Timed Out – West (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

For a Few Clues More

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

We’re going back to the days of the Wild Wild West partner! There’s valuable family land at stake and your posse will have to race against the clock to prove you’re the rightful heir! But don’t be dadgum fool and blow yourself up with dynamite while you’re at it! Keep a lookout for five special gold nuggets in this adventure that’ll have you scratchin’ your noggin at the local sheriff’s office, sittin’ around a poker table for a spell, and maybe even tickling the ivories of a mysterious old piano at the town saloon. Cowboy boots, chaps and spurs optional.

First Impressions:

Having already wowed us on multiple levels with Illusion, we were excited to travel back in time with Timed Out’s Wild West themed room! After an exciting introduction, we were set loose on the old town intent on finding our family’s gold!

High Points:

Special shout out to our Game Master, Carlos! Timed Out has some great GMs, and he was no exception, giving great hints and customer service throughout our experience. The set was spectacular, with several different areas to explore in the old West town. Each segment of the game contained several awesome set pieces that contained a puzzle or two that were well integrated into the theme of the room. The majority of the props within the room gave great feedback whenever we had solved a conundrum, and there was even a particular prop that we enjoyed triggering incorrectly due to the amusing feedback it provided as well. The story itself it light, but develops naturally throughout the course of the game, giving a believable impetus for our adventure. The game flow is non-linear, allowing our larger team to split off and still have plenty to interact with during the course of our escape. All these puzzling threads wove together throughout the room to culminate into an exciting and climactic conclusion that ended the room with a bang!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle was iffy on some of the cluing, presenting an otherwise interesting riddle that needs a bit of a logical jump to fully arrive at the solution. Some labels and laminated papers take a bit a way from the immersion, though the inclusion is understandable. The doors to each room are somewhat narrow, resulting in several near collisions between teammates, perhaps a way to keep them open might help alleviate the issue. One puzzle is interesting, and culminates into a nice reveal, but the searching and process of putting everything into order drags a bit. Without a larger group, this one puzzle could become overly tedious.

Verdict:

West is a fun, beginner friendly room that is an excellent adventure for players of any experience level. While the room may be somewhat easier than Timed Out’s other offerings, there is no shortage of surprises and clever puzzling to be found within this Wild West romp! I recommend giving it a shot, especially for families that are seeking an escape room that’s perfect for all ages. You can book your search for the gold here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

No-Da Escapes – Jurassic Bone (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Boned.

Theme:

From the No Da Escapes website:

A team of modern archaeologists have found the remains of a Giganotosaurus inside an old gem mine. The Giganotosaurus is one of the rarest types of dinosaurs and is related to the T-Rex. A mole has worked their way into your group and has stolen a piece of the skeleton for personal profit. The stolen bone is believed to still be hidden in the cave where the dinosaur’s skeleton was found. Your mission is to retrieve the stolen bone and return it to the head archaeologist. The problem is, you only have 60 minutes before the cave collapses and you are sealed inside forever.

First Impressions:

After the terrible Dracula’s Lair, it was time to take on No-Da’s more recent creation, Jurassic Bone. We didn’t exactly have high hopes after what we’d just experienced, but perhaps some lessons had been learned along the way to make Jurassic Bone more palatable? The theme certainly was original!

High Points:

Jurassic Bone is rather large, so a bigger group won’t feel smushed into the room, though there wasn’t as many activities as there was room for. There are a few interesting ideas around, with a water based puzzle that we enjoyed working through, as well as a couple out of the box items we hadn’t seen used in quite the way they were here. The room did a good job of connecting puzzles to locks on the whole, though there were a few repeats, but on the whole didn’t overlap during the game flow. The theme itself is a great idea, though it isn’t fully capitalized on.

Low Points:

Jurassic Bone is a really large escape room, but at many points during the game, it just feels empty. “Big to be big” was the general sentiment of our group. For a game that has a maximum of ten players, it just doesn’t have all that much to do, and a mostly linear game flow does not help matters any. The experience itself also feels rather static, as the puzzles and interactions are generally mildly interesting, but don’t really feel like they add to the room or theme in a dynamic way. Solving them allowed us to move forward, but didn’t really trigger much excitement, or carry a greater impetus for why these actions were important. One particular puzzle had a creative and out of the box idea behind it, but it’s inclusion felt random, and it was extremely finicky to boot. Though I had performed the correct action, it didn’t trigger, causing me to leave it behind before someone else tried it in a slightly different way, popping the obstinate lock.

One of the major selling points listed for this room is that it takes place underground. Technically it does, but it is like a half basement in that it still opens up to the outside and never really feels truly underground, nor does this partial underground-ness really add anything. Parts of the room also feel unnecessary, as we were able to trigger a late game puzzle’s solution without properly placing certain bits, leading to a weird anti-climax that wouldn’t really have benefitted much from us placing those bits anyway. The big reveal at the end it laughable, with one of the poorest looking props we’ve ever seen in the giant foam bone. Unfortunately, this was also the only part of the room that really stuck to the Jurassic theme we were hoping for as well.

Verdict:

While a marked improvement from Dracula’s Lair, Jurassic Bone just doesn’t quite measure up to the other rooms available in the Charlotte area. On the whole, it’s just an average experience and I would recommend checking out one of the many other rooms in the area long before this one. If you’d like to try your hand at retrieving the big foam bone, however, you can do so here.

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: No Da Escapes provided our group with Media Discounted tickets.

Timed Out – Illusion (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Now you see me…

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

For years the world has been wowed by the unique and unexplainable magic of “Angelica Steele”. She started just like any other magician, obscure and unknown, until one day, her act changed. From that day forward she was the best of the best. Her rise to fame and years of domination in the magic industry did not gain her friends, but did give her a lot of enemies. You and your team received an anonymous tip that the magician is in fact a fraud! With the promise of good fortune, your team has been tasked to uncover the truth by gathering information and learning the secrets behind her magic.

First Impressions:

Timed Out was one of those escape rooms I stumbled on while planning one of our usual escape marathons. It’s always exciting to see a new business pop up, but even more so when the website has all the hallmarks of a good spot, and this one even had a really awesome blog to boot! We’d been bamboozled before but still, Timed Out definitely seemed as though it would be awesome.

High Points:

Timed Out has some great Game Masters, so I want to start by thanking our GM Chris for his excellent work giving us great hints and feedback during our game! The room itself is one of the most tightly integrated to the theme I have seen in recent memory, with so many excellent illusions and magical interactions peppered generously throughout. There are rooms that are themed as magical, and then there are rooms like Illusion, where the experience actually is magical, and it’s really quite amazing. The items found throughout the room continually deliver surprising reveals, and rather than just being random magic trick props, they are key parts of the puzzles themselves and bolster ah ha moments into moments of awe. The set design is great, and is at the same time a magician’s lounge, a storeroom of tricks, and an elegant parlor for an intimate magic show. Truly this room is a creative marvel, and it doesn’t end with the props and set design!

The puzzles within Illusion are very intuitive, even when many involve some sort of magic trick. Care has been taken by the designers to ensure that no outside knowledge is needed to manipulate these props, and many times, it feels as though they perform their own slight of hand as they are being examined. The room is very non-linear, and though we had a larger group of six, there was always something to do during our game. The story is engaging, and though the focus is on the magical puzzles and interactions, the enigmatic Angelica Steele remains a figure we were very interested to learn more about.

Low Points:

Many lock types repeat during the room, ensuring that there will be a fairly large amount of guess and check to be done after solving puzzles, which could be remedied with clearer connections between the puzzles themselves and the locks they are meant to open. This lack of connection made the game flow a bit more choppy in parts, as several puzzles also tended be fairly stand-alone; their threads terminating at the moment the lock was opened.

Verdict:

Illusion is absolutely one of the most well themed games in Charlotte, with an emphasis on ensuring that each puzzle is magical rather than just magic themed and a bevy of tricks up its sleeve, it is an engaging adventure for escapists of any skill level! Book your time investigating the illusions of Angelica Steele here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Timed Out – Precinct (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It may be an abandoned police station, but it still has doughnuts!

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

Set against the backdrop of three missing police officers, your team’s ability to unravel the story of Precinct will be tested by challenges that require analytical skills, deductive reasoning and collaboration. If you’re successful, you’ll progressively uncover the details behind the mysterious disappearances and seize opportunities to change the outcome of the series of events. But be careful – you’ll need to avoid be pulled into the very things you’re trying to prevent!

First Impressions:

Police Stations and prisons are an old standby for escape rooms at this point, so it really takes a masterful hand to ensure they remain fresh, especially for escape room veterans, and after doing two other rooms at Timed Out, we were sure Precinct would be a lot of fun! We were advised it was their most challenging room, and we were ready to take it on!

High Points:

Our game master for this game was McKenna, and she expertly sent us a couple clues when we began to flounder or became too confident in our wrong answers, she read the room perfectly and did an excellent job! As an aside, she is also the writer for Timed Out’s blog, which I really enjoyed reading through. I’ve never read an escape room blog run by a business that is quite this varied or interesting to peruse, so I definitely recommend checking it out! You can find it here.

Precinct’s set is very well done, with some cool touches to add immersion, and an awesome old style phone booth that was great fun to play around in. The introduction video and the soundtrack of the room keep energy high without being overly loud or intrusive, and helped tie the story in as we progressed. The video that ended the room was also a fitting dénouement, and tied up all the loose ends neatly. The experience is ever evolving throughout the room, and several surprises popped up regularly to keep us saying “wow!” The whole room is really awesome, design-wise, and the owners let me know they were going to further iterate the set to make it even more immersive, which is great to hear!

Challenging rooms, I find, come in two different varieties. Those which are difficult for the sake of difficulty, and those that weave the challenge throughout the room in an engaging, but fair way. Precinct is definitely the latter version. The difficulty of this room comes not from a puzzle designer that wants to “beat” the players, but from one that really understands how to create a fun challenge, packing the room with creative puzzles that force your group to act as a team; engaging keen perception and out of the box thinking to succeed! So much within this room was a thrill to interact with and the puzzle density was just right to keep all three of us fully entertained. The non-linear set up could definitely handle a maximum of eight players, and no one would ever feel like they were just standing around. The game flow is almost perfect, with all props and puzzles having a purpose and integrating into the theme fantastically. The signposting of clues and astounding gating that can be found here is just top notch all around. The climax of the room was an absolute blast, and caught us all by surprise! It added an excellent twist to the room and ended it on an exceedingly high note after a run of already excellent puzzles.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle is rather onerous, as it requires a fair amount of guess and check. It isn’t the most egregious version of guess and check, as you’re able to develop somewhat of a framework to work off of, but it still was a bit too much for our liking. There was a quicker way to solve this puzzle that was a small hack, so that was a relief. One prop activates with some experimentation, but didn’t give us feedback that our experimentation led to a wrong answer, leading us to believe that the green lights we had found were placed correctly. Our GM was quick to redirect our thinking regarding this, but a small bit more feedback would’ve helped.

Verdict:

Precinct was my absolute favorite room at Timed Out, and one of my favorites during our most recent trip to Charlotte! I absolutely recommend giving it a go, though newer players might want to give one of their easier games a shot first to get a feel for escape rooms. The game masters here are excellent, however, and I’m sure they’d be happy to tailor the difficulty for you if investigating an abandoned police station is your jam. Book your time in the Precinct here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

The Valcarol Missions – The Crystal Cave Mission (Review)

Location: Concord, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-6)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

On post apocalyptic Earth, all that’s left are puzzles!

Theme:

From the Valcarol Missions website:

November of 3049, Valcarol’s people land on earth and plan exploratory missions. Will there be clean air and water on earth? Will there be people there to help them fix their ship’s hydro system? Will it be safe outside of Valcarol?One of our explorers has met a survivor on earth. This survivor gives us the secret location of their water filtration station. It is protected in a cave system that was used as a fallout shelter back when the bombs rained down. This cave system has the special element that makes radiated water clean and safe again. The survivor is to remain anonymous and will not accompany us. We are going to the caves at our own risk. Volunteers for this mission must enter the caves while security is off the premises and make it through any protective measures. Find the elements that purify the water, including the special element that is mined from the cave. Once all of the elements are found, bring them to the water filtration system and get it working. Security will be gone for only an hour, so be quick! This is an important mission because clean water is needed by the dehydrated people of Valcarol and our hydro systems engineer will need to recreate the cave’s water filtration system that can put Valcarol and her people back into space.

First Impressions:

After a run of two not so great rooms, we were really hoping for a room that would reenergize us and remind us why Charlotte is such a great place to go for escape rooms. Luckily, our next stop was The Valcarol Missions, a highly anticipated spot we’d heard great things about! From the amazing design of their front area to the exuberant enthusiasm of the owners, I could tell this was going to be something special!

High Points:

The Valcarol Missions has really hit it out of the park with their sets, storyline, and original puzzling! Stepping into the Crystal Cave was immediately immersive, and the painstakingly created walls of the cave itself were amazing! Lighting and sound design also played an integral part of this amazing experience, lending believability to the entire adventure. Puzzles made excellent use of the space, spanning entire rooms and feeding us new conundrums and props every step of the way. Everything is woven into the theme expertly, and the tactile nature of the room truly engaged us on multiple sensory levels.

As a game, The Crystal Cave mission is amazingly satisfying to complete. The flow is impeccable, with a non-linear approach that allows everyone to stay engaged, and signposting that gives just enough of a hint to keep things moving at a good clip. Each non-linear portion of the game leads to a capstone puzzle that is designed in such a way as to ensure it doesn’t become a boring bottleneck for other players, and it seems like everything was designed with a team focus in mind. One particular puzzle lent an awesome sense of discovery, and as we unraveled the mystery behind it, the ah ha moment was immensely satisfying. The method for entering codes is straightforward, and works within the sci-fi theme, removing the basic locks for a truly technological vibe.

Low Points:

The initial area for the room felt a little more snug than we would’ve liked, and any more than the six we had would be a squeeze, but the room opens up immensely after the initial stage. There was also one puzzle in which the clue to be revealed was very difficult to see due to the cloudiness of the area it was in. One other puzzle could use a mite bit more cluing in order to get across it’s general idea, but was otherwise very cool.

Verdict:

The Valcarol Missions is off to a resoundingly positive start with the Crystal Cave mission, and we absolutely cannot wait for their next rooms to open! Easily one of the top businesses in the area already, I absolutely recommending checking them out as soon as you can. Book your mission in the Crystal Cave here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Valcarol Missions comped our tickets for this room.