|Game experience: ENTERTAINING|
|The very sophisticated decors.
The Indiana Jones-like mechanisms.
|The abysmal hosting.
Many malfunctioning elements.
The uncalibrated difficulty.
“When you booked your vacation to see the great pyramids, you thought it would be more interesting. But as your tour guide drones on and on about different types of ancient pottery and myths, you decide you could have much more fun if you were exploring on your own.
When no one is looking you quietly slip away from the group and make your way down a dark passage marked “Unmapped Area. Do Not Enter!”.
After a bit of exploring you walk into a small dark room and SUDDENLY a stone door closes behind you! You realize, all too late, that you are trapped! You look around the room and to your horror you see the remains of other “explorers” and realize that you have walked right into an ancient Egyptian trap! Can you uncover the mysteries of the pyramid and escape before time runs out? Or will this tomb become your final resting place?” [text: 13th Gate]
Before starting this blog, I had been thinking a long time to find a simple rating system that would separate the intrinsic qualities of an escape room from the human interventions that can significantly improve or worsen the experience. Tomb of Anubis from X-Cape at Action 500 definitely confirmed to me that this distinction is essential. If I wanted to summarize my game experience by a title, it would be: “the (very very) good, the not-bad, and the ugly”.
The “(very very) good” is the intrinsic immersion of the room. The decors are incredibly convincing, and everything is set up to put you in Indiana Jones’ shoes. The room feature after about 10-15 minutes a “Wahoo effect” that left me flabbergasted. The sound immersion is also very elaborate throughout the adventure. For sure, the immersion was not perfect: you can see in the ceiling an industrial network of pipes, and the room centrally features a booklet that feels a bit cheap. But those are details: intrinsically (and as you will see, this qualifier is very important!), the room is a model of immersion.
Let’s come now to the “not-bad”: the puzzles. On the plus side, the puzzles use very sophisticated triggers that make the room really magic and fit perfectly with the Egyptian adventure theme. No code padlock here, only really fun and varied manipulations! You will need to use your body and your senses like a real adventurer. On the minus side, most (if not all) puzzles required the use of the above-mentioned booklet. There were two such booklets for the five of us, but this was still not enough – it was difficult for everyone in the group to read it when needed, and it is generally a bad idea to use a prop of such nature. Finally, there are many puzzles – too many! As a matter of fact, after a couple of months of existence, the escape rate so far remains a staggering 0%. Yes, you read it right, nobody managed yet to escape this room in time! This obviously shows a problem in the general room design. That being said, the sophistication of puzzle mechanisms and their appropriateness to the theme was remarkable.
And finally, we arrive to the “ugly”: the hosting. Unfortunately, the fantastic features of the room are largely spoiled by the calamitous management of the venue. There are so many problems that I’m not sure where to start, so let’s proceed chronologically. As we entered into the very large venue, we could see several employees chatting together instead of taking care of the many disoriented customers. A single overwhelmed employee was behind the computer doing her best to register all those people for the different activities that the venue has to offer – which include, on top of escape games, karting and laser tag. We were asked to arrive 30 minutes before the start of our adventure, but all this time is used for completing some needlessly complicated registration, in a totally disorganized fashion. Finally, when our time came, the gamemaster explained to us apathetically in the noisy hall the rules and scenario. We could chose to put our stuff either into 1$-lockers, or on the sandy floor of the room (why can’t they put a thematic chest or box in the room, like so many escape venues do?). The gamemaster entered with us into the room to give us additional instructions, which was in blatant contradiction with the story he told us (our group was supposed to be isolated and trapped, remember?), destroying the little remaining immersion. He said he would give us three lamps, but we eventually got only two, and he had to enter the room after 20 minutes to exchange one of them that had no battery anymore, and bring a third one.
During the game, two puzzles were dysfunctioning, and the gamemaster had to enter the room a third time to fix one of them (the precious minutes that we lost because of all those problems were not given back to us). In the last room, two objects were not useful anymore because an element had been broken, but they had not been removed, acting as needless red herrings. Finally, when our time was over, we had to insist that the gamemaster would show us the last puzzles that we could not solve, where the vast majority of escape venues spontaneously offer such a debriefing. The problem was that the next group was scheduled 10 minutes later, which is totally insane – many venues plan 60 minutes between two groups to provide an adequate debriefing and be sure to reset correctly the room, and I would say that 30 minutes is an absolute minimum. Finally, no group picture was taken. Except for the friendly receptionist I mentioned earlier, nobody at Action 500 seemed to have any real interest for escape games – the venue looked more like a collection of fashionable activities (laser game, karting and escape game) that were gathered here in an indigestible mix to make as much money as possible.
Tomb of Anubis has been bought to 13th Gate, an escape game venue in Baton Rouge (Lousiana, USA) often mentioned by escape game enthusiasts as the best in the US, if not in the world. It seems that X-Cape/Action 500 thought that they could buy this game like an object, and that it would spontaneously become as awesome as it is in its birthplace. However, an escape game is not only a collection of decors, items and electro-magnet triggers – even very sophisticated ones. You need to infuse a room with a soul, by having a team of passionate managers and gamemasters that are dedicated to provide the best experience to their customers – something that is totally absent in X-Cape/Action 500.
Despite all those serious shortcomings, the intrinsic qualities of the room were so high that it remained a positive experience for me overall – but some members of my team described it as their worst escape experience ever, even when compared with far less sophisticated rooms. Many other people related similar problems on dedicated escape game forums, and were very frustrated by their experience. I hope that X-Cape and Action 500 will eventually realize the significance of those problems and take actions to change this escape game into what it should be, namely one of the most awesome escape experience. Currently, this is unfortunately the biggest waste I’ve seen in the escape world.
Game played in October 2018 (photos: 13th gate)