Experience the BlackOut – Trade Street Epidemic (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Weird Science

Theme:

Recently, the Agency has discovered a plot to unleash a zombification virus onto Charlotte by a brilliant scientist’s insane lab assistant, and is sending your team of BlackOut Agents into the field to find the cure he was working on!  The data was hidden away before his assistant could get to it, but the lab is currently under high security, and could possibly be home to undead creatures. It is up to you to figure out the clues left behind, and retrieve the data before the virus is let loose on the city, but stay on your toes, as time isn’t the only enemy working against you!

First Impressions:

Per usual, BlackOut’s theatrical approach brings you into the story long before you step into the room, joining a dim but comfortable lobby with a staff that remains in character throughout your experience. The briefing and transportation to your assignment are all expertly done, and do a great deal to immerse you into their world.

High Points:

Actor interactions are well timed and intense, allowing for a couple different ranges in emotion and excitement. Puzzles lead well into each other, and cluing is specific enough to allow the flow to work cohesively, if not perfectly. The theatrics push the story forward well, and add a level of pressure to the experience.

Low Points:

Of the three experiences that BlackOut has to offer, Trade Street Epidemic is the most basic. The décor is very banal overall and puzzling doesn’t quite rise to the level of South End Psycho and Cell Block 704. Puzzles are average and serviceable, but do little to excite, especially for seasoned escapists. One interaction feels like it has become overdone and highly predictable for the theme, and the execution does little to justify its addition. Several lock types show up multiple times, so it isn’t always clear what goes where.

Verdict:

While an alright room, Trade Street Epidemic feels like just another zombie themed room in an industry that’s already flooded with zombies. While some take the theme to new heights, like Undead Outbreak, this one feels like it is just barely above average, which is disappointing due to BlackOut’s track record for stellar theatrical experiences. This one will appeal more to beginners who haven’t yet become veterans in the fight against zombies, and unless you’re finishing up your quest for a plaque on BlackOut’s Agent wall, I’d say enthusiasts can safely skip this one. You can book your mission here!

5.5/10 (Mediocre)

Experience the BlackOut – Cell Block 704 (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You either get busy escapin’ or get busy dyin’.

Theme:

A team of BlackOut Agents have been captured and locked up in Cell Block 704. It is up to your team to ensure they are extracted and the evidence against them secured. You’ve infiltrated the prison and have 60 minutes to get the evidence and break out!

First Impressions:

As previously stated in my review of South End Psycho, BlackOut goes all out with their presentation and immersion from the moment you step through the door. The entire opening briefing is woven into the experience expertly, and everyone is encouraged to work as a team from the start. After being blindfolded and handcuffed together, we were put in prison, and our race against the clock began.

High Points:

We were put in separate cells and had to work together passing items and clues between each ourselves in order to access the rest of the room. The flow of the room was a bit chaotic, but made sense between cells. The hint system is well done, and adds to the flow and immersion of the room rather than feeling like a random lifeline to the GM. There are enough puzzle lines to keep a full group occupied, and even though the room is dark, flashlights are plentiful, so the mood is well set without sacrificing our ability to work on the puzzles.

Low Points:

Our group of 4 was matched up with another group of 4, and the room felt very tight. BlackOut has since moved locations and expanded the size of their rooms, so this may no longer be an issue. One puzzle’s solution was dependent on an item already used for a previous puzzle and did not feel well clued. The one actor interaction seemed to drag along too long, stopping the action while our time ticked down. (Update: After speaking with Blackout, they let us know that they give an extra 2-5 minutes to the clock for actor interactions, which they are making sure to include in their briefings, and we were originally unaware of.) A late game puzzle involved a serious leap of logic none of us were able to make without help. Some elements of the room felt out of place, but were not too egregious.

Verdict:

Cell Block 704 is a good room that ties together the stories of BlackOut’s other rooms well. There are a couple of hiccups along the way, but the overall room is well put together and flows in a natural, if chaotic, way. A wide range of puzzles will keep groups occupied and entertained throughout the hour leading up to their escape! I would recommend doing BlackOut’s other two rooms first, in order to get the backstory, but this is not 100% necessary. Book your escape from the Cell Block here!

8/10 (Great)

Experience the BlackOut – South End Psycho (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Theme:

A string of serial killings have been tracked back to a dilapidated cabin in the woods, and you, as BlackOut Agents, have been tasked with infiltrating the house, securing the name of the next victim, and escaping before the suspected murderer returns. There’s only one problem, not only is the killer on his way back, his house is likely haunted too.

First Impressions:

This was my second visit to BlackOut, but my first time in their new location. They have a very comfortable new lobby that fits the overall theme of BlackOut very well. The staff is, as always, in character and ready to immerse you in their world from the moment you step in the front door. After getting settled and signing waivers, you’re given your briefing in a separate room, then blindfolded, and led to your mission. Every step of the process ensures the outside world disappears from the time you enter, until the time you (hopefully!) escape!

High Points:

The briefing room and escape rooms being separate from the lobby allows for total immersion once the game begins, and is a very nice touch. The set design is very well done and the rooms are spacious enough to move around in, even with the maximum players in the room. Puzzles are mostly linear, but flow well into each other, and each is fairly well clued as to where they go. The actors in the room add to the story and drop small hints as you progress. The actors are fun to interact with and unobtrusive as well. All of the elements combine in this room to create a very creepy and horror based atmosphere.

Low Points:

One particular interaction is interesting, but mostly serves to drain time from the clock, which can feel frustrating during a timed event. (Update: After speaking with Blackout, they let us know that they give an extra 2-5 minutes to the clock for actor interactions, which they are making sure to include in their briefings, and we were originally unaware of.) The stricter linearity of the latter puzzles can limit the amount of people actively puzzling, though they allow for more interaction than most singular puzzles. There are a lot of random items in the room, which can lead to a messy experience for disorganized groups.

Verdict:

South End Psycho is a very well done room that not only takes its theme from horror, but actually feels scary at times. This can be a pro or a con depending on your tastes, but we definitely enjoyed a room that scared us at times.  Puzzles were solid and intuitive, and BlackOut creates an experience that is hard to top, through their specific blend of theatrical and escape room elements. You can book your escape from the South End Psycho here!

8/10 (Great)