Location: Concord, NC
Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-6)
Price: $26 per person
Time to Escape: 60 minutes
I wonder if this lab is overseen by an umbrella corporation?
From the Valcarol Missions website:
November of 3049, Dr. Dawking has been working on a vaccine that will allow us all to live with the radiation. He has been experimenting and fallen ill, but is safely confined in a containment box. Help us all by recreating the one vaccine that has been successful. Find the lever to enable the security check point system as soon as you’re in the security area. Pass both the retinal and thumb scans. Begin your search. You don’t want to stay in this biohazard area for more than an hour. You’ll need to figure out how to create the vaccine that works, activate it, and replicate it. Lots of sick people are depending you.
Last year, we visited The Valcarol missions as one of our final escapes of a long marathon of puzzling, and it was The Crystal Cave Mission was one of the clear best rooms not only of the day, but in the city! We absolutely could not wait to see what was in store for us within their newest mission, but we were sure it would be great!
The Hidden Lab starts off with a highly immersive introduction that perfectly sets the stage for the game to come. Some astounding effects and great technical work make this one of the best intros I think I’ve ever seen implemented into an escape game. The main puzzling rooms after this were spacious and well decorated, with some large set pieces integrated well into the puzzling. There’s a fantastic amount of tactile puzzling involved, and the props are appropriately post apocalyptic, with a main centerpiece that not only measures progress well, but reacts spectacularly as it builds. There’s a creepy atmosphere to the whole experience, and the vibe of the room jives well with the overall world of The Valcarol Missions. I really love how the lighting and sound design keep you immersed within their world, and there are few escape rooms in the area that quite match this level of design. There is also a specific surprise I really loved that served as sort of a fake-out for our group, and was a small, creative touch that added to the adventure well.
Puzzle-wise, the enigmas presented by The Hidden Lab are really clever. There were a couple of real standouts that were elegantly simple, but challenging, with great payoffs in the form of truly satisfying moments of revelation. My favorite puzzle in particular made excellent use of some otherwise innocuous props and a small item hidden in plain sight. Once we made the connection between the two, the solve was beautifully intuitive, and most other puzzles within this room follow that same excellent template. The game flow is mostly non-linear, and works well to keep a larger group entertained throughout. Moments at which the puzzle threads come together involve teamwork, ensuring that no players feel left out, and everyone is involved in bringing the team closer to obtaining the elusive vaccine! There are no choke points, or huge leaps of logic, and I can easily say that the room presents a great challenge while employing fantastic signposting to keep things running intuitively.
The Crystal Cave Mission set an incredible standard for set design as a whole, and while The Hidden Lab does have a pretty cool set, it isn’t quite as drop dead awesome as that aforementioned masterpiece. The layout overall of the set also felt very similar to Valcarol’s previous game, so overall, we didn’t feel quite as surprised by certain elements. However, compared to escape rooms as a whole, the set is still top tier. The set up for the story was amazing, but there was not a whole lot of evolution through to the climax; it would’ve been great to see more clear narrative integration carry through to the end.
Overall, The Hidden Lab Mission is another great success for The Valcarol Missions! Though I think The Crystal Cave Mission does remain my favorite here by a small margin, this is still one of the best games in the Charlotte area, and should be on any enthusiast’s must play list for when they visit the area. Providing a beautiful game flow, clever puzzling, and a no lock experience that will entertain veterans and newcomers alike, this is one mission I absolutely recommend you accept! Check out the biohazardous Hidden Lab here!
Full Disclosure: The Valcarol Missions comped our tickets for this room.