Experience the BlackOut – Cell Block 704 (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You either get busy escapin’ or get busy dyin’.

Theme:

A team of BlackOut Agents have been captured and locked up in Cell Block 704. It is up to your team to ensure they are extracted and the evidence against them secured. You’ve infiltrated the prison and have 60 minutes to get the evidence and break out!

First Impressions:

As previously stated in my review of South End Psycho, BlackOut goes all out with their presentation and immersion from the moment you step through the door. The entire opening briefing is woven into the experience expertly, and everyone is encouraged to work as a team from the start. After being blindfolded and handcuffed together, we were put in prison, and our race against the clock began.

High Points:

We were put in separate cells and had to work together passing items and clues between each ourselves in order to access the rest of the room. The flow of the room was a bit chaotic, but made sense between cells. The hint system is well done, and adds to the flow and immersion of the room rather than feeling like a random lifeline to the GM. There are enough puzzle lines to keep a full group occupied, and even though the room is dark, flashlights are plentiful, so the mood is well set without sacrificing our ability to work on the puzzles.

Low Points:

Our group of 4 was matched up with another group of 4, and the room felt very tight. BlackOut has since moved locations and expanded the size of their rooms, so this may no longer be an issue. One puzzle’s solution was dependent on an item already used for a previous puzzle and did not feel well clued. The one actor interaction seemed to drag along too long, stopping the action while our time ticked down. (Update: After speaking with Blackout, they let us know that they give an extra 2-5 minutes to the clock for actor interactions, which they are making sure to include in their briefings, and we were originally unaware of.) A late game puzzle involved a serious leap of logic none of us were able to make without help. Some elements of the room felt out of place, but were not too egregious.

Verdict:

Cell Block 704 is a good room that ties together the stories of BlackOut’s other rooms well. There are a couple of hiccups along the way, but the overall room is well put together and flows in a natural, if chaotic, way. A wide range of puzzles will keep groups occupied and entertained throughout the hour leading up to their escape! I would recommend doing BlackOut’s other two rooms first, in order to get the backstory, but this is not 100% necessary. Book your escape from the Cell Block here!

8/10 (Great)

Experience the BlackOut – South End Psycho (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Theme:

A string of serial killings have been tracked back to a dilapidated cabin in the woods, and you, as BlackOut Agents, have been tasked with infiltrating the house, securing the name of the next victim, and escaping before the suspected murderer returns. There’s only one problem, not only is the killer on his way back, his house is likely haunted too.

First Impressions:

This was my second visit to BlackOut, but my first time in their new location. They have a very comfortable new lobby that fits the overall theme of BlackOut very well. The staff is, as always, in character and ready to immerse you in their world from the moment you step in the front door. After getting settled and signing waivers, you’re given your briefing in a separate room, then blindfolded, and led to your mission. Every step of the process ensures the outside world disappears from the time you enter, until the time you (hopefully!) escape!

High Points:

The briefing room and escape rooms being separate from the lobby allows for total immersion once the game begins, and is a very nice touch. The set design is very well done and the rooms are spacious enough to move around in, even with the maximum players in the room. Puzzles are mostly linear, but flow well into each other, and each is fairly well clued as to where they go. The actors in the room add to the story and drop small hints as you progress. The actors are fun to interact with and unobtrusive as well. All of the elements combine in this room to create a very creepy and horror based atmosphere.

Low Points:

One particular interaction is interesting, but mostly serves to drain time from the clock, which can feel frustrating during a timed event. (Update: After speaking with Blackout, they let us know that they give an extra 2-5 minutes to the clock for actor interactions, which they are making sure to include in their briefings, and we were originally unaware of.) The stricter linearity of the latter puzzles can limit the amount of people actively puzzling, though they allow for more interaction than most singular puzzles. There are a lot of random items in the room, which can lead to a messy experience for disorganized groups.

Verdict:

South End Psycho is a very well done room that not only takes its theme from horror, but actually feels scary at times. This can be a pro or a con depending on your tastes, but we definitely enjoyed a room that scared us at times.  Puzzles were solid and intuitive, and BlackOut creates an experience that is hard to top, through their specific blend of theatrical and escape room elements. You can book your escape from the South End Psycho here!

8/10 (Great)

Escape in 60 – Prison Escape (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

He’s comin’! Let’s get outta here!

Theme:

It’s the 1970’s, and you’re stuck in prison. Luckily, an old cellmate of yours broke out recently, and left a few clues as to how to escape for you, you just need to wait for the best opportunity to break out. Unluckily, it seems the clues lead through the Warden’s office! He’s currently making his rounds, but will be back in an hour, and after suffering one embarrassing escape, he won’t take kindly to another attempt!

First Impressions:

Escape in 60 is situated in the heart of Charleston, in one of the rustic buildings on Market Street. Their open air lobby is inviting, and the staff is very helpful. The Warden’s office was an unassuming, but convincingly laid out room, and we could tell there were many surprises  in store for us. After being given a quick briefing, we started our breakout.

High Points:

The room is laid out as a prison warden’s office in the 1970’s and has some great antique but sturdy props around to carry that vibe. Puzzle threads are non linear, and there is plenty to work through for larger groups, as well as a good bit of variety in puzzle types. There are a few surprising technological interactions that are used sparingly and add to the mystique of the room overall. The ultimate puzzle is highly intuitive, but not so simple that it can be solved immediately. Clues were hidden well, but not unfairly, and the story wove throughout the room in a cohesive way. I enjoyed a prison escape that took place outside of the cell, which is the usual escape room standby.

Low Points:

The hint system was hit or miss, and while some hints nudged us well, others felt too vague. The cluing between solutions and inputs was vague at times, and in others unintentionally clued towards the wrong area. Some puzzles felt a bit less polished than others, which led towards a slightly uneven flow through the middle, but were overall well done.

Verdict:

Prison Escape is very accessible for new players, while still holding a fun challenge in store for enthusiasts. An interesting storyline, along with tactile and time period appropriate props help make this a great starter room, while still being stimulating for those who’ve escaped a few times before. Book your break from the Warden’s office here!

Full Disclosure: Escape in 60 provided comped tickets for our game.

8.5/10 (Great)

Escape in 60 – Ransom (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

Players:  2-6 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Hello, Escapers, I want to play a game.

Theme:

Your son has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper has trapped you in his bedroom in order to teach you a lesson for being absentee parents! (Which fits, I didn’t even know he existed until being locked in…) You have an hour to solve the puzzles he’s laid out for you and find your son before it’s too late! For obvious reasons, this room is rated as 18+ on Escape in 60’s website.

First Impressions:

Walking into the dark, creepy room set the tone well, and a SAW-like video from the kidnapper immersed us even further. The tone of this room is set perfectly from the moment you begin. The room is laid out as a child’s bedroom, and it is done perfectly, nothing feels out of place, and the haunting soundtrack will spook you at perfect intervals.

High Points:

Ransom is an amazing room, from the previously set tone, to the wealth of interesting puzzles, there is something to do for everyone, even at maximum capacity. It is a rare feat, and Escape in 60 should absolutely be praised for it. Each puzzle follows the child’s room theme, and they build well in difficulty and complexity throughout. Several creepy surprises add to the overall immersion and will keep your party on their toes throughout the experience. This room demands teamwork, but is not so overwhelming that it becomes impossible to complete. Two puzzles add in some great thrills when solved, and provide perfect feedback when completed. While not being scary, per se, Ransom excels at keeping the experience intense and exciting.

Low Points:

It eventually ends. The only trouble we had was one puzzle interaction that felt as though there wasn’t quite enough cluing to understand the solution organically.

Verdict:

Ransom is an amazing escape room that should absolutely be tried out by anyone interested in room escapes in the Charleston area. This room blends story, puzzles, and setting to create an experience that thrills throughout. Even though the room has one of the darker themes I’ve played through, it is handled well, and manages to create a room that really sticks with the player long after the puzzles have been solved. Book your time being held ransom here!

 

10/10 (Sublime)

Urban Enigmas – Innocence (Review)

Location: Athens, GA

Players: 1-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Prison sucks. I have to escape.”

Theme:

Framed for a jewel heist, you’ve been thrown in prison awaiting a sham trial that will put you away for life. The warden has stepped out for an hour, making this your last chance to escape and possibly clear your name before he returns.

First Impressions:

Innocence has an incredibly interesting mechanic that I’ve not seen before, and makes for a really fantastic experience. As part of our briefing, we were informed that we had two objectives. Our primary objective was to escape our cell and break into the warden’s office, from which we could escape the prison. Our secondary objective, however, would determine the life we’d lead after our breakout. We needed to find a way to clear our names within the warden’s office in order to walk out as free men and women, otherwise, we could still escape, but it would be as fugitives on the run, forever looking over our shoulders.

High Points:

The sets were both convincing, even if they weren’t ostentatious. We began handcuffed and stayed that way for a while, which added to the teamwork element of the game, which I was glad to see, as most games that include handcuffs allow you some way to get out of them almost immediately. The dichotomy between the two rooms was great, as the prison cell was very much like your usual escape room, while the warden’s office changed the game into an investigative experience. I very much enjoyed this two-rooms-in-one approach. The investigation was assisted through a large evidence board that was a lot of fun to interact with.

Low Points:

Puzzles were solid, but were mostly standard code to lock interactions, which in some cases felt a little out of place for what we were solving. The warden’s office looked like an office, but after the higher set production in the prison, it was a little jarring to suddenly be in a white walled office. One particular puzzle was easier to solve using outside local information, we were told, but was solvable through a different path, so it’s a minor complaint. (6/10/17: Update: After speaking with the designer of the room, it turns out we were misinformed regarding the local information part. We solved the puzzle correctly, but that item was designed to be inconclusive, not solvable using outside knowledge.)

Verdict:

Innocence tries an original approach to escape rooms, and combines escape and investigation into one enjoyable package. The room is approachable for beginners, since you can escape the prison and investigate, but still get out within the time if you don’t fully solve the mystery, but has enough puzzling to work through for enthusiasts as well. I highly recommend trying out this room, and look forward to visiting their others! You can book your break out here! And best of luck beating our record!

8/10 (Great)

The Box Room Escape – Cold Case Killer (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Just a friendly visit from the neighbors!

Theme:

Usually I type my own interpretation of the theme, but The Box has a perfect write-up for their room. Per The Box’s website: Enter the House of Vincent and Margaret Harden, the newest residents of the neighborhood. Explore through their house and follow along the story. But beware, if you uncover the truth you may just find the not so happy ending.

First Impressions:

Stepping into The Box is an always immersive experience, and our second visit for Cold Case Killer was no different. (You can read about our first visit with the Ventriloquist here!) After a quick sign in, Andy gathered us around and gave us our excellent introduction to the story, then led us to our room. The Box continues to do a fantastic job of ensuring that story and puzzles come first from the very start, and the care they put into doing so shows.

High Points:

First and foremost, Cold Case Killer tells an riveting story that our group could not stop talking about hours later. Small things we did during our experience added to our revelations, and it really blew our minds. I won’t spoil anything here, but as usual, it adds a lot to the experience to read the case files provided on The Box’s website. We began the room in a non-traditional way, which was a very enjoyable touch. All puzzles were well clued and the connections set up in the room directed us towards where we needed to be in intuitive ways. There were a couple points of confusion, but they were not frustrating and added to the story, which may not make sense now, but will once you’ve played the room. The overall atmosphere and theming of the room feels very 1950’s, and everything belongs. The staff is really great and personable, but also stay in character in order to keep an immersive feel going.

Low Points:

The ending felt slightly abrupt, and I feel like there was room for more puzzling, but everything already in the room works very well as is, so it’s a minor nitpick. I feel like any more than 4 players may be too many cooks, especially towards the latter half, but our group of 4 felt just right.

Verdict:

With one of the most excellently crafted stories I’ve ever experienced in an escape room, The Box delivers a finely tuned Escape Experience that I highly recommend to anyone visiting the Charlotte area. Beginners and Enthusiasts alike will find something to enjoy about Cold Case Killer, just make sure to read your case files beforehand to get the full experience! We are looking forward to our next escape at The Box, whatever mind bending adventure that may be!  Book your time with the Hardens here!

Full Disclosure: The Box provided our group with Media Discounted tickets.

9/10 (Excellent)

Raleigh Room Escapes – Stronghold (Review)

Location: Raleigh, NC

Players:  2-4

Price: $20 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Theme:

A unique new piece of real estate has appeared on the market, and it might just be a great buy! It’s an old Cold War era fallout bunker, moderately priced, and just eccentric enough for your tastes. It even comes with it’s own AI, making it a sort of Smart-home. You’ve ventured out with your real estate agent to have a look, but when he leaves you to have a look at the property yourself, the door locks behind him, and the AI lets you know that the air filtration systems have been shut down! There’s 45 minutes worth of oxygen left, and you’ll need to make your escape before then, or suffocate!

First Impressions:

Raleigh Room Escapes builds a great set, and Stronghold feels very much like its namesake. The whole experience has that Fallout meets Bioshock vibe to it, and everything looks like it came out of the 50’s. The acting from our Real Estate Agent was convincing and perfectly over the top, and the introduction from our new AI frenemy set the tone well.

High Points:

Though this was a 45 minute room, it did not lack puzzles or feel overly short. The room was non-linear, and comfortably fit all four of our players. The room had many enjoyable technological interactions that made the smaller space feel much bigger as we explored. All puzzles flowed well one into the next, and connected to each other well. The hint system was creative, and we didn’t fully realize what it was at the time since it was so immersive. The finale felt appropriately climactic and exciting.

Low Points:

Our objective felt unclear at first, and we eventually worked out the mission on our own, but a slight bit more cluing as to what was going on wouldn’t be out of place. There was one instance where a hidden blacklight felt anachronistic.

Verdict:

For a 45 minute room, Stronghold felt like a full experience, which I’ve found is rare for rooms shorter than an hour. The excitement of the room keeps up for the full game, and getting out felt like an intense victory. It will be a very fun starter room for beginners, but the puzzles are tricky enough that enthusiasts will feel challenged. Book your showing of the Stronghold here!

8/10 (Great)

Raleigh Room Escapes – Escape the Tramping Ground (Review)

Location: Raleigh, NC

Players:  6-10 (We recommend 6-8)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Why did the devil break all of his toys?

Theme:

In Siler City, North Carolina, there is a clearing in the middle of the woods, and in that clearing is a spot where nothing ever grows. People have reported leaving objects in the circle, only to find them seemingly violently moved overnight, or gone altogether. Even spookier, some brave souls have camped in the spot, only to find themselves in a completely different place upon waking up. Scientists researching the site have brought back samples to their lab in Raleigh to study, in order to figure out an explanation for these phenomena, but the site has gone dark. You are the first team to enter the lab once it has been locked down and must solve the mystery of the Devil’s Tramping Grounds before you go missing yourself!

First Impressions:

The mood for the room was very well set. We were led into a separate lobby just for our players, and were allowed to mingle before the game began, which it did with a bang. The actor explained the rules and story to us excellently, and hurriedly ushered us into the room.

High Points:

Raleigh Room Escapes is headed up by theatre aficionados, and it shows in their sets and delivery. Tramping ground boasted a highly immersive set design, and the actor that introduced us to the room played his role very well. There were a few big props that added a lot to the game, and the overall story was woven throughout fairly well. Puzzles were mostly competent, if not cohesive.

Low Points:

This room was very poorly maintained, leading to a lot of wasted time. In some spots, what we thought were clues turned out to be unintentional red herrings written down by previous groups. A lot of paper props were torn up and worn, and some of the locks were unforgivably jammed. One puzzle in particular should have been simple to solve, and we worked out the method to do so very easily, but the puzzle itself was broken, making it a guessing game of degrees in attempting to solve it. To add insult to injury, I accidentally got the lock open while idly spinning the dials of the lock. The hint system is set to be more theatrical, and allow for a better chance to experience most of the room, but it felt highly out of place, and did not allow groups to take hints at their own pace. The twist was interesting, but predictable, and much of the set went unused. One big late game surprise was very easy to spot early on, and the method to revealing it was ambiguous at best. The open air nature of the bigger rooms allowed a lot of noise to bleed over from the Zombie escape next to us.

Verdict:

When Tramping Ground was good, it was really good, but at the points it failed, it became frustratingly bad. Unfortunately, the bad and broken outweighed the good by quite a bit, making the great parts very hard to recommend in light of the abundant missed opportunities. I feel that new players will be very confused, and though the theatrical parts of the room shine, it is very heavily marred by the poor flow and below average puzzling. You can book your escape from the Devil’s Tramping Grounds here.

4.5/10 (Subpar)

Enter the Conundrum – Dr. Wunderbruggen’s Brewery Brouhaha (Review)

Location: Asheville, NC

Players:  2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A rare comedy room that delivers laughs and puzzles in full.

Theme:

It’s time for a visit to the eccentric Dr. Wunderbruggen’s newest brewery in Asheville! The secretive brewer has opened his operation up to a select few for the tour of a lifetime. Everything is going wonderfully until your guide notices that The Super Secret Brewing Recipe (you know, the one posted on the wall under Super Secret Brewing Recipe?) has gone missing! It’s time to go into full panic mode and find it before it falls into the hands of Dr. Wunderbruggen’s nemesis!

First Impressions:

The high energy actress took us down the hall to begin our tour, bantering with us and giving us a great way to begin getting immersed into the theme. We were then given access into the brewery and our tour began! More great interactions with our guide revealed something was amiss, and it was time to begin our frantic search for the lost recipe!

High Points:

The room was colorful and fun; a great break from the sometimes dour theming of serial killer and mystery rooms. Props begged to be interacted with, and the feeling of the room was light and comedic. The actress was very high energy and was integrated into the game in fun and interesting ways, interacting with her was a real treat. Puzzles flowed well from one to the next, and this may be the only room in which a red herring or two felt like they belonged and added to the experience. The silly nature of the room was fantastically weird and truly entertaining, but didn’t feel jarring or out of place.

Low Points:

One puzzle felt laborious in it’s execution, as completing it required a small bit of tedium in it’s accomplishment, and another had many moving parts but did not clue us into which were important. A different interaction was whimsical in it’s idea, but the prop was too delicate and had been busted by a previous group. This was quickly addressed in a glorious bit of improv, and didn’t become much of an issue.

Verdict:

Enter the Conundrum built on the technological and storyline based ideas from the Attic of Abigail Falkirk, and created a zany room with great flow. Enter the Conundrum has pulled off a great feat in creating a comedic room that still has good focus on the puzzles and stays weird without losing sight of it’s storyline. Stylishly meshing a theatrical experience with an escape room, Dr. Wunderbruggen’s Brewery Brouhaha is a must see when in Asheville. Book your brewery tour here!

8/10 (Great)

Enter the Conundrum – The Attic of Abigail Falkirk (Review)

Location: Asheville, NC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

An uneven, but high tech, haunting.

Theme:

There’s something wrong with the Falkirk attic. The family has been hearing strange noises and experiencing phenomena that can only be described as supernatural. They won’t let anyone investigate, however, so the family maid has taken matters into her own hands and hired a “cleaning crew” to find out what’s going on.

First Impressions:

Enter the Conundrum has a wonderful lobby that includes a bar, lounge area, and various board games for before and after your escape experience. In fact, they’re a private club, and you’ll get a membership card when you visit! I was told this was so that they could have the bar and serve absinthe. Once it came time for us to begin our exploration of the attic, we were greeted by Mrs. Applebottom, the family maid, who ushered us, the cleaning crew, into another room and briefed us on our mission in character. It set up the story nicely, and informed us of what we needed to do. We were given a way to get in contact should we need assistance, and were sent to the attic to begin.

High Points:

There was a good amount of technology that allowed for some innovative puzzles and interactions to take place, even if the cluing for some of these tended to be uneven. An early game puzzle led to a really surprising reveal after a fun interaction. Props were hidden interestingly, and made the attic a lot of fun to search. The storyline was well woven through the room and made good use of hidden technology to pop up at unexpected times. A couple of the puzzles are solved in exciting and non-traditional ways.

Low Points:

The actress didn’t seem to add much to the story once we’d entered the room, and I couldn’t tell if it was just that her character was sarcastic and short, or if she was just having a bad day. A couple times we needed help due to puzzle parts being movable when they should not be, and having to call for help in those situations was frustrating. The overall initial vibe seemed to be Victorian, but certain puzzles were out of place for the time period and theme, and anachronistic props and story elements kept showing up, breaking the immersion. One of the main objectives was made quite a bit harder due to very important parts of the story being printed in an extremely small font. Some of the haunts overstayed their welcome, and due to their nature, we couldn’t do anything else while they played out. The ending felt anticlimactic and a little forced due partly to the setup of the room and partly due to unclear objectives.

Verdict:

I really want to like The Attic of Abigail Falkirk more than I did. It seems like there is so much to enjoy, but the unevenness and constant speedbumps to immersion make it harder to recommend. The current flow is jarringly interrupted constantly enough that the adventure feels really rough, though I do think that if those were ironed out, it could easily be one of, if not the, best rooms in Asheville. For it’s ideas, though, I think it’s still a good experience, generally and worth a look. Book your investigation into the Attic of Abigail Falkirk here!

6/10 (Alright)