MPower Escape Rooms – The Cabin (Virtual Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $49.95 for the first 2 connections; $14.95 for each additional connection

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Ain’t nothing but gators out there in the swamp!

Theme:

From the MPower Escape Rooms website:

Tracking your friend’s last known whereabouts, you find yourself near a cabin deep in the Bayou. You and your team will need to search for clues and crack the codes in order to solve the mystery.

First Impressions:

MPower Escape Rooms was interestingly set up, and after speaking to our Game Master regarding our upcoming experience, we were virtually taken to their lobby to be given our mission briefing as well as get set up within the virtual systems they are using. This was a great start, as I’ve not seen such an in depth, yet brief tutorial for a virtual room before. I could tell that they’d put a good bit of effort into ensuring players were comfortable with the system, so I had high hopes for the in room experience!

High Points:

During our time in quarantine, we’ve played a lot of virtual escape rooms, and they’ve all provided very different experiences. Some are highly theatrical, some remind me of popular video games and movies, and some are fun puzzle rooms. The Cabin, however, is a first for us, as it is the first virtual escape room we’ve played that replicates the feeling of being in an escape room with your friends very well! This is due to the incredible implementation of the Telescape software that MPower uses. While we have seen this software used to great effect in other rooms to provide inventory systems, MPower has done a fantastic job porting the entire room into Telescape, allowing our group to split up to search separate rooms, check out different puzzles and props, and work on different puzzles, all while being in the comfort of our own home! It was great to be able to fall into our old rhythm of searching a room and calling out what we’ve found; dividing and conquering based on our puzzle preferences and strengths. We still worked with our Game Master to search the room, but not in the traditional Virtual Escape Room way. Instead of the GM walking around the room as our avatar, we searched the room virtually on our own, and if we saw something suspicious or interesting, we could ask them if we found anything by searching said area. If so, we were rewarded with a new hot spot or video revealing what we discovered. Overall, the set up and presentation of this room was beautifully implemented, and working through it was about as close to doing the room live as I can imagine without popping on a VR headset!

Remote Cabin Picture - Brandon's Team

The room itself is a lot of fun, with a cool, well designed set that starts players off “outside” and tasks them with finding a way into the titular cabin. The difficulty curve of the room was great, starting us off with a few straightforward tasks, (one so straightforward that our group, notorious for overthinking, forgot to use the solution until a good 40 minutes after we discovered it,) and evolving into more challenging, layered conundrums. The puzzles were intuitive, and making connections between the subtle clues, puzzles, and locks was a great, challenging time. The room was also very technological in places, and while most rooms that have implemented tech don’t quite translate very well to the virtual space, we found that the way MPower has converted their room worked perfectly to make sure we got the magical feeling of the tech without actually being there. The room lends itself to teamwork and makes it easy for players to split between rooms and clues to ensure the challenge lies in the puzzle itself, and not the interface. A favorite puzzle of mine involved three of us making some highly satisfying connections in order to put together a tactile interaction into place while our fourth player sussed out the relevance of another puzzle in a separate room. Making a tactile puzzle satisfying is difficult remotely, and I’m pleased to say that MPower has made it happen. All told, this room did a wonderful job ensuring all of us remained engaged and puzzling for the full experience.

Low Points:

The story, while wild and crazy, mostly develops during the introduction and conclusion, and while we didn’t mind this, it would have added to the experience to have a little more story integrated into the puzzling. Sometimes there was quite a bit in the inventory, which made it difficult to keep track of what we had and where to find it. The owner, however, is working on streamlining this, so it should be a non issue soon. We also were sidetracked during one puzzle due to a particular word choice that was meant to be interpreted in a slightly broader way than the strict definition would entail. After speaking with the owner regarding this puzzle, though, they seemed receptive to adjusting the phrasing to ensure there were no unintentional red herrings involved with this one.

Verdict:

I am so glad we sought out MPower’s The Cabin for our team’s weekly escape room, as it was an amazing time! Working through this room together was as close to being within the room live as we could imagine, and though we have enjoyed some of the different ways other rooms have implemented their games virtually, nothing quite captured the escape room feeling like The Cabin did. Enthusiasts will love basking in the feeling of “being there” and I think new players will love the intuitive puzzles and great quarantine friendly introduction to escape rooms. Book your time in The Cabin here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: MPower Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Clue Cracker – 3-pack Online Escape Games (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 2 players

Price: £9.99 for one game, £24.99 for all three

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Theme:

From the Clue Cracker website:

Bored of watching Coronavirus updates? Not sure which wall to stare at for the next two hours? Well, fear not! The Clue Cracker team have decided if YOU can’t come to our Escape Game, we will bring our Escape Game to YOU!

We have created a series of online Escape Games to suit every skill, ability and interest! The games can be played remotely from the comfort of your own home and you don’t need a printer! All you will need is a computer, laptop or mobile device to play on. It may be handy to have a pen and paper for your workings out, and perhaps a nice cool drink to hand for when the clock starts ticking and the adrenaline gets going!

First Impressions:

Clue Cracker has created a set of three online escape games for play at home during the pandemic, and we couldn’t wait to try them out. With a wide array of themes, and production values that seemed to be above average for your usual at home escape experience, these games appeared to be an excellent time! For this review, since there are three separate experiences, I’ve broken each one out into its own section, beginning with the easiest game, and moving toward the hardest. This is our recommended order of play as well, for the smoothest difficulty curve.

Escape Extinction Island (Easy):

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Extinction Island is a top secret, man made island that has been recently used to breed long extinct dinosaur. As Archeologists based in Kent, we’ve been called by our mentor Professor McDougall to help him escape the island after the dinosaurs had broken loose! We only have sixty minutes to get the good Professor out and secure the island, so we had to work quickly!

Escape Extinction Island was a great introduction to Clue Cracker’s online escape games, with clear, unambiguous puzzles, and an easy overall difficulty. Though the game itself wasn’t overly difficult, we did find the puzzles to be fun introductory challenges that will appeal to novice puzzlers and enthusiasts just looking for a well designed, but not overly challenging escape diversion. The difficulty curve was very gentle, but did ramp up into some nice climactic challenges, a few of which provided some satisfying ah ha moments once we sussed out the trick to solving. The videos presented between each puzzle stage are fantastic, with a bombastic actor playing the part of Professor McDougall, spurring us along and chewing up all the scenery as he goes.

If you’re feeling competitive, try to beat our completion time of 20 minutes and 41 seconds with no hints!

Fairground Felony (Medium):

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Faskin’s Fairground has come to town, and we’ve been invited to check out the rides and games for free! Unfortunately, however, the free tickets are too good to be true, as it seems a madman is on the loose, and he’s taken the various carnival workers hostage! It’s up to us to solve his puzzles and save the fair within the next 90 minutes, otherwise the solution to the mystery will disappear with us!

Fairground Felony is a definite jump in difficulty, presenting some very creative puzzles and mind twisting logic! After the introduction of Escape Extinction Island, we found the interface easy to navigate, and really enjoyed this more challenging game. All puzzles still made good sense, and the rise in difficulty was due to puzzles being more intricately  layered, with clues to their solutions more subtly hidden rather than obtuse puzzling and red herrings. I really loved the variety of puzzle types to be discovered within this game, and there were several entertaining “interactions” with some of the characters integrated into the enigmas. There was a wider array of characters within this game, and I very much enjoyed the over the top portrayal the actor brought to every performance. A particular favorite of mine was the magician, who not only delivered a fit of laughter, but a very satisfying moment of revelation once we solved the puzzle he was involved with.

We did notice once that if we did not pause a video while it was running and entered a solution successfully, the video’s sound continued to play over the next part of the game with no ability to go back and stop the video, which could be an issue if the next puzzle requires sound as well. There was also a logic puzzle we weren’t overly thrilled with, as it slowed down the pace for a somewhat longer term solve that didn’t seem to fit as well with the others. It was still well integrated, and presented a fair challenge, it just seemed to overstay its welcome, length-wise.

For the competitive, we completed Fairgound Felony in 47 minutes and 34 seconds without hints!

The Haunting of Harlequin House (Hard):

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The Haunting of Harlequin House found us moving into our newly purchased home. The large manor is just perfect for us, and even comes with it’s own ghost! Unfortunately, it seems the ghost has some unfinished business, and if we can’t get it sorted within the next 90 minutes, we might not live to enjoy our new home!

The Haunting of Harlequin House really brings the challenge, presenting a tough, but fair run of puzzles. Though this was definitely the most difficult of Clue Cracker’s challenges, it was absolutely my favorite of the three. The puzzles themselves were all incredibly clever, and I really have trouble choosing a favorite, as they were all a lot of fun to solve, with multiple ah ha moments to be enjoyed! Harlequin House also added in a fantastic meta puzzle that ensured that our final solve would tie everything together in a neat and highly satisfying final package. We very much appreciated that the game directed us to write down our solutions, as this becomes very important during the end game. The videos for Harlequin House are meant to be somewhat spooky, but never become overly scary, with a few silly jump scares here and there, and an overall tone of light hearted humor that runs throughout. I really loved some of the sight gags that the ghost was involved in, and this humor really made the experience for us.

We also noticed here that the previous problem with videos not automatically ending after moving on persisted. (At this point, we should’ve known.) It would, however, be nice if in a future update, this could be corrected, or, at the least, a back button be implemented.

If you’d like some competition to further spur you on, we escaped Harlequin House in 52 minutes and 15 seconds with no hints!

Final Overall Thoughts:

All three games are well developed, and we appreciated how clear inputting our answers was; we were given immediate feedback on whether we were correct or not, and once we’d determined the correct password or sequence, it was always intuitive and logical. The timer is always visible at the top, allowing you to see how much time remains, and there is a tracker that gives players a general idea of how much time remains, ensuring they are able to gauge how well they are doing, and if a hint is needed. The creators have done a great job combining energetic, over the top humor with inspired gameplay, and I hope they continue to create these sorts of games in the future, as this set of games were an amazing time. On the whole, though these games can be purchased individually, I highly recommend picking up the discounted complete pack, and playing all three in sequence made for an entertaining couple hours of fun! The only overall downside we found to this pack was once you’ve played through each game, you cannot go back. Though puzzle games do have limited replayability, it would be nice to retain the ability to play again, as I do enjoy revisiting some of my favorite puzzle games years later.

Verdict:

Clue Cracker’s online escape room complete collection is a brilliant set of at home escape experiences! We truly loved working through each of them, and once we’d started, we couldn’t stop until the whole pack had been completed. Filled with clever conundrums, humorous videos, and excellent presentation, I absolutely recommend picking up all three. There’s certainly something here for everyone, from complete newbie to hardened puzzling veteran. Pick up your games here! And if you’d like to get a quick taste of how these games work before buying, the quick and easy “Disappearance of DJ McDee” is available here. As a heads up, this is definitely a simpler game, (it took us 5 minutes and 11 seconds to complete, for reference,) so be aware that the paid experiences are certainly more challenging.

9/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Clue Cracker provided our team with complementary games.

 

 

 

Bruum Escape – The Search for the Magical Artifact (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-4 connections (We recommend 3-5 players)

Price: €30-€50 depending on number of connections, see website for details

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

That voodoo you do…

Theme:

From the Bruum Escape website:

He angered the powerful fortune teller Tobar. Since that day his life has changed for the worse. Much worse! He wants to sneak into his trailer when it’s empty to fix things but can’t do it alone. He needs your help!

Gather a team and choose the most convenient moment to take action.

We will make sure that the fortune teller’s trailer will be empty enough time to give you the opportunity to help your client complete the mission.

He will be your eyes and your hands but you will be the minds of the operation.

All you need is a computer, an internet connection, the Zoom program and your skills in deciphering codes and solving puzzles.

Nobody said this will be just a game!

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First Impressions:

One excellent thing about doing so many remote escape rooms like this one, is that we get to experience rooms we’d never get to play together live. Bruum Escape is located in Italy, and unfortunately, it’s somewhat cost prohibitive to ship our entire Keyed Up! team across the Atlantic in order to play escape rooms. However, for this one night, we all gathered together to enjoy an Italian escape, and I’m glad we did!

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High Points:

The Search for the Magical Artifact takes place within a converted camper, and despite the small size of the room, there was an amazing amount of puzzling involved with the experience. Not only that, but we definitely felt as though we were in the caravan of a fortune teller rather than a simple camper, as the set design was well implemented, with spooky touches and awesome tech. Props and items hidden about the room all felt thematically appropriate, and at no point did we come across anything that was jarringly out of place or “because escape room-y.” While there was no inventory system, it never seemed like we needed one, with many items being self contained within the individual puzzles, and those things we needed to come back to were left in plain sight so that we wouldn’t forget about them. Despite the fact that we were thousands of miles away from the room, we had no issues with lag or dropped connections, which can sometimes be a problem with rooms that are a world away. We found our Game Master/Avatar to be very responsive, doing a fantastic job of following our commands while still showing off the room in all it’s glory. Searching is mainly automated, and while we needed to let him know where and what we’d like our Avatar to search, we didn’t need to be overly specific, allowing for general areas to be scoped out quickly, revealing what was important intuitively.

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Puzzles are incredibly creative, and as I’ve said previously, there’s an impressively dense amount of enigmas hidden within the fortune teller’s caravan! The game is mostly non-linear, so when we came across something that had us stumped, we were easily able to make a note of it and move along to another puzzle while pondering the significance of various clues and items. Due to this, the game flow of the room was very smooth, as though we played through the game linearly due to the nature of this sort of adventure, we were never really stuck on one part of the game floundering and unable to progress. There is a great mix of puzzle types, and each member of our team was able to contribute based off of their strengths, and it was fantastic working through many of the room’s satisfying moments of revelation together. Many of the interactions feel magical, utilizing tech and the style of game to allow us to perform some actions that we’d never be allowed to carry out in an escape room normally! This was definitely one of the most creative games we’ve experienced during lock-down.

Low Points:

One particular type of wordplay shows up a couple times, so if your team isn’t a fan of that sort of thing, these interactions may be somewhat underwhelming, however, we did not mind. The camera itself could be somewhat blurry at times, taking precious moments to refocus before we were able to see what we needed to. A couple of moments during the game definitely felt as though they presented more of a solo type challenge, making more sense for one player to take the ball and run with it while the others waited for them to come to the solution. Usually this isn’t much of a problem, but during this type of game, it stymies some of the flow for the player that isn’t actively working on something.

Verdict:

Bruum Escape delivered a magical escape from lock-down for us with The Search for the Magical Artifact! We really loved our trip to Italy (at 1 am Italian time!) for this room, and we had a great time working through this room with our excellent Game Master! I highly recommend checking this one out, regardless of skill level, as there’s plenty to challenge all sorts. Book your time in the fortune teller’s caravan here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Bruum Escape provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

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…

Theme:

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.

exorcist-room

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.

 

 

 

Trapped! – Operation X-13 (Online Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $59 for the first 2 connections, $15 for each additional connection

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

…we’ll do it live!

Theme:

From the Trapped! website:

You have discovered the enigmatic Cybortek corporation has been developing a formula, known as secret formula X-13, which they plan on using to genetically engineer normal people into killing machines for mercenary groups around the globe. You have learned the secret formula is being stored in their headquarters before it is sent to their secret lab for manufacture. Can you sneak into their headquarters and steal the formula while there is still time?

First Impressions:

We were invited by our fellow reviewers at Escape the Roomers for this, our first full scale live online escape room! We had played a live online escape before with YouEscape and had an excellent time, so we couldn’t wait to see what an actual room would be like to play remotely.

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Special thanks to Escape the Roomers for inviting us on this adventure!

High Points:

The singular greatest thing about Operation X-13 during our remote experience was, hands-down, our in room Game Master/Avatar, the “Recruit.” The game was a great time on it’s own, but the inclusion of so much personality and character from our GM truly made this room special. He added so much humor to the game, (following even our stupidest requests, up to and including, “parkour that chair!”) subtly delivered in room hints to us via what I started to refer to as “idling animations,” and truly felt as though he was a part of our team. Throughout the experience the Recruit was well integrated, bolstering the story, immersion, and interactivity greatly. Another fantastic thing about this remote experience was the streamlining of the searching elements within the game. While we are naturally horrible at finding things in a room live, we figured it would be even more difficult to uncover hidden objects via a Zoom call. Luckily, the Recruit was able to pull those items together for us naturally, allowing for us to enjoy the puzzling without an arduous pixel hunt. In a time sensitive game that could be made so much more complex by the online element, it was great to have this streamlining present in order to ensure things were only as complicated as they needed to be to present a fun challenge.

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The game flow is fantastic, and while it can feel a bit linear due to the limitation of there only being one camera within the room, this is alleviated via the amazing inventory system, which includes 360 views of each room in the game, allowing players to digitally search for new puzzles and items to look at, even while other things are happening on camera. Puzzles are woven superbly into the world of the game, and everything makes logical sense, with no red herrings or leaps to be found. All reveals and satisfying moments of revelation are just as effective from the comfort of our home as they would be live, and that in itself is a triumph for the designers! Actions that would usually require physical, in game interaction have been streamlined as well; incorporated digitally to allow players the freedom to take these puzzles on individually. There are loads of surprises, and a few interactions we would never have guessed would show up in this sort of adventure, all of which culminate in an immersive experience beyond what we figured to be possible for an at home game. It is obvious that a lot of care has been taken to ensure that this isn’t just an experience hastily put together for an online platform, and every element of the game fits naturally within the remote experience.

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Low Points:

There wasn’t much I could denote as a weak point during this experience. The only minor quibble we had was that the ending wasn’t quite as climactic as it could be, but short of actually being in the room, this experience delivered the feeling of being in an escape room fantastically.

Verdict:

Operation X-13 is an amazing experience for enthusiasts stuck at home, and I highly recommend checking it out! Boasting a fun story, well crafted puzzling, and a truly entertaining in room GM, I couldn’t have asked for a better first remote escape room experience! Book your time investigating Cybortek with the Recruit here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Trapped! provided our team with a complementary game.