The Panic Room: CSI Mafia Murders | Review

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CSI Mafia Murders Review | A shooting has happened at the Mafia operated Bonnetti VIP Lounge! The Family has given you approximately 1 hour to investigate the crime scene uninhibited, but you’ll need to solve the case before the police arrive to brush it all under the rug!

Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~1 hour

A top-notch online murder mystery experience, where your inner detective will be tested and your enjoyment will thrive. 

Your mission – a robbery and multiple murders have occurred and “the family” wants to know who it was. It is your job to help the family (said in my best New York Italian accent) work out who did the job before the cops track them down, so you can handle them in your own special way! An old friend managed to gain access to the evidence locker at police HQ and now with it in your hands its time to track them down! 

Safe to say, we loved the story. A real true crime case, which doesn’t just tick the “you are a detective” box; its adds this brilliant twist of actually beating the cops to crack the case. It evolves brilliantly and as the evidence stacks up, so does the tension.  

The first thing to mention is the brilliant opening video. It sets the scene very well, tells the story, adds some great imagery and really gives the game its feel. Then add in the New York Italian soundtrack to your game and your atmosphere is complete. 

The puzzles within the game are also very strong – each evidence pack is a puzzle on its own however, don’t just read it as an answer to open the next lock – read a little further into it. Why? Well lets just say, in order to solve the mystery you need to have your detective hat on and not just look at things at face value. The puzzles aren’t hugely difficult on their own for more experienced gamers,  and the experience lends itself well to families with older children (I would say 10 years plus given the subject matter) and keen enthusiasts who love a who done it mystery. Likewise, getting your friends and work colleagues together over video conference software for this would be brilliant.

Another great point in this game is the quality of the evidence which vary vastly from puzzle to puzzle. Some are audio clues, others visual, others are video based. The written documentation is clear yet detailed enough to provide just the write amount of red herrings, so keep a clear head and you will be bound to succeed. If stuck some well structured clues are sat on each web page and you also have the option to reveal the answer – only use this as a last resort – everything is achievable and you’ll certainly get a much greater sense of fulfilment! 

The finale builds the game very well and pulls on all your powers of deduction from the previous puzzles to work out what has unfolded during the robbery. From your exhaustive list of suspects, who actually did it?! We really enjoyed this detective element in the story and makes the game more like an experience than just a set of online puzzles to answer and move on to the next. You can click back and forth through all the evidence once open just in case you have missed anything, but a keen eye will certainly be able to deduce the suspects as you progress through the game.  

When all is said and done, its safe to say we loved this game. Its a very well rounded, well produced online game, with stacks of strong puzzles and a great story line. A great game for enthusiasts and new comers alike, this online experience certainly put the bullet in our gun!  

CSI Mafia Murders can be purchased on The Panic Room’s website here.

Ratings

Emergency Exit: The Studies of Dr. Becker | Review

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The Studies of Dr. Becker Review | You are invited to spend an hour with the famous Dr. Becker at Boleskine Lodge Practice. He is currently with another patient and will be with you shortly. In the meantime make yourself at home and enjoy his hospitality and his study – a beautiful place decorated with his bizarre collection of strange and wonderful things. But do not dig too deeply as things are not always as they seem in this place, after all it is well known that some of his previous guests are still there after volunteering to help with his studies. Dr. Becker has a past which is questionable at best and not everyone agrees with his methods.

Completion Time: About 1 hour
Date Played: January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

What’s your favourite scary movie?

What’s everyone’s favourite thing about horror movies? Scream…Halloween.. the many, many Friday 13ths!…Yes, it’s the sequels! Everyone loves returning to that creepy place they have become so familiar with from the original film that sparked the cult following. Well, what Emergency Exit have created with ‘The Studies of Dr Becker’ feels very reminiscent of this. Dr Becker is the third part of what is now a trilogy of escape games focused around Crowley Manor, the infamous house of Aleister Crowley.

Now, you may or may not know the name Aleister Crowley. In case you don’t, he was a real English Occultist in the 20th Century, and boy did he enjoy dabbling in creepy stuff! The lore around his mysterious life is a fittingly creepy setting for a series of scary escapes. The trilogy centres around Crowley Manor where the In:Theory investigators decide to sneak in to snoop around and find out what’s going down, and unfortunately find themselves WAAAAAAY in over their heads!

We came across Emergency Exit while we were in lockdown during COVID last year when everyone was looking to virtual means to get their escape fix, and The Beast was receiving rave reviews from the escape community. We managed to convince our friends Tasha and Mairi (aka the scaredy cats) to join us for this scary adventure (after all how bad can a virtual scare be?!) and we all loved the thrill of it (despite the varying degrees of fear we experienced). Since lockdown easing, Emergency Exit have reopened their doors to in-person bookings and created the third part of the trilogy, The Studies of Dr Becker. While we were super keen to return to the Crowley Manor story, we wanted to continue the story with the team we started out with. Therefore we were excited to find out that Dr Becker has recently been made available to play online too, and got the gang back together (virtually)!

Online games work well for us as a team still as geography does not favour in-person rooms. With us in the North, and Mairi based in London, we love to still plan in a regular escape in the online world. Recently it’s been a lot of Telescape rooms, which we love. But what better way to brighten up a gloomy Friday evening that by dabbling in the occult. The hosted virtual game, played through Zoom, is really immersive and arguably offers even more than the in-person experience. Not only do you get to play the room in full, but you get the additional fun of working with the In:Theory team to solve the room.

Previously on…

Emergency Exit have put a lot into putting on a show in their rooms; hosting the game on Zoom requires 2 people who you interact with (the In:Theory team) and the story is extremely important. While each of the games are playable as a standalone, the overarching story is really cohesive and adds an extra layer of enjoyment knowing the backstory.

Previously in Crowley Manor: The In:Theory team managed to accidentally summon Surgat, Demon of Locks (very apt). Woopsie! Let’s see what happens to them next…

What happens to them next? They find themselves in Boleskine Lodge Practice, under the care of creepy Dr Becker, who is ‘treating’ them to help them forget their experiences in Crowley Manor. However, Dr Becker’s practices are…questionable….and there’s more to why he wants you to forget the demonic apparitions. Why’s that I hear you ask? Well, you’ll have to play to find out more, but let’s just say, Boleskine Lodge Practice ever so conveniently happens to be attached to Crowley Manor. That is to say, the In:Theory team STILL haven’t managed to escape Crowley Manor yet!

Lights, camera…is that someone’s BUM?

This is where you rejoin the In:Theory team as the voices inside your host’s head. Interacting with the hosts is one of our favourite parts about the Emergency Exit rooms (a bit because if any bad stuff were to happen in the room, it was happening to them and not us). But they really MAKE the experience; not only do you get to explore the room and solve puzzles, instructing your host as to what they should look at or do next, but the story is really brought into it’s own by James and Liam. James was our main host, and Liam is the dedicated cameraman. And boy is he dedicated to his role, ensuring that no matter what the occult throws his way, you always have a clear view of what’s going on around the space you’re in. And they’re funny! A bit of light relief from bantering with your hosts works really well to lighten the mood after a period of tension.

There are some pre-recorded sections which are transitioned into smoothly and which helped to accentuate the story with dramatic ‘cut scenes’. This includes an extremely dramatic conclusion to the story, which we enjoyed. While we’re sure the in-person experience is equally fun to play, we really feel like the Emergency Exit team have NAILED the online hosted escape room! The way it runs feels so reminiscent of a horror movie, but with the added element of choosing the decisions the characters make and, of course, what we all came here for in the first place- puzzle solving! For this reason, we’ve decided to award it the Immersion Badge!

The puzzles are all well-fitting with the theme and add an element of mystery, as they are well-integrated into the demonic, occultish storyline. Fear not, there is plenty to do in terms of puzzling in this room, you just also get the added bonus of a suspenseful horror movie setup!

The Verdict

We would really recommend playing The Studies of Dr Becker (and its predecessors if you haven’t yet). We are sure that an in-person visit would be equally fun but we can’t stop raving about the online hosted experience. At £20pp (for a four player team), this is a great way to spend your Friday night.

Please note that there are some creepy sections and mild gore, but these are generally not too scary so don’t let this put you off. We mentioned afterwards that we felt this was less scary than The Beast, but we enjoyed it just as much!

The Studies of Dr. Becker, either the live or remote avatar version, can be booked by heading to E-Exit’s website here.

Overboard! | Review

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Overboard! Review | Overboard! is a whodunnit where you’re the one whodunnit. You have just eight hours to cover the evidence, mislead the witnesses, frame another suspect and escape … if you can!

Developer: inkle
Console Played On: Switch
Number Of Players: 1
Touchscreen Compatible: Yes

Do you like murder mysteries? Check ✅

Do you find pre-war dramatic irony; amusing? Check ✅

Do you the tactics of dirt-flinging journalists excite you? Check ✅

Well if so, this whodunnit game might be for you.

(Overboard! is not to be confused with the 1997 PS1 Adventure game of the same name :D)

The Clock Is Ticking

July, 1935. Wealthy Malcolm Villensey’s fortune has been wiped out overnight. He and his starlet wife, Veronica, have escaped aboard the SS Hook for a new life in America—but Mrs. Villensey has other plans. And one little push is all it takes.

As Veronica, the game begins swiftly, by throwing you straight into the action. You push your husband off the SS Hook at night. You return to your cabin and wake up at 8am the next morning realising it wasn’t a dream. You have 8 hours before you arrive at New York to cover your tracks and convince the rest of the personnel on the ship that you are innocent.

No Crime Is Perfect

Finally! A game has come along where you play not as the detective of the whodunnit, but instead as the perpetrator. The core game loop involves either making decisions on either actions to take or choosing what is the best thing to say to whichever person you encounter depending on the time and where you are on the ship. There is a plethora of variables because of this, which creates a game that can be enjoyed in short-sharp bursts. You can complete the core game loop for the first time, in as quickly as 5 minutes; however the beauty lies in trying and trying again, looking for patterns to obtain a better or different ending that provides even more information for even further gameplay.

No One Is Innocent

Speaking of which, there are multiple scenarios that fall into 5 different ending types; 2 unsuccessful and 3 successful. But even if you find the most successful ending (which on its own, involves a large amount of research and playing finesse), that doesn’t necessarily mean your Overboard! journey ends there. The other characters on boat might have sordid secrets of their own that they are trying to hide(!), providing even more incentive to continue playing.

It all adds up in creating a robust package that has much, much more life to it; than initially meets the eye. The stellar script writing and character design creates a strong element of immersion and further invests the player into playing the core game loop multiple times. Many a time I was open-mouthed when I found a secret of an NPC that was juicy and scandalous.

The controls are at the base, a single action button and directional to choose where you go or what you say. It’s all it needs and it’s superb. There is touchscreen compatibility too for the Switch version, for further accessibility.

Jumping Overboard Isn’t Enough

Overboard! is priced at £11.39 on both Switch and Steam. For this I’d estimate somewhere around 20-50 plays, each clocking in between 5 and 30 minutes. Therefore, this could keep you occupied for anywhere between 2 and 10+ hours. It’s a large variance I appreciate, especially when you also consider the completionism factor, should you wish to see every scenario…or not. The game is easy to play, easy to put down, then pick back up. It also sucks you in super quickly, therefore I could very easily see many people ending up on the further end of my estimate spectrum. With all of this in mind, I’d argue that this price point is very good value for money.

For The Seasoned Starlet Or The Up-And-Coming Artist?

I can easily recommend this game to almost anyone of all playing experiences. It’s simple enough to get started with for beginner and even non-puzzler/escape room enthusiast types (the green text signposting after a first playthrough attempt, is a welcome feature), and enough underneath the surface to keep the seasoned escaper coming back for more.

Two warnings; firstly, this does have adult themes therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under 18. Secondly, whilst the learning curve is balanced and accessible from the off, to be wholly successful in Overboard!; requires a lot of attention, multiple trials and most importantly time management. Thankfully, the ability to rewind a scene or start again from the beginning if a mistake is made during a run, proves all the more how accessible Overboard! is.

Rating

In the present day, where there’s an abundance of choice, when it comes to what to play; alongside a finite amount of time and money to take a risk on a purchase. Overboard! provides a low risk option that pulls you straight in and pays dividends, the more and more it’s played. I highly recommend it for its fantastic script writing, accessibility, striking, era-appropriate visuals and innovative mechanics on a old, tired theme that are in timely need of a change. Because of all of its merits, I am hereby awarding this whodunnit the Best In Genre badge.

Buy it and enjoy the ride.

The Panic Room: CSI Deadline | Review

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CSI Deadline Review | Something strange is happening in your comfortable company. A few days ago, your boss ‘Jerry Hoskins’ died in his office. The official story: Suicide. So then why is his office now closed for investigation?

Curiosity has got the better of you. It’s decided! Time to sneak into the office to see what you can find. Was he killed by someone in the company? Or was it really just a suicide?

Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~1 Hour

The Panic Room have done it again with a brilliantly strong CSI style murder mystery, with an impressive story line and great engaging puzzles.

In terms of story, you are an employ for Gen Win Solutions – a pharmaceutical giant. Upon your arrival to work, you are advised by police that the company boss, Jerry Hoskins has sadly taken his own life in his office. Knowing Jerry better than most, you feel that this would not be possible and have your suspicions. You and your group of fellow employees take it upon yourself to investigate further, as the police feel that this is clearly an open and shut case. 

Instantly I was hooked – the CSI series of games by The Panic Room all have really strong stories and this was no different. A believable story line, which as it evolves, gives great depth and further realism. Much like all other CSI games, the opening story is easy to understand and grasp and then as the case deepens, you find yourself unravelling subtleties and niche information. 

The first point of note in this game is that it feels much smoother in terms of game play that the other CSI games (and I am a big fan of all of them!).  A new and improved password system has been a real boost to game play and the interaction with on screen documents is much smoother.

Being the music geek I am, I loved the soundtrack to this game. Certainly not as intense as the rest of the series, however packed with subtle sound effects, giving a great office ambience, coupled with some well placed background music. 

As ever, no spoilers, however I really enjoy the opening video to this game as you are met by another Gen Win employee. It plays a great balance in being able to understand the company as well as giving you some hints on how the game works – I found the actor in this very believable and it is a very cute opening touch.

I found the puzzles within this game the strongest point of all. They are well produced, neatly presented and given the “office” environment you are working in, surprisingly varied.  An added element within this game is the use of slightly more interactive images, so there are aspects of “point and click” coupled with the more traditional “here’s a set of pictures, now solve the puzzle” games. This makes you feel like you are a little more involved with this “detective” case and actually rummaging around to find evidence of what actually happened. 

That being said, there are a number of evidence items you come across throughout the game will help you solve the case! You may not think it at the time, but I would certainly suggest jotting down what you see,hear and read – much of it will come in handy later! This all adds to the detective feel of the game.  

With the above in mind, I think that, given puzzle difficulty and interactivity, this game would suit families with older children/teens as well as enthusiasts. There are certainly some trickier puzzles within this game which will get the grey matter working, however if a little stuck,  a quick click of the hint button will get you back on track. Two or three puzzles in this game were real highlights, where the innovation of creating puzzles never ceases to amaze me!

Again, this game builds nicely as you pull together all the evidence and clues to work out actually what happened to Jerry. Using your powers of deduction, gathered clues, puzzle answers, subtle hints you’ve found along the way, this is a great finale to your hard work.  

Yet again, The Panic Room have pulled it out the bag with another outstanding CSI game. Stacked with puzzles, well presented, neat soundtrack and a very nice game play flow, this one will not disappoint. Gather your friends and family for a day in the “office” you will never forget – but don’t forget to meet your Deadline!

CSI Deadline can be purchased from The Panic Room’s website here.

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive | Review

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It’s not theatre, or cinema. It’s not an escape room, theme park ride or VR game. Yes, there are pyrotechnics, projections, holograms and special effects. But this is quite different to an arena show (there are only 8-12 tickets per performance). As London’s multi-award winning, top-rated “immersive night out,” this event combines them all.

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive Experience

In an unassuming period building on Leadenhall Street, just a short walk from Bank Station and dwarfed by nearby skyscrapers, a whole new world can be discovered. This building houses Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Immersive Experience, but until you stick your head through the door and notice the enormous Martian towering over the bar, you’d never have believed it!

This live immersive experience has been in London since 2019 but thanks to the pandemic (an event not too dissimilar from the death and destruction the story itself tells), it’s been shut for most of 2020 and 2021. The moment tickets came back on sale, we re-downloaded the album and started getting ready for our very own Martian adventure.

Photo (c) Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive

What to Expect at War of the Worlds Immersive

There’s no denying that Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive is a huge experience, and bookers should be prepared to have their socks blown off over the course of the 2 hour event.

For starters, there are 24 unique scenes. Typically when reviewing escape room experiences, we mention how many unique spaces, or ‘rooms’ there are in an experience. I didn’t think I could be any more impressed after 221B’s five spaces, but The War of the World’s Immersive Experience has 24 unique spaces in it.

Players are guided through each of these 24 scenes, scattered through time and space, to tell the story of the Martian invasion of Earth. You’ll find yourself running through trenches with huge robots up above, slipping down slides, scampering across rickety bridges, entering VR areas such as on a boat or up in a hot air balloon. This thing is huge.

The Earth Under The Martians by Fluid based on originals by Peter Goodfellow, Geoff Taylor and Michael Trim

Of all the areas, the VR sequences were definitely some of the most impressive and they worked well to transport players from one area into another seamlessly. For example, at one point you sit down in a boat, don your headset, and off the boat gentle sails through London. By the time you emerge at the other end of this VR sequence (a bit wet and rather terrified), a clever lighting change gives the impression of being in an entirely different location. Quite clever, really!

According to the creators (Layered Reality) populating the immersive world they’ve created are 17 live actors too. These actors dip and out of your experience, setting the scene and guiding you along the way.

On the day we attended, it was this particular batch of actor’s final show day – and it was a lovely (albeit unexpected) treat to be joined by the bar after our experience by the actors themselves, who were absolutely fantastic.

Photo (c) Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive

Our Experience of the Apocalypse

Currently, you can only book The War of the World’s Immersive Experience in a team size that’s a multiple of 2 – so 2, or 4, or 6 etc. We went as a team of 4 on a quiet Sunday evening and were 8 other players for the show.

The show sizes are small and intimate, and it felt like the team had gone to good lengths to ensure everyone’s safety… Especially in light of the global pandemic. Masks were worn at all times and there were plenty of places along the experience to sanitise your hands, as well as regular cleaning of the equipment inbetween every group.

We weren’t sure what to expect, but what few expectations we did have were totally blown out of the water. Equal parts terrifying, and tense and thrilling, the experience jumped from scene to scene to scene in a fast paced retelling of the War of the Worlds. The story has been lovingly recreated by the Layered Reality team and stunned us from start to finish. Even now, days later, I’m still thinking about it and remembering some small detail in one of their amazingly intricately designed sets.

Was it fun? Oh yes, absolutely! It was incredible.

Was it worth the price? Well, this part is a little bit trickier to answer. The website says tickets start at £40, but we were unable to find any session in the next few months for less than £70 per person. This likely due to Christmas, and peak times – but we can’t help but compare it to escape rooms! This comes in at around double the cost of an average escape room. At this price point, it’s still absolutely worth it. So far, so good, except the experience is definitely geared towards making you spend even more. With two bars on-site that you are required to spend time in, and your team photo costing an extra £12, this puts the price more on the £100 per person range. Slightly cost prohibitive, but they have gone above and beyond making it worth the price. The verdict? Definitely worth it!

…And yes, we definitely did order a drink before to calm our nerves, and a celebratory drink afterwards… Or two… Or three!

Team The Escape Roomer about to enter The War of the Worlds Immersive

The Spirit of Man Bar & Restaurant

We’ve mentioned that there are two bars on this immersive adventure, and with both stocking a fantastic range of delicious cocktails, they’re well worth the trip! In the first, The Spirit of Man, customers are greeted by an enormous Martian towering over the tables pumping coloured steam into the dining area on a rotation times to the music.

The second bar is appropriately named The Red Weed Bar and is located at the 50% mark of your immersive experience. At this point, the Martians have truly taken over the world and those humans left are in hiding… Hiding in the sickly red world the Martians have created. Creepy!

Presently, the bar is offering it’s Christmas menu complete with themed food and cocktails. Whilst we were there we tried:

Christmas Eve of War

The Christmas Eve of War

A delicious concoction of: Dry vermouth, cointreau, disaronno, lemon juice & blackberry syrup. This comes in a martini-style glass and is decorated with blackberries and raspberries. This is one of their winter exclusive cocktails.

The Martiantini

Martiantini

Available all year round, the Martiantini contains Vodka, melon liqueur, green apple liqueur, lime, sugar & cherries.

Not into cocktails? Fear not – both menus also sport a range of regular beers, wines, and non-alcoholic beverages too.

The Verdict

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Immersive is like nothing else you can experience in London right now and I’m still humming along to the tunes and remembering small but delightful moments days later. My only real regret is not going in the first few months – oh why did I wait so long! *shakes fist at the global pandemic*

It’s a great experience for families, couples, or for a special occasion for that sci-fi fan in your life.

How soon is too soon before I can book another ticket, eh?

Tickets for Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive Experience can be purchased on their website here.

Rating

Play Dead London: The Elf Who Stole Christmas | Review

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The Elf Who Stole Christmas Review | In the run up to Christmas, Santa’s workshop is in chaos! There’s so much to do and to make matters worse… SOMEONE has stolen Santa’s Naughty and Nice List! Can you solve the mystery and work out which Elf it was?! This family friendly mystery will be great fun and a way of our detectives young and old to test their interrogation skills!

Date Played: November 2021
Time Taken: 60 minutes
Number of Players: 1 (with 12 random online strangers!)
Difficulty: Easy-Medium

Who, who, who not Ho Ho Ho!

I’ll start this review of with a bit of a disclaimer! – I have never actually played an online zoom “murder mystery” style game before, so had no idea what to expect. When I say I was blown away, I mean I really was BLOWN AWAY!

First thing to mention is the storyline; a really simple affair – someone has stolen Santa’s Naughty and Nice List. It is for you and your team of detectives to work out who did it! Now, Line of Duty this isn’t BUT it pitches perfectly at the target audience – families, work get togethers etc. You don’t want something too taxing – this storyline certainly made the whole thing massively fun!

A photo of the cast pre-lockdown!

So, “how does it work?!” I hear you cry

Simple! You and your team will each be given a specific Zoom login via email which will take you directly to Santa’s grotto in the North Pole. (Ok, well maybe not his actual grotto, but the Zoom backgrounds looked fantastic!). Here you will be joined by Detective Sleigh Bells who will assist you on your mystery!

Detective Sleigh Bells is on hand throughout the game to give you subtle hints to the identity of the culprit and provide additional evidence which has been supplied as you get into the depths of this ever-evolving mystery. The awesome actor who plays Detective Sleigh Bells certainly has a challenge on her hands in being able to manage the game, the numerous players (I believe I was playing with 12 other strangers!), plus the team of naughty elves, who are our suspects! She done an amazing job in juggling all this at the same time plus staying in character.

The Naughty Elves – I Tip My Hat To You!

Speaking of staying in character, this is where the game excels! How the ladies managed to carry this out was beyond me, however you are also joined by a team of naughty elves within your zoom call. Each has a very unique personality and specific job role within the North Pole (I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you their names, but needless to say, they are just as creative as the rest of the game!).

Evidence is mainly provided by Detective Sleigh Bells within the main forum of the game, however cleverly, the Zoom chat is then taken into breakout sessions where you have direct conversation with the elves and have the chance to really interrogate them about their whereabouts, their relationships and their roles. Each actor was phenomenal in staying wholly in character (despite my best efforts to put them off, or tell silly jokes to take them off their stride!). Even though the game is aimed on the humorous side, this hasn’t affected the depth of each individual characters back story – and their improv game was off the scale! Quick wit, on point, clearly not scripted, I tip my hat to each of these ladies in being able to make comedy characters fully believable and allow me to spend an hour just generally being silly and forgetting about the world!

There’s no need to be a Sherlock!

Of course, in spite of this being a comedic online adventure, you still do have to pay attention to what is going on! There are subtle hints here and there which you should jot down in case you need them to build up your case. You certainly don’t need to be the next Sherlock Holmes however! The evidence is quirky, including some cool audio and visual clues, the occasion sing song (which clearly I sung at the top of my lungs!), however make sure to listen closely when discussing directly with the elves. The massive benefit of playing as a large team (even though I knew no one I was playing with), is that you all build up your file of evidence and then collectively come up with your final suspect. There’s no pressure to succeed but you’ll certainly be fully invested after just five minutes of playing this game!

Sooooo much fun!

I’m often sceptical about things that portray themselves to be “humorous or hilarious” but this game certainly succeeded! I’m never the best on video chats, and despite having almost 2 years of non-stop video chats at my office, I’ve always found myself to be a little self-conscious in front of the camera – not here however! Within minutes, I was happily talking to the other players, liaising with the detective and the elves and generally having an absolutely fabulous time. At no point did I feel embarrassed and I came away from playing the game with a massive smile on my face.

Our game finale was suitably fun and we were pitched off into breakout rooms to divulge our evidence before coming all back together to present it, and acknowledge who we felt was the culprit. And between us, I’m happy to say – we succeeded!

There are very few games that I have played within the last three years of reviewing, that leave a lasting impression. This however is one of them. A proper murder-mystery style game, with a brilliant level of immersion, impressive acting, some cool tech elements with audio and visuals and generally just an overwhelming level of fun. I’d urge families, friends and work colleagues to all come together to play this game. It gave me the festive cheer I didn’t realise I was missing!

To book this experience and see what other experiences Play Dead London are running, head to Design My Night

Ratings

Down the Rabbit Hole | Review

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Down the Rabbit hole Review | Down the Rabbit Hole is a VR adventure set in Wonderland prior to Alice’s arrival. You will guide a girl who is looking for her lost pet by solving puzzles, uncovering secrets and making choices about the story along the way.

Developer: Cortopia Studios
Date Played: October 2021
Console: Oculus Quest
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 3 hours

My first encounter with Down the Rabbit Hole was, amusingly, in VRChat. VRChat is a land of absolute madness and debauchery where pretty much anyone can don their headset and be transported to an amazing land with folks from anywhere in the world. Actually, I’ve played some good escape games and made some friends there.

But one of the coolest ‘worlds’ I’ve been to in VRChat was a promotional space modelled off the intro sequence to Down the Rabbit Hole. It was so intriguing that I wasted almost no time purchasing my own copy of Down the Rabbit Hole the next time I spotted an Oculus sale.

I actually had almost no intention of reviewing the game for The Escape Roomer- you see, I didn’t even realise it was a puzzle game. But somehow the incredible, rich worlds filled with mystery just felt so right for the escape room audience. I was captivated from the very first moment to the very last, and binged the whole thing in just one day!

Oh yes, there are puzzles a-plenty!

Welcome to Wonderland…

Down the Rabbit Hole is a prequel to the story of Alice in Wonderland we all know and love. The theme is a staple of escape rooms all over the world (like this one, or this one, yep and this one, or even this one), but somehow Down the Rabbit Hole manages to make it different with the introduction of a new girl – not Alice! She descends into the rabbit hole and meets a host of wonderful (and familiar) characters before going up against the Queen of Hearts herself.

As a story, it’s fairly predictable. It’s probably quite hard to do anything other than loosely follow the source material, and that’s okay. But one big change the studio did make was casting an American voice actress for the classic British character. For some reason, this did bother me… A lot. If the game is a prequel, then this should be set in the very early 1800s and in Britain. Needlessly Disney-ified? Perhaps. But let’s move on…

Our main character falls down the rabbit hole whilst chasing her pet, but is soon joined by a ‘4 and a Half’ card who is shunned by his society. You see, the Queen of Hearts is a supremacist who believes only the whole cards are real cards. Whilst your main focus is to find your pet, by the time you descend to the very bottom of the rabbit hole you’re too embroiled in the world just to leave it as is it. Who else will help the half-cards?! Or find the missing letters?! Or help prepare for the Queen’s tea party?!

In a final note on the story, the game ends quite abruptly. There is some element of multiple choice, but largely the endings are bittersweet. You might save the day but you can’t save everyone, and even if you can are you willing to turn your back on the ‘real world’?

I’m wondering if the open-endedness of the story may lend itself to a possible sequel on the table? Well, a girl can hope!

Things are Getting Curiouser and Curiouser

So I’ve established that the story telling is okay. But let’s talk about what really makes this game shine: Environment and Puzzles!

This game is breath-taking.

No, seriously. A little louder for those in the back. This game isn’t just a pretty game it’s an absolute work of art and simply existing in this world for a few hours with your VR headset on is a privilege.

Players have two viewpoints. On the one hand, you are the camera in the middle of the rabbit hole looking at the story play out in these tiny, brightly coloured rooms lit up all around you. Using roots to pull yourself further down or pull yourself up, you can follow the story as it goes round and round in a feeling like you are the person tumbling down the hole. Look up and you’ll see the moon and the stars far above you, and look down and you’ll see the darkness stretching out forever.

On the other hand if you need to take a closer look you can switch to the perspective of the main character as she runs around each room. Especially useful for getting up close to treasure chests and opening small locks.

Frankly, I’ve never played anything quite like it, and it’s a perfect example of what wouldn’t be possible in real life but is flawless in VR. Game developers – take note! This is how a good VR game is presented!

“Six Impossible Things”

In terms of puzzles, they’re fairly straightforward making this a widely accessible game for puzzle enthusiasts of all skill level. For one, there’s a meta puzzle running throughout the whole game where a number of invitations to the royal party have gone missing. You need to collect them all. But then within each level is a number of mini-puzzles to tackle and solve before you can move on.

One of my favourite puzzle sequences was a world in which you could be flipped upside down from your partner and swap between the right-way-up and the wrong-way-up characters as you worked together to find a way through. It was a little like the classic Ibb and Obb, but made all the more brilliant for the giant teacups floating around.

Other puzzles involved painting hedges different colours, concocting a potion to make yourself shrink after accidentally trapping yourself inside a house, and may more involved finding 4 digit (or symbol) codes around the world.

The Verdict

I really enjoyed Down the Rabbit Hole – it’s not often I get to binge a VR game without the pressure of reviewing it (some irony that I did review it in the end!), and it was a lot of fun to relax into this world. The world and the immersivity in this is incomparable. Sure, I didn’t gel with the characters much – but the world itself is it’s own character and I love that.

After a discount, this game came in at about £10 which is the same as a couple of cups of coffee. Instead I got to experience one of the most impressive VR world’s ‘ve ever seen. Definitely worth it.

I’ve chosen to award this game a Diamond badge for being visually impressive, though it’s also easy to argue that this game deserves a Best in Genre badge for being a brilliant Alice in Wonderland game.

To try out Down the Rabbit hole for yourself, head to downtherabbitholegame.com

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The Panic Room: Clue Kingdom: The Forgotten City | Review

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Clue Kingdom: The Forgotten City Review | Follow the glorious quest of Aldred as he explores the harrowing streets of a forgotten city lost to time where the powerful Air element awaits. It’s time to start your adventure!

Date Played: Early 2020
Time Taken: ~1 Hour

Make no doubt about, I am a big fan of the online games presented by The Panic Room. And the Clue Kingdom series is something special. But this chapter (at point of writing) is my absolute favourite of the series thus far.

For those that haven’t checked out the series, let me set the scene… The Clue Kingdom is under the control of evil magic at The Spire. In order to regain control of the Kingdom, you follow the journey of different characters in their bid to obtain a collection of different elements Think epic “Lord of the Rings”  and you have nailed it! In this chapter, we follow the path of Aldred the Apostle in his quest to secure the air element from deep within the bowels of the Cathedral of Divinity, in the Forgotten City. Yep, you got it folks, our quest continues and the series of puzzles that lay ahead will certainly get your adrenaline buzzing and the grey matter working for sure! 

As with the other chapters in this series, The Panic Room have cleverly devised them to also be standalone games. Yes, purchase on their own if you must, however I would highly suggest buying the series, so you get that little surprise in your inbox once a month! The journey certainly unfolds when combining all chapters and for families and enthusiasts alike, having that online get together once a month to see where the adventure is taking you, is well worth it!     

Although easy to compare chapters, this review will focus solely on chapter 3. So where to begin? Well, the opening video really sets the scene for the adventure that follows. An epic, orchestral, beautifully designed and animated opening provides the senses with a shot in the arm, and gets your excitement pulsing. 

The puzzles then begin, which tend to follow the well trodden path that The Panic Room have used before – page by page puzzles, accompanied by some cool download documents along the way. A great bonus on this adventure is that there isn’t the need to read through masses of text – the start of every puzzle commences with a well scripted audio opening. 

When it comes to puzzle content, this game is packed with them, all of which stick strictly to the theme. I would suggest that this game is medium difficultly – some games kept me guessing for a while however the penny dropped in most cases. Although there are a selection of hover boxes at the foot of each page where you can get some well pitched clues, and, if your really stuck, reveal the answer. 

A huge positive in this online game, is the use of more interactive puzzles. Not only does the game include beautifully designed games (and I mean really beautifully designed), which appear throughout the game series, this chapter includes games which get the user even more involved in the surroundings of the puzzle and will need you to interact with the content in front of you (that’s me being as cryptic as possible without giving any spoilers!)

This outstandingly epic adventure builds superbly and certainly utilises the strengths already seen in the previous chapters. Accompanied with a well appointed soundtrack to download, packed with superb games and beautiful graphics, this is one that all the family will enjoy. 

Yet another brilliant example of a well-rounded online adventure, brought to you by the expertise of The Panic Room. Certainly up there with our favourites. Every chapter keeps the hunger for the next – and I’m already starving for the next one! Unlike the city, this adventure will not be forgotten!   

The Forgotten City can be purchased at The Panic Room’s website here.

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Monopoly Lifesized | Review

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Monopoly Lifesized Review | All the most well-loved elements of a classic Monopoly gameplay have been translated into an exciting 4D experience on a full-sized board that teams of players will move around, participating in challenges as they go in order to acquire properties, earning money as they pass go, go to jail, picking up a chance card and maybe getting lucky landing on free parking…?

Monopoly Lifesized is an immersive, on-your-feet version of the world’s favourite family game brand. Compete in one of a kind challenges for your chance to buy properties. Experience the thrill of trying to stage a heist in Mayfair, competing against a clock to build some of London’s iconic buildings, solving a baffling murder mystery and stepping into the world of codebreakers.

Date Played: 29th November 2021
Board Played: City

Ever intrigued by the phrase “the best of the Monopoly game but with added escape room and team challenges”, we booked ourselves in and secretly hoped we’d be thrown in jail… Just so we could spectacularly escape!

What we actually experienced when we visited Monopoly Lifesized was frankly, something unlike anything else you’ll experience in London. The creators, Hasbro Inc. and Gamepath have converted the old Paperchase HQ building on Tottenham Court Road into an enormous immersive Monopoly themed world. Spread across the multiple stories are several game boards teams of up to 24 players can take on. To call it simply a ‘team challenge’ is underselling Monopoly Lifesized – no, it’s a thrilling, past paced 4D board game experience that has literally everything. Like Monopoly, but bigger and hosted by a fleet of actors playing each of the board tokens.

Behind each of the property doors on the Monopoly board is a challenge for you and your team to take on. For this reason no two teams – even playing the same board – will have quite the same experience. The luck of the roll means that each team will land on different property pieces and tackle different challenges. For example, we managed to avoid many of the most escape room-y type games and instead found ourselves having a dance-off, playing a modern spin on guitar hero, and assembling 3D jigsaws. It was… Wild.

Image (c) Monopoly Lifesized

How does Monopoly Lifesized Work?

When we took on this ultimate Monopoly challenge as a team of 4, we picked the Thimble token to represent us and accordingly, gave our team the name Thimbley Chalamet. It felt appropriate. Our Thimble token was played by Ben, an exceptionally enigmatic and funny host who was quick on the auction round and filled with sassy comebacks towards our rivals.

The game works in a series of turns:

  • Dice Roll Turn
  • Strategy Turn

In the Dice Roll turn, two teams got to roll their dice and move around the board. Whatever properties they land on, they get to take on the challenge behind the door. If the property is unowned, it is theirs to keep, and if the property is owned, they’ll have to pay a fine. Meanwhile the other two teams got to take part in a Strategy Turn. In a Strategy turn, a Chance Card is drawn, and then teams have the opportunity to build houses, hotels, or enact special actions against their rivals.

Sounds complicated? Eh, a little bit at the start, but having a host-per-team really helped. They’ll be guiding you around the board and through the game. They’ll also be helping you out… In a manner of thinking! So be sure to be extra nice to your token.

Team Thimbley Chalamet For the Win!

Monopoly Lifesized: The Experience

When we play any experience as The Escape Roomer, we have to ask ourselves how it compared on an escape room level. The truth is, we didn’t get to experience most of the puzzle related challenges. Jail being one of the obvious ‘escape rooms’ – we were lucky enough to never land on that foreboding ‘Go to Jail’ token. Instead most of the properties we picked up were tactile, musical, and quite silly. That’s the luck of the roll!

In two of the property locations we did land on, there were some puzzle games. In one, a pure maths puzzle involving a cipher that had been reskinned to look like a hacker’s apartment. This one we complexed in around 30 seconds of the available 5 minutes. Another property involved rearranging objects on a shelf according to logic rules (X cannot be next to Y, and so on), which we solved just in the nick of tie with a little help from Thimble.

In both cases, the puzzles had more mass-market appeal, and wouldn’t necessarily challenge the hardcore enthusiast – but that’s okay. In a game like this you’re not meant to fail. You’re meant to succeed even after a couple of drinks. So it’d be a perfect game to take your Puggle (Puzzle Muggle) friends to dip their toes into.

Overall, we had an absolute blast playing the game. There was something for everyone on our team and I don’t think any one of us stopped smiling, even for a second.

I suppose you’re wondering how Team Thimbley Chalamet did?

Well… We won! 🎉

An Immersive Dining Experience at the Top Hat Bar

Situated on the ground floor of Monopoly Lifesized is the ultra immersive and really quite swanky Top Hat Restaurant and Bar. With a menu packed with Monopoly-themed meals and brightly coloured cocktails, the presence of the bar elevates the fun experience into an all night affair.

Photo (c) Monopoly Lifesized

We tried out the Top Hat’s brand new Winter Menu and enjoyed sliders of pigs in blankets, and stuffing balls dipped in gravy on skewers. In short, heaven on a plate. But, the real pièce de résistance of dining at the Top Hat has to be the cocktails. One, above all, stole the show:

The Mayfair Royal Sours

Inspired by the original ‘May Fair’ that took place in the 16th century in the now famous, affluent district of Mayfair. The ingredients include Laurent Perrier Brut Cuvée Champagne syrup, Courvoisier VSOP, Lemon, Ms. Better’s Bitters, Edible Gold, and is topped off with a £50 note made from sugar.

For me, this one cocktail encapsulated the splendour of the whole event – there’s nothing quite like earning (and spending) millions of pounds on property, destroying your rivals, then clinking glasses in the Top Hat to celebrate afterwards.

The Verdict

We had no idea what to expect when we booked in to play Monopoly Lifesized, but even if we’d gone in with high expectations, I’m pretty sure they’d have been blown out of the water. Monopoly Lifesized is all about the glitz and the glamour and the sheer budget hat’s gone into every single aspect of the game is outstanding. It’s such a high quality experience.

Of course, this does come with a big price tag: Ticket prices range from £27.50 to £35 for the Junior Board and from £59 to £74 per person on Classic, City and Luxury Boards, depending on the date and time of day you book for. Food and drink are extra, and there’s also a gift shop on site which you’ll definitely want to spend some time browsing. In all, for the full experience you’re probably looking in the region of £100+ per person.

That said, I do think it’s worth it. For a special occasion or for a teambuilding event with work *cough* if you can get the boss to pay for it, it’s absolutely not to be missed. The best part, it’s completely replayable. With many boards to choose from and so many different challenges, no two games will be the same. Mark my words, we’ll be back!

The Panic Room: Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest | Review

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Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest Review | Once upon a time, in a far off land, was the Clue Kingdom. A truly wondrous land home to many incredible secrets and tales long forgotten. For years, the Kingdom stood tall and proud, all its subjects were treated fair, and the threat of war was only heard of in stories.

However, evil lurked deep within. Avibarin, a wizard with incredible power rose from the underworld and took control of the land in one fell swoop. He retreated to The Spire, the very tallest point of Clue Kingdom and fortified his castle, ruling the land with a terrible iron fist. Soon, monsters and beasts roamed the once peaceful landscapes and its people lived in fear, waiting for a hero to emerge and save them…

Date Played: Early 2020
Time Taken: ~1 hour

Think, Lord of the Rings meets Disney’s Tangled  and you wont go far wrong with this epic online adventure! 

In respect of story line, The Enchanted Forest is the first part of a 6 part epic online escape room. Following the journey of heroes as they make their way to The Spire to defeat the evil wizard who controls the Clue Kingdom. Within In The Enchanted Forest, you follow the quest of Sir Cadogan as he explores the enchanted forest to find the Faery Village and finally the hidden temple where the earth element awaits.

Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest

Now this really is a story of epic proportions! I am a huge fan of major film franchises where good meet evils in battles, with big budgets and never ending supplies of magic, mystery and mayhem – so this escape room series hits the mark for me for sure! 

The first thing of note, is the opening video to this game. A beautifully told, animated journey to the kingdom. Now when I say animated, don’t expect some over the top “cute” Disney animation. Think more classic design, coupled with a soundtrack of huge structure which, in my eyes, plays a major role in providing atmosphere to the game. (As a musician, I get very excited by the role music plays in setting an ambience and this one smashes all others out of the park). Please – make sure you download it when prompted at the start of the game, you’ll be amazed! 

Anyway, music fan boy out of the way, moving onto the puzzles. These sit wonderfully on theme as you work your way around the Enchanted Forest. All games have an earthy feel to them and certainly pull on the theme of nature and your wonderful surroundings. The games are of medium difficulty and are all certainly achievable, if for the occasionally well placed hint, which I called on from time to time! I really enjoyed the puzzles in this one. They were certainly taxing and no walk in the park however, at no stage did I feel overwhelmed or have the sense of “I have no idea what I’m doing here!”  

I would suggest families with slightly older children would enjoy this game. Its soundtrack and animated elements will warm the coldest of hearts and the puzzles within this game are a great one to “gather the family” with – I think many hands would work really well with this game.  

As the game evolves you find yourself heading deeper into the forest in your quest to find the earth element – the puzzles seem to just keep coming which is a real plus in this game. Its a really strong start and would certainly invest me in carrying on playing the rest of the series (which The Panic Room plan on releasing monthly). As well as being great as part of a series, this is also a brilliant standalone game – however, when seeing the end of this game, you certainly get a taste of whats to come so my attention has certainly been caught! 

Its safe to say that we really enjoyed this epic adventure and if this sets the tone of whats to come over the series, I am very excited. Some great puzzles, beautiful animation and a soundtrack which captures the imagination like no other. Great fun, taxing yet achievable, I would certainly recommend this one! 

The Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest can be booked at The Panic Room’s website here.

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