well. Couple that with the beautiful sound and set design, and you’ve got a game that I can absolutely recommend to everybody! Book your time escaping your Maritime Mutiny here!

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9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Herndon provided comped tickets for this room.

 

Can You Rob the Bank? – Alien Blood Bank Robbery (Review)

Editor’s Note: Today’s review comes to us from Texas correspondent, Cathy Nanni! Thanks Cathy for another great review!

Players:  Up to 10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $28.00 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

I Just Took A DNA Test, Turns Out I’m 100% That Alien!

Theme

Eddie, the human loving alien, has had it! He’s tired of his alien superiors taking and experimenting on the DNA of humans. With his help, you must break into the Alien Advancement Laboratory and steal back your DNA.

First Impressions:

After boasting about the great experience I had at Can You Rob the Bank? to my girl friends, we decided to head there for our monthly Moms’ Night Out. The owner, Jill, was once again very easy to work with in booking our room. Her employees were very helpful in getting us signed in and we were even able to start the room early. We were also given costumes to wear to play the parts of humans pretending to be aliens. I love any excuse to wear a costume! Also, as a plus size woman, I appreciated that they had lab coats in a large variety of sizes.

High Points:

When we stepped into the room, we immediately felt as if we were in a space age laboratory. Everything from the white walls to the reflective ceiling tiles fit the alien blood bank theme perfectly. One of my favorite parts of the room was Eddie our “alien on the inside”. He has a very quirky personality a his character shines through via the clues to the puzzles. Eddie is very passionate about something that adds a really fun twist to the room; I promised I wouldn’t spoil it, but I will say it is an addition that adds so much whimsy to the room, differentiating itself from your typical alien spaceship escape room. I really felt like it was very important to the designers that the story was integrated well into the puzzles and props for this room, and it absolutely shows throughout the experience. You have engaging scientific equipment to investigate, including a giant microscope, as well as nods to Eddie’s janitorial career such as his locker and cleaning supplies. There is an enormous variety of puzzles in the room that are sure to excite players new to the hobby as well as enthusiasts. Even though it is a sci-fi themed room, there is a good mix of tech and non-tech puzzles. All of the technically based puzzles worked flawlessly which I know is something enthusiasts will appreciate!

Can You Rob the Bank? does an impressive job of scaffolding their puzzles. They start players off with easier puzzles to build confidence before hitting you with so more challenging ones that take a little more time to figure out. As an educator, I do this with my students as well, helping them feel successful so their confidence is raised when things get a little more challenging. This confidence boost and smooth difficulty curve ensures that when the going gets tough, things stay fun, and it takes them longer to reach their frustration level. This really communicates to me that Can You Rob the Bank? understands that this hobby is meant to be challenging but fun.

Low Points:

If you are color blind, this is not the room for  you. There were at least four color based puzzles in the room, one of which involved varying shades that became quite challenging due to the mood lighting in the room. There is also one puzzle that caused us to miss a clue that would be needed in a later puzzle because it was too easy to just guess the answer.

Verdict:

With a challenging, yet entertaining room that boasts a wide variety of excellent puzzles, Can You Rob the Bank? presents another amazing room! If you’re looking for a really entertaining twist on an alien themed room, definitely check out the Alien Blood Bank here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Can You Rob the Bank offered a discount and private room to our group.

 

Escape Room Fairfax – The Frightful Feast (Review)

Location: Fairfax, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

They did the mash… they did the Monster Mash!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Fairfax website:

You and your teammates wake up in a poorly lit cell and can’t quite remember how you got there. As you come to your senses, you can just make out three monstrous voices planning a party. It seems they’ve decided to have you over for dinner…in a manner of speaking. The ghastly group has left you unattended for just one hour to attend to the last details of their frightful feast, giving you just sixty minutes to avoid becoming tonight’s main course.Can you escape this disastrous dinner before the next course? Only time will tell. Good Luck.

First Impressions:

Escape Room Fairfax has a sprawling complex, housing a huge amount of rooms, and requiring marathoners to bop between various areas of the complex the games are housed in. It was impressive how many rooms they had, and navigating our way between them was made interesting via the directions presented in an escape-roomy way. After solving the puzzle of how to find our rooms, we were interested to see how excellent the actual games would be!

High Points:

The Frightful Feast is just the right amount of spooky and cute for families and those seeking a game more akin to the works of R.L. Stine than Stephen King. With some goofier and sometime cuddly monsters about, and a storyline that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s the perfect Halloween experience for those who prefer a bit of light spoopyness. There are a good bit of beginner friendly puzzles that will introduce a fair few escape room tropes, making this a good room for first-timers to get a taste of the basic workings of the genre. Further, the game flow is very non-linear, with several separate threads to prevent any unnecessary downtime. A few of the puzzles are very clever, with a good bit of humor mixed between the puzzling and light frights. The story is fun, starting out a little spooky and leading up to a silly, yet satisfying climax that ties everything together at the end. Sound effects, surprising delivery of key items, and some interesting lighting keeps the room in theme, as an obviously haunted house of yore. Overall the room is solid, not bad, but never quite inventive enough to rise above that basic competency.

Low Points:

There are a lot of old school “noticing” puzzles that, for veteran players, may feel like old hat, and some are a bit too directionless for our tastes. A couple of puzzles feel completely out of theme, and while one of them is an old favorite of mine that I enjoyed solving, I couldn’t quite justify why it was included within the room, other than “because escape room.” As one of Escape Room Fairfax’s older rooms, it is definitely a lot more basic overall, in terms of set design and puzzling, and while it is certainly a solid adventure, it isn’t going to blow your mind. There are a few red herrings here and there, nothing that can’t be overcome with a little logic, but seems to leave threads hanging that could otherwise be tightened up. A few of the props around the room have started to show some serious wear and tear, and some of the… gooier, we’ll say, items could bear replacing.

Verdict:

The Frightful Feast would be a fun room for families and those looking for a cute spooky jaunt without much in the way of scares. There’s nothing too world changing for enthusiasts, but is good for an hour’s fun. The room itself certainly left us satisfied with the experience, but I’d recommend trying out the newer 2233: Fighting for the Future or 1960: History of the Future rooms for those seeking a more updated challenge. Book your time escaping the dinner bell here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Fairfax provided media discounted tickets for this room.