Ubisoft Blue Byte – Assassin’s Creed: Beyond Medusa’s Gate (Review)

Location: This game is available from many locations, we played at VR Zone DC in Washington, DC

Players: 2 or 4, either of which is a great time

Price: Varies, based on location.

Time to Escape: Approximately 60 Minutes

Back to the Animus!

Theme:

From the Ubisoft Escape Games website:

Beyond Medusa’s Gate is set in the re-creation of Ancient Greece from Assassin’s Creed® Odyssey. Two or four players team up and have 60 minutes to find a way out of a vast Aegean coastal cave where the legendary ship of the Argonauts is anchored. To successfully escape, players must use cooperative teamwork, problem-solving skills and precise timing to solve riddles and find their way out of this room-scale experience. Players start the adventure by choosing their avatar from among six diverse characters, and can customize them with Ancient Greek accessories.

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First Impressions:

Escape the Lost Pyramid got us hyped for more VR escape adventures, and luckily, we had Beyond Medusa’s Gate scheduled just afterwards! The initial stages of the game were similar, but boasted loads more options, and we knew we were in for an extremely good time after enjoying an ink bottle “food fight” of sorts within the initial avatar selection/costume customization area seen below!

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High Points:

Being an enormous fan of Assassin’s Creed, especially Kassandra’s adventures in AC: Odyssey, Beyond Medusa’s Gate was one of my most highly anticipated games for our recent trip to Northern Virginia. We were not disappointed, either, as this massive evolution in gameplay over the already great Escape The Lost Pyramid was an absolute blast to puzzle through. Inviting players into an even larger escape adventure than the previous game, this is truly a can’t miss experience. The initial parts of the game involved getting acquainted with the VR controls and selecting from a wider, more artful set of avatars, as well as various costume colors and adornments. As a big fan of character customization in video games, I was delighted with the expansion of this part of the game, as well as the inclusion of many ways to differentiate your character, as three of us selected the same avatar.

The gameplay for this romp through Ancient Greece is legendary, putting a much larger emphasis of enormous teamwork puzzles, and ensuring that everyone stays involved throughout, removing many of the individual choke points of the previous game. Traversal feels much smoother here, and the joy of one armed pull ups remains present, as does shooting your friends with arrows. Climbing the many tall walls was a fear for one of our teammates, and luckily, should this trigger anxiety for players, most teamwork puzzles only require one of the players to climb, which was a nice touch. The interactions presented via Medusa’s Gate are incredibly varied, and much more complex, throwing some real challenges at the team, while remaining intuitive and deliriously fun to work through. The moments of revelation are great, and working out the solutions alongside friends is an excellent time. Many points split our four player team into two, and the ability to switch off teammates is present, which is a great new addition. On the whole, however, there are quite a few four player interactions that are flawlessly inserted into the game flow, and allow for everyone to take a starring role in the adventure.

The climax of the game is also much improved, with an epic boss battle that requires quick and accurate teamwork between all four players, capping off an already excellent journey with an exhilarating large-scale interaction. We were also treated to a quick but fun photo taking session to commemorate our achievement, and I’m so glad we were able to actually receive these photos!

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Low Points:

Beyond Medusa’s Gate is a mostly flawless VR escape experience, but we did run into a couple of places where if your teammates aren’t quite as quick as you, there’s some waiting around, but not nearly as much as was experienced in Escape the Lost Pyramid. There were also usually some items to mess around with during this time, so the waiting never became unbearable. Near the end of the game, we experienced a fairly big glitch, as a key item popped out of existence for around five minutes, causing a lot of frustration as well as the confiscation and immediate disposal of a bucket.

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Verdict:

Beyond Medusa’s Gate was one of the most memorable escape room experiences I’ve ever had, and expect I’ll remember our journey through this one for a good long while. Able to insert fun and adventure into every facet of the game, I highly recommend checking it out! If you’ve not played it’s predecessor, Escape the Lost Pyramid, that’s definitely worth doing first if possible, as this game will likely feel more natural after a warm up in Egypt. Find a room near you here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: VR Zone DC provided media discounted tickets for our game.

Ubisoft Blue Byte – Assassin’s Creed: Escape the Lost Pyramid (Review)

Location: This game is available from many locations, we played at VR Zone DC in Washington, DC

Players: 2 or 4, either of which is a great time

Price: Varies, based on location.

Time to Escape: Approximately 60 Minutes

Into the Animus!

Theme:

From the Ubisoft Escape Games website:

Welcome to the Animus. February 1928.An expedition led by Sir Beldon Frye disappears somewhere in the Sinai Peninsula. A team of four and a dozen local porters were looking for the Lost Pyramid of Nebka… Or more precisely, “something” that should have been there. They were never seen again. Using the simulation reconstructed from their DNA memory, your team will put themselves in the shoes of the explorers. Find out what happened to the expedition. And more importantly, locate what they were looking for.

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First Impressions:

I love Assassin’s Creed. It was what I asked for Christmas every single year when it came out annually, and is still a must buy for me even through the ups and downs of the series. When I heard they were developing Virtual Reality escape games for the series, playing them became a high priority for me. VR seems like such a great substitute for the Animus, and barring the absolute travesty that was the Assassin’s Creed movie, I’ve loved every product that bears this franchise’s name. I had high expectations, and luckily, I was not disappointed.

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High Points:

Escape the Lost Pyramid is an awesome adventure, and utilizes Virtual Reality to create one of the most immersive escape games I’ve ever played. The medium is truly used to great effect, allowing for some giant scale puzzles that you just cannot create in a traditional escape room, including some great traversal puzzles that aren’t for the faint of heart! (Side note, if you’re afraid of heights, do not, I repeat, do not look down.) At the outset, each player chooses an avatar, and is led into a dressing room/lobby which is full of hats and necklaces to use to further customize the avatars. While the avatars are really great, this customization allows for players to further differentiate themselves, which helps in the long run. I knew we were in for a great experience when the basic experience of selecting our avatars and putting on hats was already getting us engaged and psyched to play around in the VR space.

The game’s absolutely epic journey begins with the players separated from one another, and intuitively teaches everyone how to play the game at their own pace. Once these introductory puzzles have been completed by everyone, the game brings everyone together and the experience starts in earnest. The game flow is linear, but presents incredibly immersive and wholly intuitive puzzles to the group, which varied between solo, pair, and full group solves during our four player experience. The difficulty curve and size of puzzles smoothly upgrades from start to finish, and while a few of the conundrums included are sometimes quite challenging, other players are almost always available to help, either through the game itself, or by offering tips over the headsets. Every stage of the game moves further up the titular Pyramid, and the sense of progress is well marked, providing many points at which to feel victorious. Except for those parts in which your wife knocks you off a platform. Those are only fun for her. Just kidding, that was still hilarious. Speaking of something that should’ve turned my stomach, Escape the Lost Pyramid feels comfortable at all times, and at no point did I feel nauseous, which is a feat.

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Low Points:

While playing with three other friends is great, and messing around in the VR space together is amazing fun, the game is set up in such a way that from time to time, and depending on how good your comrades are at the game, you may be spending some time sitting around. There was one point in the game where I was waiting for my friends for quite some time, and I couldn’t even see what they were doing because of how my part of the game had been positioned. Luckily for me, I had a bow and arrow to mess around with, but even shooting that around and flinging some ill fated pots around started to wear thin after a while. Players may be disappointed with some of the game’s linearity as well, as each player is funneled through a predetermined path, and very little deviation is allowed. These two points sometimes join together to create some real frustration, but more often than not, there’s at least some way to create your own fun or help direct your teammates. The final climax is, unfortunately somewhat of a let down, as there’s not really a great capstone puzzle of huge boss fight as you would expect. It just sort of… ends.

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Verdict:

Though Escape the Lost Pyramid stumbles from time to time, it is an amazing first step for Ubisoft’s new series of escape games, and I am absolutely looking forward to more! The game is extremely well made, and even those who don’t have a background with Assassin’s Creed will enjoy the adventure. On the whole, the game is an amazing evolution for escape rooms, and it is a must play for those interested in trying out a room that allows you to puzzle around in an enormous pyramid! Find a room near you here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: VR Zone DC provided media discounted tickets for our game.

Warehouse 29 – The Dark Raven Museum (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 3-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 90 minutes

Our biggest escape yet.

Theme:

From the Warehouse 29 website:

Come explore the mangled heart of the Dark Raven Museum. An institution that once stood at the forefront of machine learning technology, has now fallen to chaos in the wake of an unforeseeable event. The museum’s custodial AI, a meticulous recreation of Edgar Allan Poe himself, has become infected with a madness much like that of his namesake. He has escaped his programming, seized control of the museum technology, and taken his creators hostage. So far all attempts to shackle the AI and restore order have ended in disaster. We are counting on you to succeed where everyone else has failed: face Poe, and restore the Dark Raven Museum to its former glory.

First Impressions:

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Warehouse 29, as we’ve heard many good things, and the site promises something truly unique. Further, it is a collaboration between Escape Room RVA and River City Escape Room, our two absolute favorite escape room businesses in Richmond. It’s putting it mildly to say that we had very high expectations for this game. To begin our experience, we met at Legends Brewery, where we were instructed to be ten minutes before our start time. Luckily, we were there very early and were able to enjoy lunch at the Brewery before our game, and I highly recommend it. At the appointed time, we gathered at the meeting point, and the adventure started with a highly immersive bang!

High Points:

After making our rendezvous with the agents of Warehouse 29, (and being denied our usual $100,000 upfront fee for these kinds of things, which we are still waiting on,) we were introduced to Warehouse 29 and the Dark Raven Museum itself. The experience itself takes place within a 7,000 square foot area, and upon glimpsing the initial areas, we knew that none of that space would be wasted at all. After an excellent in-character briefing, we set to work by donning our VR packs and jumping in! The Dark Raven Museum uses VR for about a third of the game to bring the experience to life in an incredibly unique way. The implementation is superb, and the whole experience benefits from it; allowing your team a full range of motion over a large area that’s fully part of the virtual space. This part of the game is very smooth, and involves some great interactions and wildly immersive puzzles and atmosphere. It truly is something that has to be experienced, and I look forward to seeing what can be done with this burgeoning tech in the future.

As we moved to the next part of the experience, we were once again greeted by an actor who definitely added to the experience while still allowing us the freedom to continue puzzling and cracking jokes. At this point, we were inside what felt like a more traditional escape room, but on a much larger scale. The whole thing is filled to the brim with amazing set design and well thought out enigmas. This area on it’s own would be a crown jewel in a traditional escape room, and it is only another third of the experience! While large, it didn’t feel junky or full of red herrings, and everything we found felt important to the over arching experience. The game flow was non-linear enough to keep our team engaged, and I can definitely see the maximum of eight players getting their money’s worth as well. All of the puzzles and interactions played well into the theme, and there were several points at which we were appropriately wowed by the design. On top of all that, fans of Edgar Allen Poe’s work will be very pleased to see that the game is saturated with easter eggs based on his many stories and poems. These are well placed and feel like loving homages rather than items placed without purpose.

We’d only been through about two thirds of the game at this point, but we were still having the time of our lives with the awesome game flow, fantastic signposting of clues, and particularly great storyline. When we finished up with this area, we were once again treated to what felt like a live action, interactive cut scene from a video game, and yet another large area was introduced, along with another great game mechanic that truly ratcheted up the tension. This part of the game tied in very well, and brought up some hanging threads that had been hinted at during the earlier parts of the game. These surprises were insanely fun, and the final puzzles and the climax of the adventure were some of the best story telling I’ve seen in an escape room. Honestly, everything about this adventure knocked it out of the park. I’ve never quite experienced something so full of action, adventure, and interactivity beyond a video game, and Warehouse 29 is much, much more than a game, it’s a phenomenal escape adventure!

Low Points:

The only thing I’d say would’ve made our experience better is if the actors were a little more improvisational with us. We’ve had games in the past where the live actors read our group and adjusted to fit our, admittedly weird, sense of humor, and those moments really shined for us while still immersing us in the story. While the actors did a fantastic job overall, especially during the beginning, where they did respond to our input well, there were a few parts in the middle section where we could tell they weren’t quite sure what to do with us, (mostly me, really,) so they stuck to the script. Overall, not a bad thing, but really the only “low point” that sticks out to me at all.

Verdict:

Warehouse 29 is a wholly unique event that is truly second to none! The marriage of VR, live action interactive theatre, and escape rooms works perfectly, and this adventure is something any escape enthusiast or thrill seeker should absolutely experience! Beginners and veterans alike will find something new and exciting here, and I cannot recommend The Dark Raven Museum enough. If you only have the time to visit one escape room while in Richmond, make it Warehouse 29. You can book your time battling rogue AI Edgar Allen Poe here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Warehouse 29 provided media discounted tickets for this room.