Room Escape (3 stars) (not Escape the Room)

Boston doesn’t have any nearby amusement parks, but you can find an interactive team experience at Room Escape in downtown Boston! (This is a completely different business than Escape the Room.)

Along with other venues such as AmazeEscape in Arlington, Escape the Room in Boston (a different organization), and Trapology in Boston, you allow yourself locked in a room and then explore and solve puzzles to escape. It’s like an Indiana Jones adventure as you look for secrets buttons and levers, find the keys for padlocks, and get the numbers for combination locks. It’s the next generation of 5-Wits Tomb, if you remember that.

You get placed into a team of 10 people, which means that unless you have a lot of friends and co-workers, you’re going to be paired with strangers. But the game ends up instantly letting you bond. You have one hour to solve the puzzles, interacting with the manager only through a computer monitor at the wall, through which he’ll sometimes type hints to you. Room Escape will give you enough hints that you eventually can unlock the clues. To me, that is a smart idea. Why leave people unhappy? Even partial success should lead to a win of some sort, enabled by some suggestions.

I’d like to say that Events INSIDER is a labor of love, into which I’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars and never earned anything from. I have no interest in being one of those rude journalists that write spitefully and snarkily about things they don’t like. So I take zero pleasure in saying that unfortunately I cannot recommend the experience over competitors.

Their featured event starts as a time travel adventure and ends up as a pirate hunt at the end, genres that do not mix well. I was glad that there was a backstory to motivate what we were doing and why we were there, but it came out unrehearsed and not confusing. The twist at the end, instead of tying up the plot, just made it more complicated. The game is safe for children, but the puzzles are adult level, and it is supposed to be but is not educational.

Unfortunately, the venue is brand new, so they are still building up their set design and props. That would help because as of now, the venue is too clearly an office environment. This held us back from the sense of being immersed in a fantasy world, and the puzzles were also not particularly theme related. I couldn’t think why time travel pirate people would have a combination lock relating to the things I was seeing.

Perhaps it’s because in most time travel media, the magic is in the place traveled to, not the workroom. We’d love to have seen some lasers or fog. Traveling to 1980 isn’t that interesting. More importantly, there’s no human story to the intrigue. We don’t learn any names or personal backgrounds behind the puzzle. It’s like a movie that is all car chases but you don’t care about the characters. Or it’s like sitting down with a puzzle book, separate from any kind of ‘room’.

That being said, the game isn’t entirely mental. A large amount of the ‘solving’ is having ten people just trying things, fiddling with the objects, and hunting for clues. So you don’t have to be a brainiac, though having at least one brainiac in your group is important. And even though I’m a purist, someone with deep experience in live gaming, I have to say that the group I was with had a good time.

However, I am sorry to say that you can have a better time elsewhere. Room Escape is a copycat of Escape the Room, and it shows in the details that seem reproduced instead of improved upon. It feels like it was invented by a team that knows puzzles and technology, but not themes or set design or storytelling. You don’t see many amusement parks without professional set design. Room escapes need them, too.

There’s a difference between a puzzle clue that’s ‘difficult’ and a puzzle that’s just sort of disconnected and will always require a clue to be given. Interacting with the manager through a wall screen is taken from Escape the Room, and is surely a missed opportunity to have a narrator in the room and someone who could give the group hints in a way that would be less obviously handholding.

Hopefully the venue will improve! During its first month though, despite an enthusiastic attempt my the owner of Room Escape, I can only give it 3 stars, and recommend that you read my review of Escape the Room and consider it instead.