Monday, 6 February 2017

Exitus - Shutdown Review


Hi all

My team were invited by Exitus (Strike Bowling) to come and check out their new Shutdown room back when it opened in Melbourne.  We weren’t able to get down there, but I was really pleased to hear that they had opened the same room at Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park late last year. 

We have had some really mixed experiences at the Strike Bowling rooms in the past.  Some of their rooms (Forensic and Butcher’s Burrow) were really strong, well-themed rooms.  However, we weren’t fans of some of their other rooms at all and we have never had great service at any of their venues.  I have made the comment before on this blog that we always felt like the escape rooms were an “add on” to Strike’s main business of alcohol sales.  In our other experiences, we phoned for a hint and nobody picked up the phone, several times we had escaped and the game master had no idea, so we had to line up at the bar and wait our turn before telling them, etc.  The service was poor.  Oh, and there was that one time at Macquarie where the game master spoke to us like we were something she had stepped in – that experience still ranks as my absolute worst escape experience to date.

Despite our earlier experiences at Strike, my team went into this room with an open mind.  After all, this room was designed by Cubescape (rather than Exitus or Strike) and we had never before tried an Artificial Intelligence run room.  These are “next gen” rooms where each experience is different because AI is running the show – it can adapt to each team’s experience levels, provide hints where needed, etc.  It’s also a cool room theme – a company’s AI computer system has been taken offline by a disgruntled employee, so your team is deployed to get the computer back up and running…

We checked out Shutdown in early January 2017.  We were the “lite” version of our usual team (just the 3 of us).  It was a milestone room, my 50th so far.  Here’s what we thought.

On the positive side:

·        the tech in this room is cool.  The theming style reminded me very much of other Strike rooms (in that the quality of the props and general theming is really strong – they have that Hollywood set kind of feel to their props and wall/floor finishes);

·        the puzzles were also interesting and varied.  Many of the puzzles were high tech or computer based puzzles.  There were also some old-school puzzles thrown in for good measure (and a little bit of simple hunt and seek fun); and
·        some aspects of the artificial intelligence running this escape room were cool – like hints that were provided via video.


If the whole room had been at the same quality that we had experienced in the first 15 minutes, then my review would have been much more positive than it unfortunately is.  So, without further delay, here is what I didn’t like in the room:

·        there are flaws in the some of the artificial intelligence aspects of this room.  For example, at one point, we had apparently taken too long to solve a puzzle (we were busily working on other puzzles as guided by the main computer in the room) but suddenly the AI decided we had taken too long and simply released the item.  There was no guidance that we had to prioritise this particular puzzle ahead of others – rather than telling us to work on this puzzle (or giving us a hint in relation to the puzzle), the AI simply released the item and solved the puzzle for us.  This was unnecessary and annoying;

·        sounds and music can really add to the theming and immersion of a room.  However, the sounds and effects in this room were uncomfortably loud at many points (and their volume only seemed to increase throughout the experience).  Throughout this experience, there is dialogue coming from 2 difference sources – at a few points, it was impossible to hear any of the dialogue over the bangs and other loud noises;

·        one puzzle relies on UV/blacklight.  I hate UV/blacklight puzzles – my view (and it’s a widely held view amongst escape room enthusiasts) that UV/blacklight puzzles are used when game designers can’t come up with something better.  There are very few rooms where UV light would suit the theme (maybe a spy room?) but it was so out of place in this room, which prides itself on being high tech;

·        by far the biggest issue was had with this room was the game master (or more correctly, his lack of training).  We were up to the final puzzle, which we solved with about 15 minutes left on the clock and then…..nothing happened.  We got on the phone and asked the game master for some guidance.  He was very vague with his hint.  My other team members called him as well and also asked for a hint and he repeated the same vague hint verbatim.  I even told him “repeating the same words to me isn’t helping”, so he clarified and told us what we needed to do escape and he confirmed that we had the right code for the final door keypad and we should just keep trying it.  So then spent the next 8 minutes trying the code over and over again until the time ran out.  When the game master opened the door, we asked him what was going on and he said that if we try the wrong code too many times, the keypad stops working.  He then told us it was a shame we didn’t escape because we were going so well right up until the end…..

·        fast forward about a week or two, when I give Strike/Exitus my feedback on the room and a manager there gets back to me and explains that the game master had given us a bum steer.  What we thought was the final puzzle was in fact the final puzzle, which should have opened our exit door.  The instructions the game master had told us about finding a code and entering it into the keypad was completely incorrect – it’s not how you exit the room at all.

Needless to say, I was even more annoyed then than I was on the day of our escape.  The game master clearly had no clue as to how players escape the room (not only did he have inadequate training, I would bet any money he has not even tried the room himself).  This is pretty disgraceful, particularly at an outfit which charges up to $165 for this room, which I think makes it about the most expensive room in Sydney (given it’s only a 50 minute experience).    

My feedback to the relevant Strike/Exitus managers was simple – until they get back to basics and have a properly trained, dedicated game master watching players and guiding them through a room, they will continue to provide a lower quality product than the product on offer from many of their competitors.

If you read through escape room Facebook groups and TripAdvisor reviews on Strike/Exitus, there is a clear theme that customers are not happy with the poor level of service that they are consistently receiving from this business.  Strike/Exitus recently changed most of their rooms to use QR codes for hints (where you scan a code in the room and you are given an automatic clue, which is sometimes helpful and sometimes not).  The approach they should have instead taken was to increase the game master interaction with players, rather than effectively removing any interaction entirely.

These guys don’t do the simple things well – until they do, I do not consider them to be a real escape room outfit.  One positive thing I will say is that since trying Shutdown, I have been in contact with 2 managers who have been open to receiving my feedback.  Whether or not they implement changes and listen to their customers remains to be seen…

Where:                   Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park

Duration:               50 minutes

Themes:                 
3 different themes

Cost:                       
$41.25 each (4 players) (We played at the invitation of Exitus)


Overall Rating:      Really frustrating and disappointing – their service is still lacking

More details:        
 http://www.strikebowling.com.au/exitus

3 comments:

  1. Oh Scott, what a terrible experience!
    It seems like any escape room relating to Strike Bowling is just a big no-no. If I was in your shoes, I would've stopped giving them a chance after the Macquarie debacle.

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    1. Hey K

      I had really hoped that Strike had improved their game, but it doesn't look like it. It's a shame too - there are various aspects of the room that are really nicely done, but the experienced was again ruined by a game master (and a technical glitch).

      Scott

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  2. I'm glad that at least 2 managers called you,with new escape rooms popping up,people will figure out which ones are good or not

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