Location: Maribrynong, Melbourne
Date played: 6 October 2015
Players: 3 (Escapism recommends 2-6)
Hints: Unlimited via an iPad app (5 minute time penalty per clue; 10 minutes per answer)
Escaped: Nope. We got close, though.
Great puzzles in a beautiful room, but sound-proofing and customer service policies need a check-up.
A killer is lurking and not even detectives are safe…
You are part of a team of investigators on the trail of a serial killer. You are close to identifying him and he knows it. Can you catch him before he gets you?
Escapism‘s Forensic room is intriguing, frustrating and satisfying all in one.
Our team of intrepid investigators took on the Forensic challenge at Strike Highpoint, some four weeks or so after the bowling, laser skirmish, bar and karaoke venue opened their doors in the suburban shopping centre. And on the whole, we were impressed.
Strike run Escapism rooms at four locations across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and Forensic is on offer at all four venues. We don’t know how transferable this review will be to other Escapism venues, but at the very least the puzzles we be the same.
Overall, Forensic is a great room. Escapism give it a ‘9’ for difficulty (that may be out of 10; the lowest difficult rating is ‘7’) and it is definitely a challenging room. We were concerned about how the atmosphere would hold up, given the room is surrounded by a bar and bowling alley, and for they most part, the atmosphere was great if you can ignore the music and bowling noises. Staff were really friendly, but our only concerns came from the policies Strike have put in place (more on that later).
Of the other escape rooms we have played, the only other we’ve seen with a bar was Trapt Bar and Escape Rooms. In our first review of a Trapt room (Wonderland), we wrote that the combination of a bar and escape rooms was a genius concept: play a room, debrief with a drink. Fantastic. Strike tick the drinks box (although seemed too keen for patrons to indulge), but go a step further by bringing the new and sometimes obscure genre of escape rooms into the fold with more conventional leisure activities. Strike haven’t just jumped on the bandwagon, though: from our initial experience, Escapism is a solid performer and will leave escape room newbies wanting more.
Forensic’s puzzles are hard. There’s no avoiding that – some will leave you scratching your head, but you’ll still have a great time unravelling them.
One highlight in this room is the way the puzzles fit within the story. Assuming the role of a detective is a common sight in escape rooms (the Escape Hunt franchise is based solely on that concept), but few succeed in making the story relevant. There’s a bit of a slow start in Forensic, but as you gain momentum, so does the story. Who is the serial killer? Where do they lurk? What do they look like? The clues you solve will actually mean something in the overall story, and you actually need to use information you gather the solve the mystery rather than having the answer given to you at the same time as you gain your freedom.
The only challenge in having difficult clues is coming up with a way to prod those who get stuck via hints. Escapism have moved away from custom hints (their ‘house rules’ document still refers to a cordless phone, even though Escapism at Strike Highpoint has just opened) and adopted the same iPad app we encountered when playing Apollo Mission at Exitus (who, incidentally, Escapism have just bought out and closed). This app – called Escape Room Boss – requires players to scan a QR barcode to receive a hint, which incurs a time penalty that’s added to your final time. If that pre-written clue doesn’t help, you can outright ask for the answer, which incurs a bigger penalty. Escape rooms who use this will say it’s better for players as their experience isn’t interrupted by the outside world, but we think the app developer’s website says it all: “No more player interruptions. No more costly game master staff supervising all games. Perfect clues every time!”
The clues we got either gave us an extra place to look (but still requiring a lot of thought to finally solve) or told us what we already knew. Pre-written hints can’t adapt to those types of situations – sure, if the hint doesn’t help you can just get the answer, but wouldn’t a more specific hint be better?
Escapism have done a brilliant job of designing and fitting out Forensic – it is superb. Attention to detail is great and it certainly doesn’t feel ‘cheap’ as some rooms do.
As mentioned above, our biggest concern was how Escapism maintained the atmosphere inside the room while a bowling alley and bar kicked on around it. The verdict? Ok, but not great. They attempted to cover up those outside noises with a soundtrack of their own, which is admirable, but loud pop music, rumbling bowling balls and clashing pins still asserted themselves on our detective experience.
Final note: big thumbs up to Escapism for including disabled access to different spaces within the experience while still having fun transitions, but the mid-room step down immediately before this might make it a bit redundant.
Our game master was super friendly and pleasant, as were other staff at Strike Highpoint. But things started on the wrong foot almost as soon as we arrived.
We’d finished dinner and headed over to Strike 5-10 minutes before our 7:45pm booking. We said hi to the staff at reception, who mentioned we were early – really early – for an 8:15pm start. We checked – “7:45, right?” – and were told that, yes, the booking WAS for 7:45, but we wouldn’t go into the room until 8:15pm. But don’t worry, you can get cheap drinks at the bar! Score! Well, kinda. Seems like they were really keen to funnel people through the bar. We mustn’t have looked impressed – we suggested we would have booked a different time if we knew it was for half an hour later than advertised – so he told us to grab a seat for five minutes while he got stuff ready.
Second issue: on return, he told us we needed to hand over a credit card for them to hold as security in case we broke anything, which would be returned to us once they had checked and reset the room. Given everything was prepaid (and no, this information isn’t shared when you book or in your confirmation), we didn’t have any credit cards, and even if we did, we wouldn’t have handed it over. Our game master told us nothing was ever broken, but it was the companies policy. In the end, we begrudgingly handed over a bank card as surety. We have never seen this happen before at any of the escape room venues we have visited in Australia and New Zealand. If Escapism are so concerned about being out of pocket due to props breaking, perhaps they shouldn’t expect customers to spend 30 minutes at the bar with access to cheap drinks before they play their escape rooms.
After about five minutes, we were moved to another waiting area. which we loitered at for a little while. We got our briefing, were blindfolded, then headed into the room.
The game itself was fine because, as mentioned above, Escapism use an iPad app to provide clues rather than expect their game master to do anything. Our 50 minutes expired and our game master reappeared as we were struggling with the final puzzle. He told us no-one had escaped the room since it opened, and congratulated us on our progress. We asked what they answer was, and to our surprise, his response was “I can’t tell you that”. What? It’s not like we’re going to pay to come back and play it again. We got him to explain the process of getting the final answer (he knew the concept but hadn’t done it himself) and checked how we put information together to get our suspect, so in a way he relented and helped us find what the final solution was. From an escape room player’s perspective, not walking the team through the room and debriefing them is perhaps the worst thing a game master can do.
Want another opinion? Read a review of Forensic by Escape Rooms in Sydney (Strike King Street Wharf), Sydney Escape Rooms Guide (Strike King Street Wharf), Global Hobo (Strike QV) or Hub Group (Strike QV).
Escapism is Strike Bowling’s take on the escape room genre, offering this new form of entertainment at their Watergarden (Brisbane), King Street Wharf (Sydney), Highpoint (Melbourne) and QV (Melbourne) venues. Each venue runs three of five scenarios – Da Vinci, Injustice, Butcher’s Burrow, The Garden and Forensic – with rooms on offer at a ‘per group’ basis rather than ‘per player’, providing outstanding value if you have the maximum of six to split costs with.