Exit Strategy North – Baruta’s Revenge (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Let the rites of sacrifice begin anew!

Theme:

From the Exit Strategy North website:

As you come to, your head is spinning, and your ears are ringing. For a moment you can’t remember what just happened. But then it all comes rushing back: being kidnapped, the sacrifice chamber, the hoods, the restraints, the fear and that voice… That voice that tormented you as you were trying to somehow prove your worth to some demon. And just when you were going to get up and run away from this hell, goosebumps run across your skin as your friend says: “it’s not over, we need to go.”

First Impressions:

Once upon a time, there was a group of enthusiasts who encountered an adventure they loved so much, they dedicated the back of their team shirts to extol the virtues of that unfortunately retired room. Over a year later, The Final Sacrifice remains our group’s favorite room. So much so, in fact, that our erstwhile regular teammate and Dallas correspondent Cathy returned to NC specifically for our trip to experience the new sequel room, Baruta’s Revenge. We are truly children of Baruta. Expectations were high for this bigger budget cult sacrifice extravaganza, and it was our first stop during our recent trip to Charlotte, NC. But how’d it stack up?

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The Ouija board from the original Final Sacrifice. We pay tribute to it’s wisdom.

High Points:

Exit Strategy North is well known as the bigger budget, more Hollywood style rooms in Charlotte, and they did not disappoint in this regard. A huge, beautiful set, full of excellent lighting and sound effects greeted us upon our deliverance into the sacrificial chambers. The storyline has also been expanded, providing an excellent follow up to the theme through great voice work and the reintroduction of some old foes. The opening to the room is also fantastic, incorporating some acting similar to that we experienced in the original Final Sacrifice and immersing us into the game splendidly. Another, perhaps unintentional, callback to The Final Sacrifice is how the game itself explodes forward into a frantic run of great puzzles in the latter half, bouncing the group from spot to spot in an exciting run of solving we really enjoyed, save for one specific road bump.

Fans of the original game are going to love the many call backs hidden within Baruta’s Revenge, from the sacrificial chambers to the fantastic storyline, and it’s worth playing just to experience those now nostalgic beats in the game play. Props are a lot of fun to manipulate, and the physical nature of most of the room plays to the strengths of the theme. We even get some interesting backstory on Baruta himself, as well as an insight into the identity of our supernatural savior from the original game, which was a great touch. In fact, there’s a lot to build on here, and we’d love to explore the lore of these games more in the future.

Low Points:

That being said, one of the legacies of The Final Sacrifice is just how difficult it was, demanding a level of teamwork that challenged us without being overly obtuse. Unfortunately, the difficulty of Baruta’s Revenge doesn’t arise from clever teamwork challenges or devious puzzling, but more from the many thin logical leaps that must be made. Many times we were expected to know something for seemingly no reason other than we should know. I call this “because reasons” puzzling, which is when a room incorporates an interaction without including a reason why within the game flow. For example, there were several moments we had to chant a phrase, but were never directed to it naturally, we just did it “because reasons.” Once, there was a puzzle and lock in a room we had been told we weren’t supposed to go back into, we were just supposed to know to go back in there “because reasons.” (Granted, this could be an error in GMing.) Later, we asked why we were supposed to know to do these things, and the Game Master was unable to give us a satisfactory answer beyond, “everyone needs a hint in this room,” which we feel was another failing. Rooms should be solvable without clues, otherwise, there is some failing in the design.

A lot of times, we felt like we were fighting with the puzzles, a few of which were specifically harder for no other reason than they were difficult to see. Again, we ran across a color puzzle in a dim room. Spotlights had been added to assist, but it wasn’t quite enough to illuminate the differences to an acceptable level. Another involved reading something that was far away and extremely small, frustrating even those of us with the best vision. An ongoing problem in many Exit Strategy rooms hasn’t been alleviated, as there is nothing to write with within the room, which is always frustrating. One of the biggest determinations of a room’s quality comes from the Game Master and how they read a room. Unfortunately, our game master read our frustrations and requests for help with some of the more obtuse puzzles as time to start cracking wise. Had these barbs of sarcasm been followed up with a hint, perhaps that would have been ok, but frustrating your players further is never a great idea, and only served to diminish our experience. I get that Baruta is a bad guy, but when your game has stopped becoming entertaining and lapsed into frustrating, it’s your job to help get things back on track, not exacerbate the problem.

Verdict:

Based on word count alone, it might look like we hated this room, but honestly, there’s a lot to like here, and I feel like there is a great foundation to build upon, especially if some of the more glaring issues are taken care of. Is Baruta’s Revenge a worthy follow up to The Final Sacrifice? Maybe not. But is it an overall pretty good room? Yes, definitely. I absolutely do not recommend beginners take this one on, however, as it truly is very difficult, but enthusiasts and fans of the previous room will definitely get a kick out of the experience. You can book a rematch with Baruta here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Exit Strategy South – Twisted (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Forget Meta-puzzles and enjoy this meta-room!

Theme:

A quick note to start. Per usual, when I review a room, I try to stay as spoiler free as possible. For this review in particular, I’m trying to be even more vague while still touching on the pertinent points. One of the best parts of Twisted is the constant surprises, so if it seems I’m being less descriptive than usual, that’s because I am. To that point, I’ll just leave you with the theme description from Exit Strategy South’s website.

It’s not that you’re smart, but your record is pretty good! You’ve played 52 rooms and you beat 43 of them. Not bad! You and your crew now go into any escape room and, within seconds, have already figured out the skills that each of you will need to use to beat this thing.

So, you get your group together and set off to play this new room that you heard about.

The game starts and before you know it you realize that being a so-called expert will not help. You’re no longer playing the story, you are the story.

First Impressions:

One thing that I’ve wanted so badly since starting my escape room hobby is for someone to build a meta-escape room. An escape room within the universe of escape rooms just sounded like the coolest theme possible in my head, so when I saw that the previous home of our favorite escape room of all time, The Final Sacrifice, had built that very thing, I got excited. Overly so, some would say! This was my most anticipated room for our recent trip to Charlotte, easily.

High Points:

Twisted is a smorgasbord of creative and tactile puzzles. Anyone who knows me knows that interactive and physically engaging puzzles are my favorite, so it should be no secret that this was extremely exciting to me when I entered the room. Set design is enacted in a thematically appropriate way, and reflects the theme excellently, though it’s very surprising at first. The best part about Twisted is how the room is such a great bundle of the unexpected from the start, presenting an amazing story and a tense adventure wrapped within an awesome challenge that delivered a fantastic bang for our buck! The fact that our group, who is so used to busting out of rooms with at least 20 minutes left on the clock, had only 6ish minutes remaining at the end truly speaks to the fantastically crafted game flow within Twisted. In fact, one of the coolest things about the room is that it doesn’t rely on too many escape room tropes that allow escape room veterans to blow through rooms, but rather creates an original puzzling adventure that is an absolute must play for any enthusiast! Finally, we had such a great GM for this room in Mylene! She was excellent from start to finish, delivering the story and hints to us in an engaging and humorous way. Talking to her before and after the room was a pleasure, and we hope to see her again soon!

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We also still love dropping our Keyed Up! chips in the win column every time we visit!

Low Points:

The finale is fun, but can be a bit frustrating for one player due to the nature of the game, but overall, it’s a great climax to the room that keeps everyone on their toes!

Verdict:

Twisted is an absolute masterpiece of a meta-room that beginners can access and enjoy, but enthusiasts will get the biggest kick out of! This escape will absolutely blow your mind and keep your heart pumping for the full experience, and I cannot recommend it enough. Definitely my favorite current room at Exit Strategy South, and I cannot wait for what comes next! Book your Twisted adventure here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Exit Strategy South – Queen City Bank Heist (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-8)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Den of Thieves

Theme:

Your crack team of thieves has found a weakness in the security of the Queen City Bank, one of the most secure banks in the United States. Housed inside is an enormous diamond, worth millions! If you can get your hands on it without getting caught, you’ll be set for life, but your infiltration will only buy you an hour, so get in and get out with the prize before the cops put you away for life!

First Impressions:

Our team was the group posing as janitors in order to gain entry to the bank, and once we were ushered into the room, I was actually fairly underwhelmed for the first time in an Exit Strategy room. The opener was very sparse, but as I’ve enjoyed most of their other rooms, I was willing to give it a shot!

High Points:

Puzzles, for the most part, made good sense and flowed well into each other in a puzzle room type sense. There were a few surprises that kept us on our toes, and a usual standby was implemented in a fun way that encouraged teamwork. This was one of the larger rooms at Exit Strategy, and it felt like the recommended players for the room was reasonable. The climax was a great capstone to the room and kept our hearts pumping while we captured our treasure and booked it out of there!

Low Points:

Some weird points during the game felt very off theme. Random blood splatters and references to vampires felt very out of left field and made little sense, story-wise. The splitting of the teams had the same issue as most split team games, namely that one room had way more to do than the other, and the communication method between teams felt unnecessarily awkward.  A few points of the early game were a slog because we had to wait for the other team to work through or find something while we were generally spinning our wheels waiting for something to do. One bummer was that we also had a downer GM for this game, which is very out of the ordinary for Exit Strategy. After 10 previous games at this company with great customer service, regardless of our opinions on the room, this was quite the shock. The set design of the room was also very strange, as it didn’t feel as much like a proper bank, however this is an older room, and Exit Strategy has made great strides in that department.

Verdict:

Another of Exit Strategy’s older rooms, it hasn’t aged poorly, but it definitely shows in comparison to their newer rooms. It’s a reasonably challenging and fun room, however, but I definitely recommend doing it before any newer offerings, as it definitely comes from a different generation of escape rooms. Gather your team and plan your heist here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Exit Strategy South – Lost In Space (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Danger! Danger!

Theme:

Your team of astronauts is testing out one of the older ships when suddenly, mid-flight, your orbit starts to decay fairly rapidly due to a systems malfunction! The intern runs off with the only escape pod, so it’s up to you to fix it as soon as possible before the ship, (and you!), burn up upon reentry!

First Impressions:

We were looking forward to our time in Lost in Space after a fun, if slightly flawed, romp through Gone. The experiences we’ve had at Exit Strategy have been mostly positive, and this was one of the last two games we needed to play in order to finish up the 10 (10!) rooms they currently have on offer.

High Points:

A lot of hands on puzzling and scavenging made for a very interactive an immersive game for most of us, (more on why I say most of us below,) and the set, while simpler, had the feel of a mechanical rocket ship down pat. One puzzle involved a certain technical part of the ship that looked and reacted interestingly throughout it’s solving, and was a lot of fun for two of us to work through. The way we activated the latter part of the game was enjoyable and felt appropriate for the theme, and most puzzles tied in well to the “fixing a broken spaceship” concept.

Low Points:

The problem with this room was that an 8 person maximum was way too much for the game. Whereas I and others had a good bit of fun, a few players didn’t really get to do  much because there just wasn’t enough for our group of 7 to engage with! Had it just been our group of 5, it still would’ve been a little crowded, which stinks, because the game itself was a fairly good time for those of us that got to play. One of the main set pieces looked like a set up for a fun climactic puzzle, but ended up being just for show, which was a huge let down. The actual climax wasn’t all that interesting, and at the point the game ended, we were all saying, “oh, it’s done? That’s it?” One puzzle was non-responsive and needed a more than usual amount of pressure to get it to work, as well as being fairly obtuse in it’s solving.

Verdict:

Lost in Space is one of Exit Strategy’s older games, so we can definitely see where they have improved majorly since the early days, but it is still a fun game, with a caveat. Very rarely would I say it’s crucial to book the room privately and go with a small group if possible, but for this room, it is an absolute must in order for everyone to have fun. It’s definitely a hard room to recommend otherwise, however, since our group had such wildly disparate experiences due to the linear nature of the room. You can book your trip to space here!

6/10 (Alright)

 

Exit Strategy South – Gone. (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Taking an Uber to a Haunted House is a very, very bad idea.

Theme:

Back on Christmas Eve of 1986, Abigail Harper went missing, along with her entire family. Ever since then, her home has sat abandoned due to the rumors of a haunting inside. Could Abigail’s spirit still be lingering inside, waiting to be released, or perhaps she’s up to something more sinister? Break into the dilapidated old home and perhaps you’ll have the misfortune of finding out where everyone has Gone.

First Impressions:

Our favorite room of all time, The Final Sacrifice, was retired in September of last year, but when we heard what was coming to take it’s place, we were instantly excited! Gone. promised a spooky haunted house with all the theatricality of it’s predecessor, and we were so on board for that! We were greeted by our Uber driver, Hannah, who promised to take us to the old house on the condition she didn’t have to go in with us, and were set loose on the room!

High Points:

A special shout out to Hannah, our Uber driver, who was an excellent GM and host! Set design was really great, starting us off with a startling and unique puzzle and leading into a realistically sized haunted house. The first 75% of the game was extremely exciting and went from spot to spot excellently. Gameflow worked very well, and was full of spooky surprises and scares! Sound effects helped lead us along though the many different rooms excellently, and added to the immersion. The atmosphere and well hidden and utilized technology really created the sense of dread promised by the theme.

Low Points:

The latter quarter of the game really fell apart hard. The final puzzle was a bit of a mess, and while the rest of the game felt really on theme, this one was out of left field. Unfortunately, this also led to an anticlimactic ending, leaving a couple of mysteries unexplored, wasting a good bit of potential we were hoping for. The house was decked out for Christmas Eve as well as being themed to the 80s, but this didn’t really add anything, I would’ve liked to have seen this tied into the theme and game more, but alas, it just felt out of place. One spooky effect was cut short after the prop came to an unfortunate stop on my shins.

Verdict:

After a strong start, Gone. petered out by the end, which was a let down after such amazing buildup. There’s definitely a lot of potential here, and even with the present issues, I think it’s worth a look for the set design and great first 3/4ths of the game. With some adjustment to the finale, I think this could be the scariest and most enjoyable adventure yet. Book your time investigating the haunting here!

6.5/10 (Alright)