Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Review: Escapism - Forensic

Hello, my fellow escape artists. No Way Out has been booked back in for the 9th of August. In the meantime, have a backdated review for Forensic at Escapism.


The room is unusually small, and even with just four of us, I feel like I’m running out of air.

It’s almost as though I’ve looked at these same clues for ten whole minutes now, and there has been no epiphany, no sudden realisation that brings everything together. I glance at the digital clock in the corner, its huge red numbers blinking seconds away ominously and – oh my god, I’ve actually been staring at this for ten whole minutes!

I try to stay calm – we started this room almost fifteen minutes ago and we haven’t solved a single thing. This has never happened before. “Guys? Guys? Have we figured anything out yet?”

There is a frantic moment of ruffling, slamming and futile rattling of locked compartments.

“No. No. I don’t know.”

And that’s when the panic set in.

Following on from the good time I had in the Butcher’s Burrow, I was back a few weeks later with a new group of friends to try Forensic at Escapism. Intimidated by the fail rate (over 95%), but determined to be in the top percentile, we arrived armed with fresh minds and plenty of enthusiasm.

Due to the size of our party, we decided to split into two groups, one agreeing to be kidnapped by the Butcher, and the rest of us opting to hunt down a serial killer. For many of us, the escape room was a new concept and staff gently eased us in, giving as thorough a run down as they could, even with the abdomen jolting thump of bass resounding throughout the bar.

The young man who briefed my group for Forensic took particular care to effectively disorientate us, blindfolding the group and leading us in a staggering conga line around the bar before depositing us in the room.

Escapism: Forensic Summary
Difficulty: 9.5/10
To date, Forensic remains the most difficult room I have ever had to solve. To put this in perspective, Forensic was my second time in an escape room, and I have attempted 13 rooms at the time of writing this review. While other rooms, such as Gate 9A at Parapark and the Abandoned Military Bunker at Paniq Room are difficult due to the geography of hunt-and-seek style escape, Forensic’s puzzles are genuinely challenging. You will strain the furthest bounds of your logical and lateral reasoning, but fear not, the designer of Forensic is fair. There is a reasonable and natural progression to the room, and if you are alert and careful, you will not be lead astray. Whether due to lack of experience or honest inability, my skills were tested by Forensic. There is a dread like nothing else when you struggle against the clock, and the gratification of a correct answer has never been so sweet.
Theme: 8/10
You are hot on the trail of a serial killer. All things considered, it is not a tough ask for the puzzles to remain relevant, and Forensic does a fair job of this. Oddly enough at the start of the game, there are several puzzles that seem strangely out of place, wielding the random excuse of the investigator being an ex-military man (or something to that effect), although as you go on, the logic devolves into appropriately cryptic clues as you get closer and closer to finding the perpetrator. The environments play with contract and lighting and space in very clever ways, and I actually had the pleasure of watching a grown man recoil at the sight of a room that was just a little too full-on for his comfort.
Staff: 7/10
Please see my review for The Butcher’s Burrow. We completed our room at about half-past nine. They were so keen on closing up by the time we got out that they didn’t even debrief or take a photo of us – they just wanted to go home.
Quality and Venue: 6/10
Please see my review for The Butcher’s Burrow.
Overall: 8.5/10
Despite the venue and the few moments of enraged panic at a dead dial tone, we had a lot of fun. The second we hurtled out of the final door left us dizzy with relief. A thoroughly enjoyable challenge.

What we did:
4 players
3 hints (one major hint in a blind panic towards the end)
Finished with a breathless 2:06 minutes to spare.

Players: 2-6
Duration: 50 minutes
Child-friendly? No: neither in theme, nor in difficulty. If you’re looking to have a good time with the family, try the Secret Garden at Escapism.
Price: $100 per team (regardless of number of players) on Monday to Thursday; $150 per team on Friday to Sunday.
Booking: Available online or by phone. They will ask for a full payment in advance.

Strike King Street Wharf
22 The Promenade
King Street Wharf, Sydney
1300 787 453 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Update 20/07/15

As luck would have it, I received a very apologetic SMS from Mike, coordinator of No Way Out at around 11:30am on Sunday morning, profusely apologising for a power outage.

By this bizarre coincidence, we unfortunately must reschedule once more - my craving for escape room shenanigans grows stronger.

I will post a review as soon as we've sorted something out. Let's hope technical difficulties don't hinder us again.

- spheri

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Update 05/07/15

So yesterday didn't quite work out. Unfortunately, No Way Out had an accident the previous night, and some of their equipment was damaged.

As a result, all of Saturday's bookings were cancelled. The staff handled the setback very professionally, letting us know a good few hours beforehand, and offering to reschedule us as soon as possible.

We'll be re-booking in for 19th of July, so there'll be a review up then.

Thanks for your patience, guys!

- spheri

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Review: Clocklocked - Dexter

We dig around the room for clues and someone starts dragging things out and leaving them strewn all over the floor. In the limited space we have, everything becomes a tripping hazard.

I accidentally tip water down the back of my neck and to my right, my friend makes an incredulous noise.

"What's wrong?"

He shows me the back of a laminated piece of card.

"Are they seriously making us solve a Sudoku?"

Clocklocked is located away from the hustle and bustle of George Street and the rest of the city, a ten-minute walk from Broadway. Their lobby for the most part, is difficult to find. We hover uncertainly in front of the building and try to determine if there is a side entrance or a way to penetrate its study glass doors. Buzzing the office number does not help, and we eventually James Bond our way in, surreptitiously catching the door ajar as a gentleman makes his way out of the building.

It occurs to us afterwards that if we had not done so, we may not had been let in for a very long time.

Dory, our host and game master is full of bouncy enthusiasm, showing us where to stow our bags and maintaining a fast-paced conversation as she briefs us and has us sign our waivers. She explains (over the buzz of electric drills and constant hammering) that they are constructing their third room, Cleopatra, and so Dexter, the room we are completing today, has been modified and relocated.
Her passion for escape rooms translates into efficiency, and before long, we are ushered without ceremony, into the room and the door is locked behind us.

Clock Locked: Dexter Summary
Difficulty: 4/10 
If straightforward thinking is your kind of thing, Dexter is the room for you. You can expect mathematics, pattern recognition and simple associations. There were a number of puzzles that my group accidentally brute forced – messing around, even without all the required parts still got us the answer. Dexter is supposed to be Clocklocked’s hardest room. I was personally underwhelmed by the lack of creativity, and irritated by what felt like unimaginative and somewhat obtuse efforts to prolong our time in the room. Solving a Sudoku? If I wanted to complete a Sudoku square, I'd pick up a newspaper. That is not a clever or innovative use of puzzling or theme. Which brings us to -
Theme: 3/10
Besides the props placed about to hinder us in the room, theming felt superficial and borrowed as an excuse to gather a number of mediocre puzzles together to experience at a fee. I was very disappointed that none of the puzzles tied in with the theme of the room, and that none of the props were utilised as a means to deliver clues in a more creative way. I easily could have been in a beach-themed room, and the puzzles would still have worked - they were simply that irrelevant.
Staff: 8/10
Friendly, genuine and full of drive. We only spoke to one staff member the entire time we were there, but Dory was attentive, professional and did her utmost to make our experience as enjoyable as possible. We only ask that someone be present to buzz us in or answer the phone when we’re stuck on the street outside. We were offered bottled water and lollies as brain fuel.
Quality and Venue: 6/10  
Besides my initial grumble about accessibility, there are a few more things I found issue with: construction occurred throughout our entire session; immersion in the theme was difficult to say the least. Because of these renovations, Dexter had to be moved to a smaller room, and while it had little effect on the style of play or effect of the theme, I did find that the claustrophobia caused difficulty in the hunt-and-seek portions of the escape. Puzzles were functional, and everything was mostly clean and well-maintained. Their lobby was nice, but oddly, almost lazily decorated with fake cobwebs and a giant, jarring image of a flower field as a sort of feature wall. With Cleopatra still heavily under construction at the time, we were unable to look inside, but a peek at DaVinci showed us a bright, clean room with the promise of simpler, possibly interesting puzzles.
Overall: 4/10 
I adored our game master, but I was so unhappy with my experience in the room that not even Dory’s energetic encouragements could get me to smile in our photo.

What we did
4 Players
3 Hints
Finished with about 17 minutes to spare.

Players: 3-5
Duration: 60 minutes
Child-friendly? No, but with adult supervision, Da Vinci may provide fun for the whole family.
Price: $120 per room, $100 if you are a group of students.
Booking: Online, on their website, or over the phone.

Suite 101 Level 5
330 Wattle St
Ultimo 2007

This review is backdated to 05-01-15. Clocklocked may have made changes to their office and facilities since we last visited.

Update - 23/06/15

Dearest Readers,

Thank you for your patience. I’ll be uploading a new review this afternoon for Dexter at Clocklocked. Please look forward to more reviews to come over the next week.

For all of you looking for something to do this weekend, a new escape room has opened! Check out No Way Out and their chlorophyll producing humans… They currently have a coupon available through Scoopon – get in quick to avoid disappointment.

I'll be visiting The Body Shop at No Way Out on the 4th of July, so you can expect to see a review for that room shortly afterwards.

Until then, stay calm and leave no stone unturned!

- spheri

Friday, 13 March 2015

Review: The Escape Club - 7th of November

I stare at the soft, fluffy blindfold in my hands; it stares back with the cartoonish eyes of a cute panda.

Panda eyes. 

Our game master instructs us to put our fluffy panda eyes on and I hear the door creak open.

“Step forward slowly, I’ll guide you. When I stop, I want you to sit on the ground and then wriggle forward until your feet touch the wall. Then lie flat on the ground.”

These unusual instructions intrigue me and I wait for my friend to be situated before reaching out for the game master’s hands. For a moment, I feel like I’m situated in a void. I don’t know how large the room is, and as I lie down on the cool linoleum floor, apprehensive thoughts creep into my mind.

Beside me, my friend bumps my elbow. I feel less nervous.

“Okay, that’s all of you. When I close the door, you can take off your blindfolds. You have fifty minutes. Good luck."

There is a click and a rattle. As one, we pull off our panda eyes and blink as our vision adjusts to the light.

"What the hell."

The Escape Club was one of the first permanent escape rooms to open in Sydney and their Kingsford rooms appear to be a duplicate of an incarnation somewhere in Asia. While I'm not certain of their origin nor its success, I can certainly say that the process of transferral hasn’t quite properly translated to Sydney and one might describe their quarters as being… incomplete. They currently offer several rooms, and they continue to add new ones regularly:

Ghost Maze: Intended for larger groups, work together to save the world from restless spirits.

Tomb Raider: Also for larger groups, hunt for treasure that someone's father once discovered in a pharaoh's tomb.

Virus: Someone is messing around with incurable viruses. The FBI screw up. You and up to twelve of your friends have to clean up the mess.

7th of November: Made for smaller groups, you find yourself in a room. Some thing's definitely a bit off, though...

Prison Break: It's time for your group of four to six people to escape (Wentworth Miller not included).

The Curse of Hogwarts: Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs - all four pay a visit to the famous British School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The Escape Club Sydney website is truly a sight to behold: paragraphs of broken English and jarring graphics overlaid on a clashing background. With inconsistent descriptions leading to a genuine lack of understanding, you may find yourself not knowing what a room is actually about, how difficult it is, or whether you'd be interested in it at all.

Fear not – that’s what I’m here to do.

Facing a busy main road, The Escape Club is easy to miss, located between a run-down second-hand white goods store and a Thai massage parlour. Once we announced our booking, we were directed outside, to the right of reception, where a worn set of steep, grey carpeted stairs lead us up to an unlit, slightly unnerving collection of corridors and rooms that might have once been residential.

Wooden bannisters, fading linoleum at our feet, it’s all there. With every door shut and no light fixtures, it’s guesswork until we reach a claustrophobic hallway, where another set of stairs winds downwards and away to The Escape Club’s more famous, larger rooms.

Today, we are doing 7th of November, a room about what seems to be about... I'm not sure, actually. Read the description and decide for yourself:

Fell behind the second time of opening the door, a fading shadow, combination, projection, reversal, numerous and endless.

The truth engraved behind the door, which is the whinny of silence. Never let you go within my heart, never embrace me with your love.

The website tells me it's a "Chimera" room, although you can be assured that there are no talking dogs with long black hair.

There's no briefing, no backstory. If you're so inclined, you may wish to read a short description of the room taped to the wall outside the entry with an few lines crediting the original creator. The room itself feels a little bit like a well-used toy. You're never certain if applying too much pressure might break something, and when nothing is happening, only guesswork can determine if that's because nothing is supposed to be happening, or if it's actually because something has run out of battery and your game master was simply too distracted to inform you.

First impressions aside however, I found the experience to be mostly enjoyable. Even with disinterested staff, crumpled, unintentionally obscure clues and a frustratingly fiddly final puzzle, my friends and I were impressed by innovative use of tech and the undeniably admirable ability to stretch what was obviously a limited budget to cover a theme and preserve the design of the original room.

The Escape Club: 7th of November Summary
Difficulty: 3.5/10
Staff have informed me that this is the easiest of their six rooms. It's a great room for beginners, and with about five rooms under our belt at that point, we managed to move through it so quickly that we had a worried member of staff asking us if we'd used the backup key and what our emergency was.
Theme: 7/10
The best way to describe this room is clever. Clues had continuity, telling the story of a desperate man trapped, alone and confused, although this faltered a little when it came to the actual puzzles. Credit given where credit is due, however - whoever made this room applied genuine effort to their attempt to incorporate the props and puzzle tools with the overall theme. Unfortunately, indifference towards details break the immersion - there is no locker in the foyer for your bags; you are invited to dump your belongings on the floor of the puzzle room, and for safety reasons, you are handed an emergency key upon entry. Knowing that there is a key in an envelope just sitting in the corner of room at your disposal does curb the urgency to escape somewhat.
Staff: 4/10
I think it's safe to say that the staff at Escape Club are over-worked and have been in the business for a little too long. While polite and friendly, they do tend to be inevitably jaded, willing to cut corners and incredibly weary of providing assitance. It may explain why their hint system is a cumbersome arrangement of having to call the often unmanned front desk from your own mobile phone.
Quality and Venue: 4/10
The building is old, and there is little that within their limited budget that staff can or seem to want to do about this. Wear and tear are unavoidable consequences of having customers pass through the place, but when you've been standing and doing nothing for five whole minutes because you cannot for love of all that is good figure out what this clue is even supposed to say, then something needs to be fixed.
Overall: 6/10
Shortcomings and all, we still managed to have a lot of fun. A few puzzles in particular were memorable and continue to be some of the best examples of interesting tech that I've seen in an escape room.

What We Did
4 Players
No hints
Finished with about 30 minutes to spare.

7th of November
Players: 3-4
Duration: 50 minutes
Child-friendly? Yes
Price: Members - $18 per person Monday to Friday; $22 per person on Friday to Sunday. Non-members - $26 per person Monday to Friday; $30 per person on Friday to Sunday.
It's not difficult to become a member - you can sign up on the spot and receive instant benefits! Escape Club vouchers enabling entry at $15 per person are currently a permanent feature of Groupon, and occasionally, Scoopon.
Booking: Online, on their website. Please be aware that they do not take bookings by phone, and they require a payment of $30 as a refundable deposit. Full payments are made onsite. Do not be fooled by their listed opening hours, and do not attempt to make a booking on the same night you intend to do a room. It simply won't happen.

The Escape Club
24 Gardeners Road
Kingsford 2032

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Review: Enigma - In Memoriam

The white laboratory coat on my shoulders is warm, but that's the last thing on my mind right now. A woman is in a coma and we're stumbling through her memories in order to find her most precious one and revive her.

The last puzzle sits before us, and the result is glorious.

With a surge of emotion, we leave the room, and for hours and hours afterwards, we cannot stop talking about what is the best escape room we have ever done.

I first heard about Enigma through word of mouth - a friend of a friend was doing beta testing for one of the rooms, and it promised to be mind-blowing. After reading a Gizmodo article, I was intrigued, and as soon as Enigma opened their doors, we booked ourselves in.

To date, no escape room my friends and I have done prior to or after In Memoriam has surpassed it.

Situated in an inconspicuous corner of the CBD, Enigma is run by a team of individuals with an impressive repertoire of skills and a fierce passion for escape rooms. They are meticulous in their detail and all they do, they do with love for the sport.

They currently offer two rooms, although a third is in the works.
- In Memoriam: as a doctor, you travel though a woman's memories to wake her from a coma.
- Dr. Disaster: sneak through the secret base of a super-villian as you try to save the world from nuclear fallout.

After looking through Enigma's gorgeous website, their recommendations helped me decide what to choose: I loved Inception and I have played To the Moon. If this room was, as suggested, similar to those titles, I could add it to the list.

We are received warmly and seated around a repurposed arcade console for the standard briefing from our game master, Matt. After explaining what not to touch and the unusual locks that they use, we are garbed in white lab coats and shown... a video.

They do things differently at Enigma. Instead of reading dully from a story card, the video provides an animated and dramatic scenario, and our game master is now a nurse, prepping us for surgery. Matt immerses himself in the role, and it's hard not to play along. The result is complete investment in the story - you are a doctor trying to save a woman, and while you're still trying to find a way out, you don't want this woman to be comatose for life because of your failure.

The room itself is a flawless execution of intelligent design and remarkably elegant puzzle integration. It is logical in progression and satisfying in its conclusion. I highly recommend it to everyone. Everyone.

Enigma: In Memoriam Summary
Difficulty: 7/10
The puzzles are not heavily challenging, but do require a bit of lateral thinking. Forget about pen and paper, as you'll be dealing with lots of technology and hands-on style puzzle solving. Enigma understands the frustration of attempting an escape room that is deliberately difficult for the sake of reputation and make their puzzles fair, balanced and solvable for the focused. My group found that the room flowed wonderfully, adding to the momentum of the story and made the room very enjoyable.
Theme: 10/10
Absolutely perfect.  Every detail is carefully thought out, and I know I keep saying this, but it is so easy to get caught up in the story, forget where you are and honestly, if you're not a little emotional by the end, then you have no heart ;___; In Memoriam is the first escape room I have done where the puzzles are true to the theme of the room, and that's something to brag about -  even in the bigger escape room chains, puzzles have a tendency to deviate from the central theme, breaking immersion and tethering you to the realisation that you are merely doing a puzzle room. Enigma also utilises a tablet-based hint and reminder system. We chose to receive hints only if we asked for them, and the soft chime reminding us of our remaining time was non-invasive and didn't interrupt our chain of thought.In Memoriam manages to involve you, and when you walk out of that room, that success will become one of your precious memories.
Staff: 10/10
Friendly and endlessly hospitable, the staff of Enigma are amazing. The sheer effort and dedication that they have to the art of the escape room is evident in everything they do. From the moment you are buzzed in to the end of the session, staff members will do everything in their power to ensure that you have fun. An innovative feature of the session is the Debrief, where your game master will perform a walkthough of the room you just completed to provide pointers, explantions and handy tips for next time. If you're lucky, they'll even point out the Easter Eggs they've cleverly included in each room.
Quality and Venue: 10/10
Fresh and new, everything about Enigma feels hi-tech, sleek and modern. The lobby is a gamer's delight with Pac-Man cushions and a fully-functional arcade cabinet coffee table. Sip on some cucumber water, munch some M&Ms and set a high score before being taken to your room, where you will encounter clean, crisp walls and well-maintained puzzles.
Overall: 10/10
I can't find a single criticism to make about Enigma and In Memoriam. We immediately booked for Dr. Disaster upon leaving and can't wait to come back for their third room.

What We Did
5 players
No hints
Finished with 19 minutes and 48 seconds to spare.

In Memoriam
Players: 2-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Child-friendly? Yes, with adult supervision, although the puzzles may be a little difficult for younger players.
Price: $186 for 6 players, $165 for 5 players, $140 for 4 players, $111 for 3 players, $78 for 2 players. Be sure to follow their Facebook page and blog page for discount codes!
Booking: Simple. Book online on their website or give them a call. Payments can be made in person, and they do accept EFTPOS. Make sure you Google "enigma room".

The Enigma Room
Suite 602, Level 6
262 Pitt St
Sydney 2000