Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Xcape Sydney - Review of Casino Royal

Hi there

Casino Royal was the third room we tried at Xcape during a single day when we tried 5 of their rooms back to back in December 2017.

The room summary for Casino Royal is as follows, taken from Xcape's website:

Does the word prodigy define you?  Do you seek to challenge the house against all odds?  Have a skill set unmatched by others?  If that is you, then prepare yourself for the ultimate casino royal challenge.  Armed with a full arsenal of state of the art equipment, you will take on the rol of a master in trickery and deception in a quest to unveil the secret within the Casino Royal and obtain the legendary heart of Cirilla.  

We were a 3 person team.  Casino Royal requires 4 players, so again Max from Xcape came along with us for the ride (a silent fourth player).  Casino Royal was our 68th room in Australia (and our 55th room in Sydney). 

So, here's what I thought of Casino Royal at Xcape:
  • this was a fun room.  Each player takes on a different role as part of the mission to break into the casino and to find and remove the prized necklace.  There were some really fun (and funny) moments, particularly at the beginning of the escape;
  • each player has a special "skill" that comes in use at some point during the escape.  Players are equipped with a "smart phone" that is used to provide clues and to use each players' special skill.  I thought this was a really interesting idea (and something that I have not seen done before);
  • again, the production quality of the room is quite strong.  I think the theming is not quite at the same level as the other Xcape rooms, but it is still strong;
  • there is some well-concealed high tech.  One of the puzzles in particular is quite cool tech that requires all players to work together.  This was my favourite puzzle in the room.

There were a few things in Xcape's Casino Royal room that I think could be improved:
  • there was one puzzle that I did not like.  I can't go into too much detail without giving spoilers, but it relates to a dice game.  The instructions didn't make sense and the solution therefore didn't make much sense to us.  In hindsight, we understood the logic behind the puzzle but it was not strong;
  • there is another puzzle, which relates to blackjack, which has a number of possible solutions.  I agree with the solution, but it is not the only solution and it does require a little guessing to get there.  We discussed with the owner that by slightly changing the puzzle, this issue could easily be resolved;
  • we had one tech issue with this room (where one of the mechanisms didn't work straight away) - but this was brief;
  • I think the room is quite expensive at $50 per person on a weekend or evening.  The average price for an escape room in Sydney is around $40 per person (assuming a team of 4 players), so I think $50 is quite steep.  

Overall, I think this is one of Xcape's best 2 rooms.  

Each player having a different role is fun.  The idea of using smart phones for each player to communicate and the use of special player-specific skills is really unique.  There is a nice amount of tech in this room (and it's well concealed).  

I personally don't particularly like casinos as a room theme (it doesn't do much for me and it is probably the least appealing to me of each of the room themes at Xcape).  That being said, I enjoyed myself and had fun in this room.  I think with some tweaks to a couple of puzzles, this could be a solid room.  

Where:                   18 Queen Street, Chippendale 

Duration:               60 minutes

6 currently

$40pp (or $50pp on weekends/evenings) (but we played at the kind invitation of Xcape)

Overall Rating:      A fun room with some nice tech and a different approach

More details:          http://www.xcapes.com.au/

Xcape Sydney - Review of Artificial Intelligence

Hi there

Artificial Intelligence was the second room we tried at Xcape during a single day when we tried 5 of their rooms back to back in December 2017.

The room summary for Artificial Intelligence is as follows, taken from Xcape's website:

In a world where computers and artificial intelligence have become inseparable parts of our lives, where do we draw the line?  You operate a company specialising in computerised technology, making humanoid robots and programs to replace humanity.  A miscalculation in your company's programming system has allowed the computerised humanoid robots to self develop and defy orders, which leads to chaos beginning with the lockdown of your company building.  Can you and the remaining survivors of your company escape the building and outsmart the program which you built?

My initial thoughts on reading this room summary was that this sounded a lot like the movie I, Robot (and I was right).  

We were a 3 person team.  Artificial Intelligence requires 4 players, so Max from Xcape came along with us for the ride (a silent fourth player).  Artificial Intelligence was our 67th room in Australia (and our 54th room in Sydney). 

So, here's what I thought of Artificial Intelligence at Xcape:
  • the production quality of the room is very strong.  The room theme is futuristic and high tech and the props and theming does that theme justice.  Xcape have clearly spent a lot of money on the production value of each room;  
  • every puzzle in this room is high tech - there are no padlocks or keyed locks of any kind to be seen.  I often say that many designers use high tech for the sake of high tech (even when it does not suit a theme at all) - however, the tech in this room is well concealed and in any event, perfectly suits the room theme;
  • some of the tech in this room is new to Australia (at least as far as I am aware).  It's hard to go into too much detail on the particular puzzles without giving spoilers, but one of the puzzles in particular was really high tech, really fun and I thought perfectly suited this theme - and it just happened to be something I had never before seen in an escape room (note though that my team did not enjoy this puzzle as much as I did - see my comments below in that regard).
There were a few things in Xcape's Artificial Intelligence room that I think need to be improved though:
  • there are a couple of puzzles that I think are just too difficult for most players to solve.  One puzzle that comes to mind is set in an elevator at the very start of the escape - the clue was so subtle that we missed it several times and needed help to start.  When we were given the solution, we weren't "wow"ed;
  • one puzzle in particular requires, in my view, external knowledge (or at least a very good understanding of binary).  Luckily, one of my team members had that knowledge but I can imagine that teams without that skill would never solve this puzzle.  Another aspect that is a problem with this puzzle is that there is far too much for players to remember (clues are given for a fleeting moment, requiring players to remember a long string of information).  We suggested to the owner that they might like to include a whiteboard and marker for teams, which hopefully they will implement;
  • there is another puzzle that requires teams to rely heavily on their memory skills.  I think this puzzle is easier to solve (eventually) than the binary puzzle, but I can see teams having difficulty with this puzzle (and it could easily become a chore).  I personally really quite enjoyed this puzzle, but my team mates did not.  We also had a lot of technical problems with this puzzle, requiring game masters to come in several times to reset the puzzle.  The owner told me that they would fix this though before the rooms are open to the general public;
  • there is a puzzle that requires external geography knowledge.  This can be solved by a process of elimination, but external knowledge (albeit reasonably commonly-held external knowledge) is relied on; 
  • I do not think that there are enough puzzles in this room for a full 60 minute escape room.  My team of 3 succeeded in significantly less than the allowed 60 minutes, so I think Artificial Intelligence needs at least 2 or 3 more puzzles;
  • I think the room is quite expensive at $50 per person on a weekend or evening.  The average price for an escape room in Sydney is around $40 per person (assuming a team of 4 players), so I think $50 is quite steep.  

Artificial Intelligence is a room that is very high tech with a lot of money having gone into the production and set design.  Despite this, the level of immersion is not as high as it could be.  There are also some issues with puzzles that could be improved quite easily by the inclusion of a whiteboard and marker.  Hopefully the technical issues we had during beta testing are resolved now that the rooms are open to the public.

Where:                   18 Queen Street, Chippendale 

Duration:               60 minutes

6 currently

$40pp (or $50pp on weekends/evenings) (but we played at the kind invitation of Xcape)

Overall Rating:      Suited to players favouring high tech over strong, immersive puzzle design

More details:          http://www.xcapes.com.au/

Friday, 5 January 2018

Xcape Sydney - Review of Akame Room

Hi there

Happy New Year everyone!

I recently learned about a new escape room that is opening up in January (2018) called Xcape.  They invited my team to come and try all of their rooms back to back between Christmas and New Year.  The rooms hadn't opened to the public at that stage, so we were beta testing the rooms for them.  They told us that we were the first English-speaking team to go through the rooms.  We tried 5 of their 6 rooms on the day (their Prison Break room wasn't ready for us).

The first room we tried at Xcape was Akame, which was our 66th room in Australia (and our 53rd room in Sydney). 

Akame is a 30 minute room.  It is unlike any escape room that I have tried before.  So different is it in fact that I wouldn't describe it as an escape room, but more of a jump scare room.  These kind of scary rooms are cropping up in Sydney lately - some have heaps of puzzles and some are more about the jump scares.  The purpose of this particular room is simple - it is aimed at scaring the crap out of you. 

The way it works is that in each room within Akame, you are given 2 minutes and 30 seconds to solve a single puzzle, following which the next door opens.  If you solve the puzzle early, you can move on to the next room earlier than the 2 minutes and 30 seconds time allowance, but if you don't solve the puzzle, the door opens anyway and you move on.  

The backstory to Akame is that you are a supernatural investigator trying to help a young girl (whose father sold her organs on the black market and has since died in this house) to move on to the afterlife.

According to their website, this room involves what is known in the industry as "NPCs", or "non-player characters".  So, picture an escape room employee who chases you through the rooms, jumps out at opportune moments, etc. If any of you have been to Halloween Horror Nights at any of the Universal theme parks in the States, then you'll know what I'm talking about.  It's not as scary as that, but in the same vein.   

Akame is a very large room - I think there are eleven different spaces in total to work your way through.  It's probably one of the largest escape rooms I have been to (and each room is really quite intricately themed).  There were many elements of Akame that I liked - some of the jump scares were very cleverly done (with the use of really nice high tech), there was a variety of puzzles (although we had seen all of the puzzle types before, they were varied throughout the rooms) and the quality of the theming was very strong - they have spent a lot of time and attention on the props.

But is Akame an escape room? No, not really.  About 90% of the room is focused on the jump scares and theming, with the remaining 10% focused on puzzles.  The puzzles aren't overly clear in many instances (and you get to move onto the next room whether or not you solve each puzzle within the 2 minutes and 30 seconds anyway, which means it is easy to give up and wait for the door to unlock).  We only solved about a quarter of the puzzles - some due to our not seeing what was in front of us, but most weren't really our fault.  

I would recommend this room more to those looking for a scary experience, rather than a more traditional escape room.

Where:                   18 Queen Street, Chippendale 

Duration:               30 minutes

6 currently

$23pp (or $33pp on weekends/evenings) (but we played at the kind invitation of Xcape)

Overall Rating:      A very scary room with a heap of jump scares (but not a true escape room)

More details:          http://www.xcapes.com.au/

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Scram Escape Rooms - The Doll House Review

Hi all

My usual team of 4 checked out Scram Escape Rooms' second room, The Doll House, in early December 2017.  We had previously been to Scram to try their first room, The Wizard Chambers, back when it opened around Easter 2017.  You can read my separate review of The Wizard Chambers here.

The Doll House at Scram was our 52nd room in Sydney and our 65th room in Australia.  Here’s what we liked about The Doll House:

  • they have some nice tech in the room - there are a number of electro-magnets used so that when puzzles are solved, things magically open or are revealed;  
  • I think they have a simple voice of God hint system (they did with their other room when we were there last time - I don't think we asked for any hints this time though);
  •  the start of the room is quite interesting and a little different to most (but not all) escape rooms (sorry for being cryptic but I'm trying to avoid spoilers);
  •  they have a dedicated game master watching each players’ every move, which is fantastic;
  • there are a couple of well-timed jump scares that added to the dark and scary theming of the room, as well as some gross props ;-)
  • after our escape, the game master stepped us through each puzzle in the room, which was a nice touch (particularly when certain puzzles were solved by my team members before I had even seen them);
  • it’s really impressive that the owners designed the rooms and all of the puzzles themselves.  This is no easy feat (with more and more escape room companies in Sydney opting to purchase room designs or puzzle elements).  Scram has done a great job on this front;
  • they have a great location – they are close to Westfield and the train station, which is really convenient;
  • I think this room is of an intermediate difficulty level.  We managed to break the current record - we got out in a little under 40 minutes (and to be honest, we weren't rushing like crazy, so I suspect the record won't last long).  None of the puzzles are impossibly hard – I think this room would suit newer players or players of any experience level who like a scarier theme; 
  •  there are some jump scares in this room and it is quite dark, so I wouldn't recommend it for children or immature teens.  However, on their website Scram states that they can make the room child-friendly, so that could be an option for some groups;
  •  they have recently increased their pricing to around $38 per person (for a team of 4), but this is about on par with the average cost of an escape room in Sydney.

Even though it is a strong room, I didn't enjoy this room as much as I enjoyed their Wizard Chambers room.  I think this was in part due to the fact that my team are are all Harry Potter fans, so the theme of the other room appealed to us all much more than the theme of The Doll House.  I also think the Wizard Chambers has better room flow, a larger variety of high and low tech puzzles and more interesting puzzles generally.  They had some really novel ideas and puzzle design in The Wizard Chambers, whereas the puzzles in The Doll House were not, at least in my view, as creative.  

And at the risk of sounding like an old fogie, I honestly think that The Doll House is too dark (and I mean that literally rather than figuratively).  I get that they are trying to create a scary atmosphere, but it was too dark to see what we were doing and to differentiate colours (which was necessary in solving some puzzles).  

The Doll House is a blending of an escape room and a jump scare room.  I can see (mature) teens in particular loving this

Where:                   48/2 O’Connell Street, Parramatta

Duration:               60 minutes

2 currently

$38 each (4 players)

Overall Rating:      A "dark" escape room with jump scares - best suited to adults or mature teens

More details:          http://www.scramescaperooms.com.au/