Xtreme Xcapes – Shotgun Wedding (Review)

Location: Gastonia, NC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $20 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Great theme, but the execution kept us from falling in love.

Theme:

Pa done caught Bo and Penelope kissin’ down by the river! As a God fearing man, he cannot let such foolishness stand, and is forcing them to get married. Bo and Penelope aren’t ready for domestic life, however, and have asked you to break into Pa’s barn to steal the rings, ensuring the wedding cannot proceed.

First Impressions:

I didn’t know this before booking, but Xtreme Xcapes is located inside of a mall, which, as I’ve heard from the Enthusiast community, is a bad sign. Once we had made our way to the room’s lobby, it did seem a bit more like pop up experiences than most sets, and therefore a bit cheaper looking than usual. The actual room itself did convey the theme well, and was overall very cute.

High Points:

The themeing of the room was surprisingly well done for a mall game, and did feel like a barn. It was overall spacious enough to explore and seems like it would fit the max players comfortably. It was situated far back enough that we were unable to hear any mall noises and utilized some fun country props. The story was very original and allowed us to have fun with what was an overall average experience.

Low Points:

Possible allergens are present within the room that while they add to the barn feel, should be noted beforehand as a possible irritant. Puzzles fit the theme on the surface, but overall felt like they were there because this was an escape room instead of part of the environment. The connective tissue between puzzles was sparse, and guess and check was required for a few of them as no clues as to order were given in some cases. One puzzle was unintentionally gross, and may put some off immediately. The reveal of one part of the room was extremely underwhelming, and felt a bit hollow. Having any more than 4 players will leave others standing around, as there aren’t many lines of puzzling to follow. Though the room was large, most of it was empty space, with precious few puzzles and clues.

Verdict:

This room was overall just alright, as the theme was fun and caught our interest, but was lacking substance. In fact, our group of 4 were able to bust out in a little over 23 minutes, leaving us with 36 minutes to spare, which is probably the fastest I’ve ever escaped. Enthusiasts will be able to solo the room quickly, but beginners may enjoy the experience. Overall the entertaining theme but underwhelming room and use of space make for what feels like a missed opportunity. The owners noted that they are constantly working on improving their rooms, but at this point, Shotgun Wedding is just an average experience at best. You can book your escape here!

4.5/10 (Subpar)

Odyssey Escape Game – Ripper: Solve the Mystery (Review)

Location: Alpharetta, GA

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Get Ripped.

Theme:

The year is 1888, and you are Scotland Yard’s finest detectives, hot on the trail of the notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper. His most recent victim, Mary Kelly, has been found brutally murdered and you’re the first on the scene. You don’t have much time until Jack flees London, so you’ll need to act fast in order to figure out his true identity.

First Impressions:

Mary Kelly’s boarding room is very well detailed and, barring the standard escape room screen and camera, felt appropriate for the time period. The same was true of our first look at our office at Scotland Yard. The opening story gave us a sense of urgency, and the absence of any out of place locks was welcome. We were truly in for a different experience from the standard escape the room fare here.

High Points:

Most escape rooms give you something to mark down notes with, but the way it was handled in this room was fantastic and allowed for many players to take notes simultaneously and in a on theme way. We were told at the beginning of the room, that there were only a few locks, and that the majority of the room would involve interacting in non standard ways, and this held true. Puzzles were fun to figure out, and barring a couple, were very good at giving us feedback on our success or failure. The nature of our investigation was exciting, and allowed for a much different, but largely successful, flow to the puzzling. The final two revelations were thrilling, and the ending could feel a little anticlimactic for some, I very much enjoyed Odyssey’s take on this historical mystery.

Low Points:

Two things within the boarding room felt out of place, both due to their anachronistic nature. One was heavily part of a puzzle, so it felt less immersive. Moving between Scotland Yard and the boarding room could be difficult at times, due to it’s nature, and would preclude accessibility for some. Twice we asked for hints which confirmed we were doing the right thing, just not “right” enough, due to some finicky puzzles.

Verdict:

Odyssey excels at bringing their historically themed escape rooms to life, and Ripper: Solve the Mystery is a great example of how escape rooms can tell these stories in an immersive fashion. The mystery presented is slowly unraveled in a unique way, and the story unfolds naturally through the puzzles. The room focuses on investigation and allows for quite a few a-ha moments, which sets this room apart from many others in the South. Enthusiasts will definitely enjoy this distinctive challenge, but I suggest new players do a couple rooms before taking the Ripper on, as this is a fairly difficult room. Book your investigation here!

9/10 (Excellent)

 

Bull City Escapes – Lunar Lockdown (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players:  2-6

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

This is Major Tom to Ground Control, I’m stepping through the door…

Theme:

NASA sent an elite team of researchers to a previously unknown planet on a top secret mission, but they’ve gone dark. You’ve been sent to find out what happened to them and report back. After finding the ship’s crash site, you enter to find that major damage has occurred. What’s worse, the door has locked behind you, and the self destruct sequence has engaged! Your team has an hour to solve the mystery and escape before you blow up!

First Impressions:

Upon entering Lunar Lockdown, I was frankly intimidated by the amount of tech on the walls. It really felt like the inner workings of a spaceship, or a Hollywood one, at least. The main centerpiece was well designed, and displayed many tactile inputs to play around with. There was also a good bit of space for puzzling, so even though we were at max capacity for the room, we didn’t feel crammed in. Unfortunately, room to maneuver has become rare, but I commend Bull City for keeping their maximum limit comfortable for players.

High Points:

Right off the bat, there was so much to find and work on. Puzzles instinctively led one to another, and searching around the shuttle was a joy. Most puzzles fit the science-y theme without being unapproachable, and most everything made sense within the context and theme of the room. There were a good few high quality props to manipulate, and mysterious blast doors tempted us with what could lie beyond. Technology was used to great effect, and there were several surprises in store when it was used. The intimidation of the many control panels gave way to excitement once we began to suss out what was important and what was set decoration.

Low Points:

Early and late game puzzling was very strong, but there was a slight dip in quality during the midpoint. A couple of items were hidden in groanworthy ways, but were overall minor blemishes. There were a couple puzzles that seemed a bit off theme, but were otherwise interesting and didn’t take away overmuch from the immersion. One puzzle activated an item in the room that we didn’t realize was activated, due to it’s subtlety, so we were unsure we had the correct answer. Overall, the story didn’t come to a satisfying conclusion once we had escaped.

Verdict:

Lunar Lockdown is a great space room that presents a stimulating series of puzzles. The story is an interesting setup, but seems secondary to the escape, as we didn’t feel it went anywhere. On the whole, however, the room is very competently done, and delivers a solid hour of entertainment. Book your escape from Lunar Lockdown here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Bear Towne Escape Room – Deadly DIEagnosis (Review)

Location: New Bern, NC

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

Price: $22.50 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A routine checkup at the doctor’s results in surprise organ harvesting!

Theme:

You’ve just arrived at your doctor’s office for a checkup, and are waiting with the other patients when you notice that you’ve been locked in! You must find your way out before the doctor returns to operate.

First Impressions:

The room was well decorated as a waiting room, which sounds boring, but Bear Towne managed to bring an interesting flair to what could otherwise be a plain room. The beginning search of the office turned up interesting props, and potential puzzle threads for us to follow. Everything felt like it belonged in a waiting room, but was stylish enough to bring it all to life. The opening experience set up the coming surprise very well, which, without spoiling anything, brought an entertaining urgency to the story.

High Points:

An extremely well themed room that took an everyday idea and turned it into something modern and fun lent a good bit of immersion to the experience. I could definitely imagine myself as part of the story, even though we were puzzling our way out, which is an all too rare experience. Puzzles overall were solid, flowed well, and were clued in such a way as to gently lead us to where we needed to go, without feeling forced or too artificial. One puzzle gave a playful yuck factor into the game (without actually being gross,) which is always appreciated, and the major surprise of the game was unexpected and exciting.

Low Points:

There was one puzzle that drained a good bit of time and needed to be explained to us, but we were informed that it was new, and were asked for feedback, so I’m confident that the owner is interested in making sure that it is streamlined. Otherwise, we had a blast!

Verdict:

For Escape Room enthusiasts, Serial Killers seem to come up a lot, but Bear Towne has managed to take the theme and forge one of the most immersive and exciting takes I’ve seen for the subgenre. The room is very beginner friendly as well, and would be a fantastic introduction to the hobby. Book your appointment with the Doctor here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Mission X – Vampire Manor (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

Dracula’s surprisingly high tech manor

Theme:

Dracula has been terrorizing the Transylvanian countryside for centuries, but his reign is to come to an end tonight! Your team of vampire hunters has finally decided to take on your greatest challenge yet, the Grandfather of all Vampires himself. You’ve broken into his manor home, but you must collect the source of his immortality, a gemstone of immense power. Once you do so, you’ll be able to strike him down and escape! But do it quickly, who knows when he’ll catch you snooping about!

First Impressions:

Dracula’s got a posh little place going on here. Vampire Manor was dimly lit but very well decorated, with a strange assortment of odds and ends hidden around the room. We found a note from Dracula’s most recent thrall to get us started, and these continued to lead us through the story of the room. Where she got the tape to stick these notes around everywhere, I’m unsure, but it’s a minor issue.

High Points:

Props all fit the room very nicely, and there was a plethora of well disguised technology in the room, which helped bolster the supernatural theme this room is going for. Puzzles were imaginative and well thought out, and cluing for each was, on the whole, well done. Sound cues helped ensure that we were given proper feedback on most technological puzzles, and we rarely felt we were at a loss for what to do next. One particular interaction was very original and led up to a very appropriate reveal. The final big puzzle took a good amount of teamwork to solve, and was a lot of fun to figure out.

Low Points:

There were a couple puzzles in particular that seemed like they were out of place, one of which blatantly required the use of technology in what overall felt like a Victorian theme and was fairly poorly clued, while the other required unintuitive leaps of logic. Like in the Butcher Shop, Do Not Touch stickers were overused and took away from the immersion, as did the hint system which requires your Gamemaster to come into the room. We also felt that we hadn’t quite finished once we opened the final door, as not all of the storyline objectives had been conquered, but we were assured that we had, in fact, completed everything.

Verdict:

We very much enjoyed our time in the Vampire Manor, as it evoked a sense of mystery throughout and the puzzles flowed well into each other. The storyline was interesting, though it never seemed to wrap up in a wholly satisfying way. At 45 minutes, it was a fun experience, but I would very much love to see what Mission X could do with a full hour experience. Beginners and enthusiasts alike will enjoy the technologically advanced nature of this room, though I recommend bringing a smaller than maximum group as the room does not seem quite big enough to hold eight players comfortably. Book your faceoff with Dracula here!

Full disclosure, we beta tested this room, (and were the first ever to escape it!) so our tickets were comped and some elements may have changed since our run.

8/10 (Great)

Mission X – Butcher Shop (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

That’s a Spicy Eyeball!

Theme:

The town butcher shop has been under investigation recently after a string of disappearances. Your team of detectives have been on the case, as neighbors have reported suspicious noises and smells coming from the area. Recently, your partner has gone to investigate on his own, but hasn’t come back! I’m sure that’s all just coincidence, and he and the butcher are having a lovely chat over some filet mignon! That’s usually how these things work out, right?

First Impressions:

Mission X builds great, high quality sets. Entering the dark Butcher Shop started our experience out with the right tone and was just eerie enough to foreshadow the surprises to come. We were told that this room was their hardest, with a very low escape rate, so we came prepared to puzzle our hearts out, hopefully not literally!

High Points:

Our descent into each layer of the Butcher Shop was well themed. Props were very high quality, and each room felt just a little more unhinged as we found more clues to take us deeper into the story. Mission X likes to use technology in their rooms, and all of these interactions worked smoothly and were interestingly utilized. I particularly enjoyed the big reveal we found near the end, as well as a hidden clue that helped us sort out the room. Puzzles flowed one into the next fairly well, and there were a couple distinct puzzle threads groups can split up to conquer. The use of space feels natural and nothing feels like it goes to waste.

Low Points:

For how well the room was themed, the dreaded Do Not Touch sticker abounded. I understand the purpose of these stickers, but they always feel out of place and pull you from the immersion unless used very sparingly. Mission X’s hint system also breaks immersion, as staff members come into the room to help you out. I appreciate that they pause the clock for you while they do so, but it would be much more immersive to have a hint system that just used the intercom. One puzzle solution felt a little goofy and out of place, but it was a minor one and didn’t detract overmuch. Our final escape felt a little anticlimactic, and we weren’t 100% sure we were done, (even with the final door unlocked,) as our Gamemaster was not there to congratulate us at the end. This lead us to roam a little bit in the hall, confused. I did, however, get to shoot back through the room in the pitch dark to call them just in case, and the walk through the now completely dark room was creepy and fun.

Verdict:

Mission X’s hardest room felt moderately challenging, if a little short, to our experienced group. We did capture the room record, with around 34ish minutes to spare, and therefore got our picture at the top of their Wall of Fame, which is an exciting touch. 45 minute rooms always feel oddly paced since we’re used to the industry average of an hour, but the Butcher Shop flowed well. Overall, this was an enjoyable room that I think escape room fans will enjoy, but beginners might be overwhelmed by. I’d recommend at least a couple rooms of experience before attempting the Butcher Shop. Book your investigation of the Butcher Shop here!

7/10 (Good)

Break Out Charleston – Serial Killer (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

Players:  2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You know, it’s really troubling how many people want to murder us.

Theme:

A series of serial murders have broken out in Charleston, 10 victims accounted for so far. The city lives in fear as authorities seem to be incapable of finding the perpetrator. You’ve woken up locked in a dingy shack, made even more disquieting due to the trophies that litter the room. A shiver runs down your spine as you begin to piece together what happened. Luckily the Killer has left a series of puzzles about to help you find your way out! Mighty kind of him.

First Impressions:

After our short briefing in the admittedly cool lobby (and a short conversation about the random Richard Simmons Sweatin’ to the Oldies VHS that was on the front desk) our Gamemaster led us to the room and locked us in. Serial Killer rooms saturate the market of escape rooms, but I really enjoy horror themes so it’s fun when the room is well done.  The Killer’s abode itself was very well decorated, and really felt decrepit in the best way possible. We didn’t stay mystified for long, however, since we knew we needed to get puzzling!

High Points:

Can a Serial Killer’s grimy cabin be called beautifully done? Probably not, but the décor was grungy and immersive. It was great, however, that while the room looked dirty, it didn’t feel that way during our interactions. The room was mostly seek and find along with object interactions and used technology sparingly, which I enjoyed as it fit the theme well. Puzzles that did show up were mostly well clued, and collecting similar items felt like it built towards the next puzzle instead of feeling like a chore. The Gamemaster’s interactions with us were fun, if goofy, and helped alleviate some of the tension. Space was used very well, and to great effect.

Low Points:

One long term puzzle was obtuse in it’s presentation, and is solvable in a slightly less satisfying way, but not well clued enough to have led us to the “proper” solution. There are several red herrings around, which didn’t really add much to the story, but at least felt on theme. There wasn’t a huge amount of cluing present in what inputs went to which locks, which added an unneeded trial and error element to the game. Some props felt a little too silly for the theme, but these were rare.

Verdict:

This was a well done room that was short on deep story, but had a fair amount of puzzles to keep a mid size group occupied. Serial Killer has a horror theme, but Break Out keeps it light-hearted enough that skittish people need not worry, which could be a plus or minus depending on the group. I feel like this is a great room to start with, due to it’s emphasis on escape room tropes, while still adding some original elements, but seasoned escapists may feel a little bit of déjà vu. I still recommend it though, it’s great fun! Book your Serial Killer escape here!

As a side note, my favorite story to tell about this room is that our briefing included the comment, “Please do not lick any of the electrical outlets in the room.” When asked why this became a rule, our Gamemaster informed us that a previous player had done so, explaining that he was an electrician and he wanted to short-circuit a door to make it open.

7/10 (Good)

Code Escape – The Experiment (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-9 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Scary in all the wrong ways.

Theme:

You were caught wandering around the grounds of the old Central State Asylum, delirious and babbling, so you’ve been brought inside by the attendants to get the help you need. Or so you’ve been told. You know you and the other patients aren’t crazy, and you’ve got to get out!

First Impressions:

They say first impressions are everything, and The Experiment made a terrible one. The barren first room had very little to do, and although it was obvious that there would be more in subsequent rooms, I didn’t hold out much hope. With seven players, it felt like there’d be a lot of standing around for some of us, and unfortunately, that was the case. We started off with three puzzles, one of which was well clued, one of which would be irrelevant and soon forgotten for a good while, and another that had no clues whatsoever, and for the unlucky, impossible to solve without serious help. We then were given a way to make it through the next door we found, but this puzzle for one person made no sense to anyone, and the solution was triggered by utter accident. The worst part is that it got much better, and then so much worse from there.

High Points:

Once we’d made it through that slog, we were treated to a set of pretty great puzzles. Everyone had something to do, and all interactions made sense. It was unfortunate that section only lasted for maybe seven minutes, as it was all downhill from there.

Low Points:

A lot of the problems that we saw at the beginning filtered over to the rest of the experience, and after a promising uptick, everything fell apart. Too many people and not enough puzzles became a problem, as crowding around one puzzle or standing around idly started to become the norm. One particular interaction was amplified in it’s annoyance due to the always infuriating problem of not being allowed to write anything down. A sound based puzzle that goes by too fast as part of a long spiel that must be listened to again and again without the aid of a whiteboard enters the frustrating territory of difficulty without fun. The endgame was interesting on paper, but the execution quickly fell flat, and all final puzzles were poorly designed for any more than 2-3 people. 

Verdict:

Having heard great things about Code Escape in general, I’d love to go back and try their other rooms, but if this had been my first exposure to Escape Rooms, I don’t think I’d have done a second without major encouragement. An all around major letdown, and probably my least favorite room to date. Without a major revamp and drop in the maximum players allowed in the room, I cannot recommend this one at all. If you’d like to book an escape at Code Escape, you can do so here.

3/10 (Poor)

Tic Toc Escapes – The Green Room (Review)

Location: Raleigh, NC

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

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

For those about to rock this room, we salute you.

Theme:

As a rock band getting ready for a gig that could be your big break into superstardom, you’ve found yourself locked in the green room with only one hour to showtime! You’ll need to figure out the musically themed puzzles and break out, or you’ll never break into the industry!

First Impressions:

The first thing I noticed walking into the Green Room was the classic rock playing on a radio nearby, and the sheer amount of excellent decorations that abounded. The theme of the room was well encapsulated, and held steady throughout the experience. Nothing felt cheap or out of place, and we were instantly excited to begin our adventure.

High Points:

This is one of the best rooms Raleigh has to offer. The original and interesting theme, interactive décor, and sheer amount of well flowing puzzling rocks. Tech is used sparingly, but to great effect, and all puzzles include interesting interactions and wonderfully on theme ideas. One puzzle in particular that I really enjoyed included sound, which is rare, and even rarer are instances where it doesn’t feel out of place, but it was perfect for this room. There were plenty of non linear puzzle threads expertly woven throughout the room, which more than kept everyone in our 7 person party occupied. Every inch of the room felt like it had been lovingly put together for maximum entertainment, and the little touches here and there really made the room immersive.

Low Points:

This room is so well put together, that it was hard to think of anything that could be described as a “low point.” As a very minor critique, there was one puzzle that we found the solution for, but didn’t feel clued enough to lead us toward where we needed to input it, but we quickly figured this out.

Verdict:

This is a particular favorite of mine, and one I recommend to anyone who has asked me what rooms they should try when they come to the Raleigh-Durham area. Tic Toc has wonderfully original ideas, and create fantastically crafted rooms around those ideas. An all around great room, The Green Room is approachable for beginners, but has enough puzzling meat for enthusiasts as well. I could gush all day about this room, but you should book your escape here and experience it for yourself!

10/10 (Sublime)

The Box Room Escape – Ventriloquist (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-7

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

What’s that boy? Little Timmy’s gone missing in the old theatre?

Theme:

The old Ventriloquist’s theatre has been under investigation recently after a rash of child disappearances in the area, but after a fire broke out in the building, the inquiry has come to a halt. Another child has gone missing, and now it’s up to you and your team of detectives to break into the theatre to save him, and hopefully put an end to the horror.

First Impressions:

From the start, The Box was a fantastic experience. The lobby is decorated like an old movie theatre, and the gentleman at the front desk played his part well. It’s always good for the immersion to begin immediately, and The Box had this down perfectly. As we were led behind the velvet rope, it felt as though we were sneaking backstage into the Ventriloquist’s lair. The game began soon after a great in-theme briefing by our game master, so with only an hour to solve the mystery, we drew back the curtain on our adventure and wow, was it a creepy good time.

High Points:

From our first step into the Ventriloquist’s old theatre, I felt like we were really there. Theming was on point, with a creepy mood set, and held, throughout. The puzzles were fun, but not overly taxing, and our searches found something new at almost every turn. Clever hiding spots abounded, and there were quite a few moments that made me say ah ha! There was an extremely good twist on an old escape room favorite, as well as a few spooky touches that activated as we made our way through the mystery.

Low Points:

There were a couple clues that seemed to point towards the same puzzle, which was confusing, but we didn’t lose any time on this due to a small mistake in the reset. The puzzles trended toward the easier side for our group of enthusiasts, but that was a really minor nitpick as the room was so much fun. And that’s really it!

Verdict:

The Box has crafted a fantastically solid experience that ups the creep factor without being overtly scary, and draws you in from the second you enter the door. I highly recommend this room to anyone looking for an all around fantastic adventure. Book your escape from The Ventriloquist here!

9/10 (Excellent)