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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Behind the Wall (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

All in all you’re just another corpse in the wall.

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From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Fairmont Estates is a tightly-knit neighborhood in the heart of Valley Falls. The residents are all white-collar and well-to-do, and any of the homes could be featured on the front of any picture postcard…except the one on Bradford Street. That house has been tied up in probate court after the previous resident passed away and has been vacant for the last three years. The house, understandably, has fallen into disarray and been vandalised on occasion by some of the neighborhood teenagers. When a family is finally able to purchase the home, the first thing they do is begin extensive renovations to return the place to its former glory. As demolition and construction are both underway, the owners are shocked when the remains of a reporter that has been missing for the past year are discovered behind one of the walls. Even more chilling is the fact that she seems to have been interred while alive which is confirmed by one final message she wrote that begins: “To whoever finds me, the Fairmont residents all have secrets. One of them did this to me…”

First Impressions:

Deadbolt have been on a roll with some of their best games ever over the last few months, and Behind the Wall certainly seemed just the right type of creepy for me! From the spooky box design to the mysterious murder in the middle of an otherwise perfect-seeming neighborhood, I loved the theme and couldn’t wait to dig in!

High Points:

Behind the Wall sets up a wonderfully twisted mystery to begin, and things just become even more wild from there. There’s a sinister vibe to the proceedings I adored that carries throughout, and is evoked by the items included as much as by the story. The intensity of the situation we find ourselves in never quite lets up, and as we delved deeper into the story, we never quite knew what was going to happen next. Honestly, this one kept us guessing until the absolute end, with a climax that surprised us more than any other recent box has, so kudos to the writers of this wonderfully demented tale! All of this storytelling added yet another wicked facet to the world of Valley Falls, much to the woe of the town, but to my somewhat sadistic delight.

The puzzles included are fantastically creative, with several implemented in interesting ways we’d never seen nor thought of before. These puzzles, as well as the props, are  designed beautifully, weaving a excellent thematic flair into everything, increasing immersion greatly. There are loads of puzzles, and the non-linear presentation of the adventure ensures that players need to stay well organized in order to solve the mystery, and there are some excellent moments of revelation as detectives follow cleverly subtle hints through the intuitively gated game flow. The experience is non-linear for the most part, allowing bigger groups to divide and conquer, or smaller groups and solo players to jump between puzzles as needed. The difficulty curve is very smooth, with some easy wins at the beginning to get things started, ramping up nicely into some moderately challenging interactions, and finishing up with a multilayered meta-puzzle to finish things off. I found Behind the Wall to be enormously satisfying to solve, and cannot name a single puzzle in this one that I didn’t enjoy!

Low Points:

Behind the Wall, though excellent in multiple ways, does struggle a little with delivering the great characterization that previous Deadbolt boxes are known for. The suspects are mostly talked about, rather than talked to, and though some late game interactions do reveal some of their motivations, it would’ve been nice to have at least a little contact with them to flesh them out a bit.

Verdict:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society has been on a tear lately, with great mysteries coming out month after month, each better than the last! I very much enjoyed Behind the Wall, and despite a minor quibble, can easily say this is one of my favorite Deadbolt stories to date. I look forward to seeing what develops from the new revelations contained inside, and highly recommend players new and old check this one out! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code ESCAPE30! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Deadbolt Mystery Society provided a complementary box.

Emergency Exit Escape Games UK – Exorcist (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: Up to 6 connections (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: £60.00 per room (About $75.84 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Try to keep your head from spinning…

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From the Emergency Exit Escape Games UK website:

Your Haunted house ghost tour has been cancelled due to lock down. You will join your tour guide via a remote live feed link. You and your friends can join the tour from various online locations where you are safe and sound, However you must also get the tour guide to safety away from the evil manor house within an hour. The legend has it that anyone who stays longer than one hour will simply disappear.

Crowley Manor is famously known for strange happenings. Recently in the news again after the disappearance of a priest sent by the Vatican to investigate the Evil that lurks in the House. The father has also left a trail of clues for anyone else to follow if he didn’t make it.

Can You and your Team lead your unsuspecting tour guide to safety?

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First Impressions:

I love a good horror room, and this one looked like it would really bring the terror. Exorcists and Cult stories are a favorite of mine, (as evidenced by our favorite live escape room of all time,) so I had high hopes for Emergency Exit’s first foray into the remote escape game space.

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High Points:

After the game, our Game Master mentioned they were new to virtual escape rooms, but  with how polished this experience is, I was honestly surprised that they hadn’t been doing this sort of thing for a good while! Exorcist is easily my favorite virtual experience we’ve done, and that’s no mean feat. The whole adventure is incredible, with an immersion level that absolutely sets the bar for this sort of game going forward. We were glued to our screens for the full run time, enraptured with the situation we found ourselves in. It was like being participants in our very own found footage horror film. Many rooms claim their rooms are like being in a movie, but there are very few in which it truly feels this way, and Exorcist creates this atmosphere seemingly effortlessly. Set design, lighting, sound effects, and a few surprising design elements capture the oppressive and terrifying Crowley Manor beautifully. Our tour guide continually engaged with us, imparting “facts” and lore about the manor as well as quipping back and forth with us for comic relief now and then, giving a very convincing performance that elevated things greatly. Unlike many other games, he also appeared on screen, rather than being behind the camera, which made him feel like a member of our team rather than just our “avatar” for the room. While our cameraman, Liam, was silent during the adventure, he too came across as a convincing character based off a few key segments of the game. Liam also provided some very steady camerawork, which was appreciated by my wife, who tends to get a little queasy during games with shakier cameras.

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The story line of Exorcist is also brilliant, injecting the room with some amazing slow burn horror, as well as building on the horrific atmosphere the other elements support. For the amount of horror rooms we have done virtually, this one has my wife’s seal of… “approval,” we’ll call it, in that it actively scared her despite being a remote game. In fact, she told me that had we actively been in the room, she would’ve noped right out of there. So if you’re looking for a truly scary horror experience, this is the game for you! At various points during the room, we activated some prerecorded videos that fit seamlessly into the game, and they moved the story along well while presenting small puzzles for use in the game also. Things became ever more intense as our time continued to tick by and our tour guide became more and more terrified, culminating in an exciting and unexpected climax that left us clamoring for more!

The game itself flows through a mostly linear set up well, and it is certainly a good idea to pay good attention to the tour guide, who literally gives a tour of the room to start. Emergency Exit does a fantastic job of ensuring players know every important bit of the room, and keeping good notes will ensure you’re able to keep track of everything. Though there is no inventory system for this game, I didn’t miss it, and our tour guide ensured that we knew exactly what we had, and gave subtle clues to what we might need to work on next. The difficulty curve works a treat, starting off with some easy wins, and finishing with some challenging, but amazingly satisfying, multi-layered puzzles. Every puzzle is integrated into the theme of the game, and at all times, the adventure feels immersive and real. The experience kept our group of four escape room veterans puzzling up to the last couple minutes, and I can definitely say we felt as though we earned our escape once the credits rolled.

Exorcist

Low Points:

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Verdict:

Unequivocally, I can say that Exorcist knocks it out of the park, and raises the bar for remote escape experiences across the board. The amazing production values, awesome game mastering, intuitive puzzling, and engaging story line all weave together into an adventure that must be experienced. This game wowed me from start to finish, and I absolutely cannot recommend it enough. I cannot wait to escape with them again and find out what new horrors await us! Book your tour of Crowley Manor here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Emergency Exit Escape Games UK provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Escapist NZ – Red Hill Asylum (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  2-5 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: NZ$75 per room (About $48.67 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Enter the darkest depths of your imagination…

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From the Escapist NZ website:

You are the star and writer of super popular TV Show called Ghost Stoppers. Your work takes you and your time all around the world to investigate haunted old buildings with colourful back story. This time it takes you over to the Red Hill Asylum where the town’s people have reported hearing blood curling screams at night.

The Police have been asked to investigate, but found nothing despite the presence of heavy armed vehicles in and around Red Hill Asylum.

As you begin filming, your night took an unexpected turn as you and your crew found something unusual at the haunted Red Hill Asylum. Will you disprove the ghost story this time? Or is there something more sinister lurking beneath the surface.

First Impressions:

As someone who has enjoyed listening to and running Escape This Podcast audio escape rooms for my wife, I was excited to finally get to do an audio escape room as a player! Escapist NZ has created the Red Hill Asylum to operate like a cross between tabletop roleplaying and escape rooms, and I couldn’t wait to see how the experience would stack up! And what better way to get my start than with a creepy haunted asylum?

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High Points:

The somewhat unconventional nature of this room was explained well to start, and it basically boiled down to the room being a much more intuitive version of an old school LucasArts game, as rather than typing, for example, “take eye from witch,” we’d explain what we wanted to do verbally to our Game Master, and they’d describe what happens. Everything worked intuitively, as moving around and interacting with the room was a completely smooth experience. To get us started, we took turns searching the room, and after were let loose to work through the experience between ourselves as ideas formed. The story line and presentation were great, with pictures being provided to us to more fully flesh out the map of the room and show us the things we interacted with. I really appreciated the sinister art style and subtle clues that were hidden within these pictures, and felt that these really added to the immersion. The escape room vibe was captured well through our GM’s descriptions and the game flow, and there is an undercurrent of creepiness that I appreciated.

Puzzles flowed well through the mostly linear gameplay, (though there are non-linear points, unless we were stuck, the nature of the game requires a small level of linearity at most times,) and each level of the game is intuitive, with connections that make solid logical sense. At no point did I feel we were hindered by “adventure game logic” that required us to make herculean leaps, nor were there any red herrings to lead us down unnecessary rabbit holes. Though the logic and connections come together cleanly, the game is not without a challenge, however, and the difficulty curve smoothly works towards more complex puzzles. In fact, several of my favorites were very creative, leading to some excellently satisfying moments when we finally sussed out what the solutions were. Overall, I had an awesome time with this game, especially as a tabletop role-playing game player and game master myself.

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Low Points:

The ending was unexpected, as we thought there’d be another room in which we’d clear up one final loose end, but things just ended, undermining the climax somewhat, which was a shame, as the rest of the story was engaging and I was excited to see how things came together in the end. A little extra story to ensure the ending feels complete would definitely remedy this well. The inventory system is rather unwieldy, as items are only added, not removed, and things can get buried fairly easily. It was functional, but didn’t quite work as smoothly as we’ve seen in other games.

Verdict:

Red Hill Asylum was a great first audio escape room for me, and I had an excellent time working through the creepy room. The light to moderate difficulty would be great for new players, but the puzzles are creative and challenging enough to keep an enthusiast entertained for the hour. I recommend giving it a shot, and look forward to trying out their new audio experiences in the future! You can book your ghost hunting delve into Red Hill Asylum here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escapist NZ provided our team with a complementary game.