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

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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.

The Adventure is Real – Agent Venture (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review is brought to you by me! 😀

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 4-5 (We recommend 4 players)

Price: £8.00 – £10.00 (About $9.89-12.36 at the time of this writing.)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Your mission, if you choose to accept it…

Theme:

From the The Adventure is Real website:

Become a team of secret agents, and execute a daring heist from the comfort of your own home. ​ With a live cast, and digital clues to guide you, all you need is a computer and phone to play online. Can you and your friends pull together to save the day and expose the crimes of an evil corporation? Every Secret Agent needs a world class support team, and this time, that’s you.

First Impressions:

We were excited to once again partner up with the Escape the Roomers for this heist game! When they emailed us about choosing a character role (with specific tasks that we would be individually doing), I was a bit apprehensive. It was not a game format I have personally played in our recent string of online games, and I did not seem to clearly fit any of the role descriptions we were provided. But, I was determined to do my part!

High Points:

We were introduced to the game by our “on-site” avatar, Agent Venture, who started off by going over all the player roles and setting up the format of the game. To my great relief, the description for my character role – the Hacker – was actually quite on point in creating expectations. We had all received a link to our character’s materials, and after hearing our Agent’s explanation, I found it easy to navigate the files due to their helpful instructions and formatting. I also really appreciated how easy it was to figure out what information was needed on each page and what information from the puzzles would produce the answers my team needed from me.

This was a choose-your-own adventure type of game-play, and our experience was largely guided by our own decisions. This provided quite a bit of flexibility of options, and (after discussing the game afterwards) the creators seemed to have been fairly thorough about the different avenues we could choose. Thus, this game design allows for multiple re-plays if you are interested and want to see the different ways the story can lead.

Of course, this takes a lot of adaptability on our game master’s part, and our Agent Venture turned out to be a fantastic guide. He was crucial to making this online experience immersive and I thought he did a fantastic job. He reacted naturally to any decision we made without seeming to miss a beat, and provided game-relevant roadblocks if we ever came up with something that would not work – all the while staying in character. It is definitely not an easy thing to do! He provided us with some great and funny interactions, and showed us through quite an enjoyable story.

This game design also encouraged (read: required) a lot of teamwork and communication from each player since our characters had distinct sets of knowledge and abilities. Though it was a little bit of unknown territory in the beginning, we quickly realized what type of information each of us had and were able to put our different pieces together to figure out what to do. Our Agent was good at helping to guide us if we need any help interpreting or putting ideas together as well.

I found my character’s role to be quite balanced in terms of playtime and the puzzles I had to work with. For the first two-thirds of the game, our team’s decisions led to a large reliance on the Hacker. I really appreciated the difficulty curve, as I am not used to these type of puzzles and was happy for some simpler ones to introduce and get me used to the solving method. (I do admit needing to screen share on some of the harder puzzles though.) When we got to the last third of the game, I was happy that the Hacker’s involvement became more of a supporting role. Prior to this, most of the Hacker-specific puzzles involved a lot of the same solving method, but the latter puzzles allowed for more varied support to the other characters without excluding me completely.

Agent Venture

Pondering Points:

As all choose-your-own-adventure, roleplaying type of games are, your experience will be – you guessed it – heavily based on your own choices and your character role. While this certainly produces many positives, it is important to keep this interactive design in mind with how it might affect your game experience.

I actually lucked out quite a bit in choosing the Hacker character because I seemed to have the most involvement throughout all the game activities, even if I was just providing support. I think this could have been just as easily something another teammate could have experienced instead if our team had made some different choices. However, given my involvement in the multi-player component puzzles, I wonder if the others could have had more “screen time”, even with the Hacker-heavy activities. Admittedly, it is possible I just took a long time to solve things so the downtime for my teammates was more noticeable. Though, this did give them the opportunity to read over all the materials their characters were given.

One thing everyone missed out on was seeing what everyone else could see in their character’s materials. Of course, I definitely understand why the game is setup in this way (and it helps provide a really great and unique experience!), but as the Hacker I didn’t get a lot of the interesting story information that I think my teammates were privy to. And apparently, had we chosen different routes along the way, we could have unlocked some more fascinating details about the non-player characters. (Though, this does add to the re-playability incentive!) If your team dynamic is compatible with it, I might suggest taking advantage of screen sharing with any of the characters – at the very least at the end of the game to see what type of information each of you are/were working with.

Verdict:

Agent Venture was a fun and immersive game, and provided a great platform for each player to make their own unique contribution. I would certainly recommend them for anyone looking for a outside the box way to connect during the pandemic or across long distances! Book your time guiding Agent Venture here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Adventure is Real provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BrainXcape – Room 228: Do Not Disturb (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $49 for up to 2 devices, $15 for each additional device

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You may never want to leave!

Theme:

From the BrainXcape website:

Locked in the hotel by a madman. Trapped and tormented me for days Thank god you picked up. Please, tell me what to do.  Help me, HELP ME.

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First Impressions:

BrainXcape is one of those spots we’ve heard a lot about, and really have wanted to check out, but haven’t gotten the opportunity yet. Luckily, even though we’re stuck at home due to COVID-19, we are able to virtually travel to New York and try out their new virtual escape!

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High Points:

Room 228: Do Not Disturb has a beautiful set, the same one that is used for their Haunted Hotel live game. In fact, this is one of those games in which we would love to be there live, as the whole experience from a set design standpoint was astounding! This game is completely different from the live version, allowing even those who have visited before to enjoy a brand new run of puzzles and story. The game itself is very immersive, and almost feels like live interactive theatre, as no pre-game rules or briefing was included, and our experience started with the in room avatar reaching out to us for help in escaping his captivity. The avatar was our only line to the game world, with no dedicated game master beyond them, but he assisted in searching the room and helping reveal certain key points by subtly guiding us around. They played an excellent character, though at times I did think it felt somewhat less interactive than we were used to. The inventory system is great, and ties into the immersion of the room as well by also providing some backstory on the hotel, as well as integrating into puzzles seamlessly. Game flow was mostly linear, and it was fairly intuitive, minus some late game interactions, and all the puzzles followed a stream of logic that didn’t fall into the territory of enormous leaps or red herrings. The immersive theatre nature of the game was definitely the selling point however, as most puzzles felt secondary to the storyline.

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Low Points:

Though the climax of the room was interesting, the game just ended, cutting off our zoom meeting and falling sort of flat overall. One of the best part of escape rooms is having a chat with the game master or owner after to ask questions about the rooms and generally debrief with your team, but in this case, we were suddenly cut off. The puzzles included were fairly simple, and there weren’t a huge amount to work through, so as an experienced group, we blew through the experience quickly. This game, as it stood when we played it, would probably be great for new players, but enthusiasts might be disappointed with the simpler nature of this game. One escape room cliche was used a few times, and wasn’t terribly well clued, leading us to perform a few aimless actions in order to get certain parts of the game to trigger.

Verdict:

Room 228: Do Not Disturb is a fun diversion built specifically for a virtual audience, and we had a fun time working through the puzzles, but I would recommend a few more interactions and some debrief time after the game in order to round out the experience for more experienced players. New players are going to have an excellent time here, but I’d recommend enthusiasts go in with tempered expectations overall. I do think the game is still worth checking out for the story and room design alone, however. Book your time in Room 228 here!

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7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: BrainXcape provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Mystery Mansion Regina – Night Terrors (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $26.25 CAD per person (About $19.33 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 75 minutes

Sweet dreams…

Theme:

From the Mystery Mansion Regina website:

After finding one of his childhood drawings, Alex is suddenly plagued by nightmares of the “Sleepyman.” Seeking to rid himself of these nightmares, Alex turns to a hypnotherapist.

Playing the role of his subconscious, you will need to help Alex figure out what is causing his nightmares… before it’s too late.

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First Impressions:

Night Terrors was one of those games I’ve had my eye on since first seeing that it was being advertised in one of the many Escape Room Enthusiast groups I’m a part of. The creepy theme and promise of a seventy five minute room is always an easy way to capture my attention!

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High Points:

I was thrilled to find that Night Terrors was designed exclusively as a remote escape game. While a lot of games being offered remotely are existing live games that have been adjusted in order to cater to a remote audience, I’ve not seen very many games of this sort that were built from the ground up to be played online. This ensures that every puzzle is integrated excellently for a zoom call, and the story line is set up brilliantly in order to immerse players within the world of The Sleepyman. From the word go, we became Alex’s subconscious, greeting him when he awoke in his nightmare, guiding him around in order to discover the many puzzles, and disturbing him with eerily accurate Old Gregg impressions. Alex remained in character the full time, delivering an immersive and character driven experience, despite our constant joke cracking, and we had a great time leading him through his nightmare, uncovering old memories, and unlocking the secrets he thought he’d forgotten! Points during the game where Alex recovers specific memories are well implemented, mechanically and thematically, and there were always astounding new surprises to find within the creepy bedroom. Atmosphere is excellent, and ensures that players are kept on their toes, waiting for the next horrific shoe to drop. The climax of the room is fantastic, tying off loose ends and keeping us guessing until the end.

The game flow of this room is astounding, with subtle cluing and excellent gating that ensures players remain focused on the task at hand, while providing an excellent challenge throughout.  There are certainly enough puzzles to keep a team busy for the full seventy five minutes, and while the game is mostly a linear experience due to the nature of online escape rooms, I never felt like there was a moment in which we weren’t engaged. Interactions are insanely clever, with some fantastic thematic touches here and there, as well as a penultimate puzzle that ties together a few bits we thought were just presented in passing to keep things spooky. Even the linear game flow focused through a single GM allows for moments of teamwork, which is always a triumph of design, and honestly, even times where I tried to step back a little to watch others work, I still felt fully involved with the game. A few of my favorite puzzles included small hints as to how they worked, and deducing their importance provided some great moments of revelation! On the whole, working through this room was immensely satisfying, and will remain one of my favorite escape adventures during this quarantine.

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Low Points:

Really, the only thing I can think of we weren’t quite so keen on in this room was there is a particular clue that is somewhat vague, and seemed to communicate one thing to us, when the opposite was true. This led to us spending a fair amount of time spinning our wheels until we finally took a clue to clarify things. We spoke with the owners however, and they seemed interested in clarifying this clue in order to ensure it wasn’t confusing.

Verdict:

I’d love to see the world of The Sleepyman explored more, and would jump at the chance to play another room that relates to this story, as the puzzles were just as clever as the story! Night Terrors is one of the most immersive remote games available to date, and highly accessible to new players while simultaneously delivering a challenge worthy of a veteran group. I absolutely recommend giving this game a shot as soon as possible. Book your time within Alex’s nightmare here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Mystery Mansion Regina 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.

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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.