District 3 Escape Rooms – Haunted (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 2-4 players)

Price: $27 CAD per person (About $19.87 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s actually a real nice house if you can overlook the murders…

Theme:

From the District 3 Escape Rooms website:

The family of this home is searching for a good trustworthy group of people to house-sit their manor for the Winter. During your time there, you learn about the caretaker and the family, the manor’s secrets, and that maybe this isn’t the dream stay you were after.

First Impressions:

District 3 Escape Rooms was recommended to us by the folks at the astounding Mystery Mansion Regina, so we couldn’t wait to see what their neighbors had in store! The spooky theme of Haunted called to me, being a horror themed game, and the sneak peeks I saw of the set during the intro video on their website looked great!

High Points:

The set design of Haunted is really great, starting off in a large room that is just filled to the brim with doors. The massive amount of doors is somewhat unsettling, and gives the experience somewhat of a surreal feeling. There was always the feeling that something horrifying could be around the corner of the balcony or behind any door, and the sense of unease can be palpable. Audio effects came through fairly clearly, though we had to ensure we stayed fully quiet during these moments, as sound came mostly through the room and was therefore slightly muted. Our Game Master/Avatar did a great job of searching the room for us and responding quickly to our directions, even when our directions were largely unintuitive nonsense, along the lines of “push the thingy!” They also did a fantastic job of ensuring that any time something exciting was triggered, the camera was in just the right place to appreciate it. Theming was excellent, and as the story continued to descend into madness, each new room displayed new horrors and surprises to enjoy! There were several awesome moments that were triggered by our progress, and it was interesting after the game to see how it all worked to create an amazingly immersive haunt.

The game flows excellently through a linear progression, and the game translates well to the virtual space. We enjoyed working together through many of the teamwork based puzzles in order to uncover the many secrets this otherwise unassuming house was hiding, and many of the interactions provided great ah ha moments that left us feeling satisfied. Clues were included subtly, but were clear enough to ensure each part of the process of solving the room was intuitive, yet challenging. One particular puzzle I really liked incorporated a lock itself into the puzzling, something I can’t say I’ve seen done before in any of the escape experiences we’ve done! Other puzzles are just as creative, with some solutions hiding deviously in plain sight, we just had to figure out how to find them. At the end of the game, we received points based on our time and how well we completed the room, with achievements for no hints, escaping with a good chunk of time left, and being the Online Division leaders for the room! I love District 3’s point based system, and the achievements were a lot of fun to see as well, as it added a extra special personal touch to the conclusion of the game.

Low Points:

Being one of District 3’s older rooms, it isn’t quite as evolved as some of their newer rooms may be, but we feel this works to their advantage as these sorts of rooms tend to work well virtually. Despite the more solution to lock style of gameplay, we had a great time, but I do know that some enthusiasts prefer a different style of game. Some puzzles may feel familiar to veteran solvers, but overall, I think District 3 does a good job of ensuring these interactions stay fresh as possible. One particular puzzle is a great idea, but suffers from players having to kitbash a method to ensure it is audible viturally between multiple remote sites. It may be helpful for there to be an additional inventory item once teams have demonstrated they know the concept of what is to be done, just in case audio degrades.

Verdict:

Haunted is a great spooky virtual game, and we had an amazing time working through the mystery of the Manor! This game would be perfect for players of all experience levels, as it challenged our group of veterans, but never becomes so difficult as to be obtuse. We had an awesome time with our Game Master, and cannot wait to see what District 3’s next online game is like. I absolutely recommend this room, and you can book your time house sitting here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: District 3 Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

Theme:

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.

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…

Theme:

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.

 

 

 

The Escape Game – Ruins: Forbidden Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Theme:

From the The Escape Game website:

You’re on a relaxing aerial tour of a remote jungle when everything suddenly falls apart. You’re stranded at the foot of ancient and mysterious temple ruins – home of a massive fabled treasure. Adventure has come knocking and the treasure could be yours for the taking! Fortune favors the bold. Will it favor you?

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First Impressions:

At the start of our game, we met one of our favorite people we’ve ever met within an escape game, Captain Mac, who would be flying us to the site of our adventure. A man of pure joy and light, we were highly entertained by his beautifully produced and informative educational video, right up until the plane crashed. But, you know, five stars up until that minor incident!

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Captain Mac’s tours are brilliant!

High Points:

Our Game Master Brianna and Avatar “Jungle Scout” were great, helping us explore this beautiful room remotely. Set design is amazing, and made us wish we were physically in the room, but I didn’t feel that much was lost in translation, or that we were missing out on too much of the experience by playing remotely. If anything, it got us excited to visit The Escape Game in Nashville once the pandemic is over! There are a few cinematic moments that truly wowed us, including some crazy set pieces that, when activated, elevate the entire game’s immersion brilliantly! It’s strange to comment on how tactile the room is when we weren’t physically there, but it was cool to be able to virtually interact with so many well built props, and the Jungle Scout ensured we were able to have her manipulate them as we directed. The inventory system is excellent, and items are quickly added and removed as we find and successfully use them, respectively. This keeps the game flow running smoothly and ensures the whole experience is well streamlined. Technical wizardry runs rampant in this room, and is hidden quite well, creating mystical, large scale effects that translate well to the zoom call. As an aside, isn’t it nice to be able to have conference calls that aren’t mind numbing, for once?

The game flows beautifully, as previously mentioned, and searching has been modified in order to keep things running at a good clip, so the puzzling is the star of the show here. The interactions are challenging and logical, and it’s great to see that though the experience has been adjusted for remote play, it remains a fantastic room dense with great puzzles. I really loved that several puzzles still relied on good teamwork to overcome, and the variety certainly allowed for each of us to have our MVP moment! Each stage of the game is somewhat self contained, making each room feel like their own individual meta-puzzles to work through, and this approach works fantastically virtually, and eliminates any dead time from having to direct the avatar to walk back and forth. The climactic puzzle is wonderfully intense, and the touches that combine to build this level of intensity are all insanely cool, even through our computer screens.

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Low Points:

We had one slight hiccup when we asked to search a particular part of the room, and were told it was featureless, only to later find there was a very important interaction there we had previously expected to find. Luckily, our GM was able to get things back on track once she realized the error, which was great. One particular puzzle relies on sound, and it’s a great idea in person, but virtually, we were directly informed regarding the important bits, simplifying it a bit more than we would’ve liked. I understand the reason for the modification, but other games we’ve done have been able to translate sounds to their inventories, which would preserve the challenge here.

Verdict:

As a virtual experience, Ruins: Forbidden Treasure is a pretty awesome way to spend an hour with friends, escaping even when we can’t be in the room together. I really appreciated the production values of the adventure, and the intro video is almost worth the price of admission alone! I can’t wait to check out The Escape Game once we’re able to make the trek out to Tennessee, and absolutely recommend escaping this room virtually in the mean time. Book your time with Captain Mac’s Skyward Tours here!

8.5/10 (Great)

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