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.

Southern Pines Escape – Wizard Thief (Review)

Location: Southern Pines, NC

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

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Magic Mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest escapist of them all?

Theme:

From the Southern Pines Escape website:

The Evil Wizard has stolen artifacts from your favorite childhood storylines. He is gone for the next hour gathering supplies for his final evil spell and you have found yourself in his castle tower. It is up to you and your team to retrieve each artifact before he returns, to thwart his evil plan and to save everyone’s ‘Happily Ever After’!

First Impressions:

Wizard Thief was the last room we experienced at Southern Pines Escape, and though the previous three rooms varied a bit in quality, I can definitely say that we saved the best for last. This room easily had the best set, and it showed from the very start.

High Points:

As stated, Wizard Thief has the best set of any of the rooms at Southern Pines Escape, no contest. The design, lighting, and sound effects are implemented very well, and show a marked evolution from earlier rooms. Everything is very responsive, and when tech is involved, it is easy to know when a solution is working or not. The story line is simple, but sets up the tasks in the room well, presenting a great start, and ensuring that the overall mission is intuitive. As we puzzled through the room, gathering various fairly tale items, our progress was excellently signposted, so we always knew about where we were situated in the game flow. Speaking of game flow, this room definitely had the most smooth game flow of the bunch, with an intuitiveness that held up throughout, and a diverse run of puzzles that challenged without resorting to logical leaps or red herrings. One particular puzzle used well hidden tech, lighting, and a very satisfying tactile solve to present one of my favorite “crafting” puzzles I’ve seen in a room. With a mostly non-linear set up, some surprising reveals that we absolutely did not see coming, and, (I think most enthusiasts will appreciate this one,) ample flashlights for everyone, Wizard Thief is easily my favorite room at Southern Pines Escape.

Low Points:

To start off the room, we found a pair of pliers, which seemed out of theme, but also seemed very useful for one particular puzzle we had identified. While it was tricky, we were able to solve the puzzle, but weren’t quite able to use what we found immediately. Later on, we found a prop that seemed much more suited to this task, revealing that the pliers may have been left in the room on accident during the reset. For this room’s climax, there was again a lock to the side of the door, which remained anticlimactic, especially since this seemed very unnecessary due to the task based nature of the room. There were many similar lock types used within this room, but for the most part, it didn’t involve as much guess and check as previous rooms here, and each level contained mostly diverse lock types. One particular set piece was a great idea, and seemed like it would be a very cool way to evoke magic, but the projector that was used to pay this magic off was fairly unfocused, making for some very difficult reading.

Verdict:

Wizard Thief is a fun experience, especially for new escapists and families looking for an engaging hour of puzzling. While some of the experience could be refined in order to create an even more magical experience, overall, it is a good time, and has just enough surprises to keep veterans on their toes. I recommend this one, but do think enthusiasts will be happiest with a smaller group. Book your time recovering the stolen fairy tale artifacts here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Southern Pines Escape – Ninja Team Six (Review)

Location: Southern Pines, NC

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

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Chuck Norris once finished an escape room before the briefing began.

Theme:

From the Southern Pines Escape website:

Nobody says NO to legendary martial artist and all around badass Buck Morris, so when he decided to bid on a cursed diamond at an estate auction, nobody tried to outbid him. Unfortunately, that jewel has turned Buck to the dark side. Now he’s roundhouse-kicking anyone who gets in his way as he embarks on a crime fueled rampage. The super-secret vigilante group known as Ninja Team 6 has been tasked with breaking into the military bunker where it’s been rumored that Buck is keeping the jewel.You are members of Ninja Team Six. Your mission is to 1) Infiltrate Buck Morris’ bunker; 2) Figure out where he is keeping the diamond; 3) Retrieve the diamond and escape within one hour, when Buck is expected to return.

First Impressions:

Ninja Team Six is certainly one of the most creative themes we’ve come across, with Chuck Norris’s evil twin serving as the main antagonist and granting his strange eccentricities to the room’s theme. This was also the newest room at Southern Pines Escape, so I was interested to see how their rooms had evolved over the years!

High Points:

While the story line is fairly light overall, it is definitely an interesting conceit for a room in practice, and all areas of the room have a well integrated set design, setting up a fun dichotomy between the levels of the game. There is a really dense set of puzzles to engage with as well, and the connections within Ninja Team Six are some of the best at Southern Pines Escape. Coupling this with a mostly non-linear game flow, even larger teams will have something to do at all points during the adventure. The difficulty curve is pretty smooth for the most part, with the late stages of the game holding the best and most challenging conundrums. One puzzle I thought was really great involved some great Chuck Norris themed word play and had a smooth mechanical interaction that was a fun touch. Though the climax of the room was marred somewhat for us (see below,) it was a cool reveal once the game master was able to get it working, and provided an interesting way to cap things off. Hidden items and surprising reveals are done well, keeping us on our toes through their great presentation. On the whole, this is a reasonably entertaining room to work through, though there is nothing overly mind blowing for veteran escapists.

Low Points:

One of the most noticeable parts of the room is a big red herring, and though we kept coming back to it thinking that it would eventually reveal itself to hold some important clue, it was one hundred percent just a random red herring that had nothing to do with anything. One particular puzzle was an out of theme, “because escape room” time waster that we have been seeing pop up quite a bit lately after not seeing them around much since the escape room early days. Several times, keys did not open locks, not because they were the incorrect key, but because the prop was already worn and finicky, and one late game lock misfired totally, ruining the climactic surprise because it just did not work. One particular escape room sin, (black light, it’s almost always black light, isn’t it?) tripped us up for a while as the use for this item was unclued. One prop was incorrectly reset, causing us to lose a fair bit of time before the game master realized what had happened and came in to correct the problem. Overall, the room is cute and portrays a fun theme, but Chuck Norris’s meme currency is fairly dated, so it’s going to be very hit or miss with players.

Verdict:

Ninja Team Six is a great idea, and the presentation is overall done well, though it is not without it’s issues. However, the game is a little better than average, and will definitely be a good time for those new to the hobby. Enthusiasts might have more fun with a limited group, but should not expect anything too out of the ordinary. I can recommend this one if you’re really itching for an escape, though it wouldn’t be my first choice. Book your enlistment with Ninja Team Six here!

6/10 (Alright)

Southern Pines Escape – Doomed to Die (Review)

Location: Southern Pines, NC

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

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Escape Noir

Theme:

From the Southern Pines Escape website:

It’s 1940 and prior to P.I. Peter Ingles murder and there’s a crooked cop inside the precinct. Peter has been asked to help find the murder weapon that has disappeared from Evidence. Peter is away working on a new case and has asked for your gumshoeing. There is an hour before trial, and the evidence needs to be present before the trial begins – without it, the murderer won’t swing.

First Impressions:

Southern Pines Escape was recommended to us a couple years ago when we visited The Great Escape Cameron, which has, unfortunately, closed down. It took us a while to get back out to the area, but we were excited to take on all four rooms as part of an escaping day trip!

High Points:

If there’s one thing that stood out to me about Doomed to Die, it is that there is a large density of puzzles within the room, in fact, there are quite a few more than I originally expected upon our entry into the room. There is a good variety in these enigmas and interactions, though sometimes it can feel as though there is no real thematic connection between the overarching story and the tasks within the room. For example, for a room that takes place within the 1940s, one particular item feels completely out of place, but the puzzle that it presents is a lot of fun to complete. The game flow is mostly linear with a few exceptions, and the connections made good sense within the puzzles themselves.  Set design is competent, rising above “converted office space,” but isn’t overly mind blowing. However, the design works within the theme, presenting a private investigator’s office well enough. Overall, this is a fairly basic, but enjoyable, first generation room that will appeal mostly to new players, and delivers a serviceable introduction to those who want to experience escape rooms for the first time. The whole package presents a game that may not be overly impressive to hardened enthusiasts, but is certainly an above average room that is good for an hour’s puzzling.

Low Points:

One particular interaction was actually a really cool moment of revelation, but the cluing is very light, and we only figured it out due to having a fair amount of experience with escape room technology rather than due to anything in the room cluing us into the method of solving. One puzzle requires the use of a fairly ubiquitous escape room prop, which is fine for the interaction it is involved in, but some of the clues have been rewritten, and some that are meant to have been removed aren’t quite gone, confusing the puzzle and leaving some red herrings around the area. There’s a fair amount of guess and check, as similar locks are used throughout the experience, and the answers don’t direct to any particular lock. There is no real story to the room after the initial briefing, so the whole room mostly feels like a “because escape room” experience, and while having a puzzle room isn’t necessarily bad, it’s always better to have a story to support the adventure. The final escape is a bit weird as the required lock is just placed to the side of the door, leading to a fairly anticlimactic end. The room can fit up to eight players, but I’d recommend a smaller group, as even a lightly experienced team is going to have a few folks standing around at the max group size due to the general linearity.

Verdict:

Doomed to Die is a fairly enjoyable puzzle room for a couple or small group, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for much larger than a group of four. However, it is a fun experience, especially for newer players, as it contains some clever puzzles and interactions, and is a competently designed adventure. More experienced players will want to further limit their group size, and those who prefer good story integration may want to look elsewhere. That being said, we enjoyed our time as a group of two within this room. You can book your time seeking the incriminating evidence here!

6/10 (Alright)