Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Mazescape - The Island review

Hi all

I had learned from an escape room enthusiast Facebook group that Maze Escape Rooms had opened rooms in Sydney.  I reached out to the owners and Billy, one of the owners, invited us along to check out one of their 3 rooms, called The Island.

We checked out The Island in late July 2019.  The building is a graffiti-covered, not well sign-posted, poorly lit maze of hallways (which I really liked, but I could see some customers being a little freaked out by).  When we arrived, we met the owners and had a chat with them about their rooms and their business.  I had initially asked to try their Poseidon’s Treasure room, but it was undergoing renovations at the time that we visited.

The summary of The Island (from their website) is below:

This is your captain speaking we are now experiencing some extreme turbulence…

You hear a sudden gust of wind and your flight is forced to land on a mysterious island.  You discover a secret government operation.  What could possibly happen?

Work together to escape the wreckage but be careful on who you can trust; the government is watching.

The Island was our 124th room to date (our 81st room in Sydney).  Here is what I thought of The Island:
·         the puzzles were interesting and at times pretty tricky.  There was an interesting mix of hunt and seek fun and puzzle solving;
·         something unique to The Island is that each character is given a role to play.  Prior to commencing the room, each player is handed a passport with their background details and information about their secret objective (with each player having different objectives).  More about my thoughts on this at the end of this review;
·         the theming was pretty well done – I would describe the theming in The Island as being at about slightly above the middle of the pack these days;
·         I personally liked the room theme;
·         The Island has a mix of high and low tech puzzles.  Some of the puzzle elements were quite cheaply made (made of paper, etc) but they served their purpose well; and
·         they utilise walkie-talkies in their rooms for communications.  Although not as good as the voice of God system that is quickly becoming the industry standard, it worked well.
We enjoyed The Island.  The biggest issue for me though was the special individual objectives that each player had.  It is really difficult to properly explain what I mean by this without giving away spoilers, but I will do my best.  A real issue for secret player objectives in escape rooms is that it can be confusing, particularly where different players have competing objectives (and where other players have entirely unrelated objectives).  This was certainly the case for me with my particular objective, which was a hunt and seek objective.  Little did I know however that the item had been found (and pocketed within the first 30 seconds) by someone else in my party who had the same hunt and seek objective that I did.  The result was then me looking for something for the entire experience, whilst that item was in someone’s pocket the entire time.  Unfortunately, that does not make for a particularly engaging or fulfilling experience.

I think others in my party had the more interesting objectives, which had them secretly pocketing items and working on their own agendas (rather than as a team).  Again, all the while I had no idea what they were doing and why.
I think secret objectives can work in escape rooms where the objectives are completely separate from the primary objective of the room’s storyline.  For instance, players might compete for bragging rights for not only successfully completing the room as a team (which must always be the primary objective), but for also achieving unrelated personal objectives.  However, real problems arise when individual objectives determine potentially different endings for the entire team in an escape room.  Whilst at best you might have one player walking away understanding the storyline and the ending, you will almost certainly have other players scratching their heads wondering what the heck just occurred.  Those players are also unlikely to feel completely engaged by or immersed in the room because they were excluded from knowing the entire storyline whilst in the room.  These kinds of secret objectives do not promote collaboration or team building in rooms.  Part of the appeal of an escape room is for team members to work together and to all escape (or solve the primary room objective) as a team, thereby having a shared experience. 

As always, the best measure of a great room is whether my team enjoyed it.  The Island is a really difficult room to review on that front – whilst we really enjoyed many puzzle elements and props, the ending (and hidden objectives) really took away from the team experience and our overall enjoyment.  The player in our team who successfully completed her secret mission might have enjoyed the experience the most, but she was one of only 2 of our 4 team members who knew what was going on.  The owners took some time after the game explaining the various potential endings and each players’ objectives, which we appreciated (and was definitely necessary for us all to understand what had just happened), but I still can’t help but feel like I was robbed during the game of having the full picture and therefore from being able to affect the outcome in some way.

And to be clear, I would have the same comments above whether or not I was one of the players who understood what was going on with the relevant secret missions.  I have no doubt that the player on our team who completed her objective (thereby triggering the end of the entire room for us all) would agree with me that the secret objectives did not work well in The Island. 

I think all players need to enjoy a shared experience in an escape room, not just some of those players.  The best designed rooms require players to work together.  Secret objectives can add some extra fun, but they shouldn’t do this at the expense of the shared experience.

Where:                        207/342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills

Duration:                     60 minutes

Themes:                      3 themes

Cost:                           Price:                           $40pp (but we played at the invitation of the owners)

Overall Rating:            A nice room but let down by secret player objectives

More details:               https://www.mazescape.com.au/

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