The Valcarol Missions – The Hidden Lab Mission (Review)

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?

Theme:

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.

First Impressions:

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!

High Points:

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.

Low Points:

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.

Verdict:

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!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

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.