Escape Authority

In-Depth Escape Room Reviews

Review: Black Site

0 Key

RATING: 0 Keys         RESULT: Walked Out          REMAINING: 

Several hundred different games played; only the SECOND ever bad enough to merit walking out without finishing. That’s a pretty profound sample set.

Story

As known spies for the Russian FSB, you have been apprehended by the CIA and are being interrogated in an unacknowledged location, a Black Site. The CIA caught you red-handed monitoring the activity of several CIA agents. Your notes, journal entries, and actions are all part of the investigation. Luckily, you’ve encrypted your documents, and the CIA is having a difficult time decrypting them. Your team has been monitoring your captors and have found a weakness: a 60-minute window in which the guards change shifts, and you’ve chosen this opportunity to escape. Your FSB handler is on the outside and ready to aid you in your extrication. Escape the restraints, decrypt your notes, and escape the CIA Black Site.

We’ve said a number of times that the over-used cliché of “you have just 60 minutes to…” is a tiresome crutch in the design of a game. There’s honestly only one thing worse – the ridiculous trope of “The guards have a 60 minute shift change and/or lunch break.”

I think it’s high time that we state the obvious — if you as a venue are not creative enough to write a compelling / interesting / believable story — then you need to hire a creative professional to fill that gap for you. Not everyone is good at everything; I could never fix your car if the engine died, or design a rocketship capable of piercing outer space. Everyone has a skill set they shine in. If yours isn’t creative writing, or game design – please quit pretending and add someone with that ability to your team. There’s no shame in that. It’s just smart business.

But to continue to masquerade  as a creative director when you have no creative common sense will only make even the most novice of players recognize the glaring weaknesses that you either cannot see or cannot accept. To suggest that only you or I – the diehard fans of the genre would notice these things is just completely false. Even the newest of players can tell you the difference between a compelling story and a lazy one.

Obviously it goes without saying, but Black Site is the poster child for “the latter.”

Scenic

Black Site is comprised of two square box office rooms, with literally no scenic or decor of any sort. Teams are split between the two rooms – and at no point do they reconnect in the game.

When I tell you this room has nothing in it, I’m literally not exaggerating. Walls painted black to shoulder height then left white the remainder of the way up to the ceiling implying that perhaps they did not have a ladder available when quote “theming” the room. A desk sits in the middle of the space, and a filing cabinet is in the corner.

That’s. It.

Are we having fun yet?

Puzzles

For all intents and purposes, this game essentially has no puzzles. Black Site is full of more tedious homework worksheets and open book tests than we’ve ever encountered in any game before it.

There’s simply nothing fun about this game. I mean, I suppose if one were truly a Russian spy caught by the CIA, the experience wouldn’t be fun – so on that level, perhaps Make A Break Escape….. succeeded? But from the perspective of an escape game, it’s simply one of the worst we’ve *ever* seen, and on some levels, it actually is *the* worst.

Here’s the thing – we never thought we’d find something worse than Key Quest – the venue who at the time was the only game we ever even considered walking out of because the quality was so low. But there’s a big difference between Key Quest and Make A Break Escape — the former is a laser tag venue who truly doesn’t know anything about the escape game industry – so on that level, you can almost give them a pass. Puzzles there were convoluted logic leaps, but they were at least *puzzles.* Make A Break Escape gets no such pass. They are an escape game venue only, meaning if they don’t know how to structure an escape game, they have no business being *in business.* And worse, Black Site’s puzzles were the literal definition of homework.

Imagine if I told you one of a game’s puzzles centered around the seven wonders of the world, and to achieve it (by which we mean find a four digit number code for yet another lock) you have to quite literally take an open book full page test about the history of those seven wonders – from when they were discovered, to their statics, features, little known facts, etc.. But don’t worry if you don’t know about the seven wonders on your own — after all this IS an open book test, and you have pages upon full pages of reading material you can sit down and sift through to find the answers.

It’s literally the type of scenario you might expect to encounter in a high school history class – but without a doubt not ever in an Escape Game.

Well folks, that’s literally a “puzzle” in Black Site. And the sad truth is it’s only *one* of the several worksheets and pop quizzes that sat in front of us waiting to be solved.

Overall

After “successfully” escaping Pirate Plunder, we truly believed there was no where Make A Break Escape could go but up. I mean, how could it get any worse than that last game, right? We were ready to jump right into Black Site with an open mind. I firmly believe that each game should stand on its own – which is why we review them that way here on Escape Authority. Plus, being a newer game gave hope that Black Site will be improved gameplay from the original. I was intrigued by the concept of the two of us playing separately the entire time, and as such I was actually more excited for Black Site than I was for Pirate Plunder, even before seeing what a miss that game turned out to be.

Out of respect, I reached out directly to the venue’s owner to let her know that we just walked out of the second game. I felt the appropriate thing was for her to hear it from us first. I also offered quite a bit of detailed feedback regarding both Pirate Plunder and Black Site – not just what was wrong, but why it was wrong and possible ways to correct it in an attempt to create a more solid product for future guests. Unfortunately, in return I was told that the problem was not the games, but actually the fact that I did not “put my whole-hearted effort” into playing them. Further blame was put on us for not having “the suitable number of players.” The owner went on to tell me that in the case of Black Site, it’s actually their “most exciting game” and implied that it requires a level of thought that perhaps I just wasn’t capable of. At no point where any of the design flaws I brought attention to acknowledged or accepted.

I recognize that sometimes it’s difficult to judge oneself fairly, and by that I mean no disrespect on a personal level. I’m simply speaking as someone who had at the time already personally played some 300 different games myself, and as someone who had at the time already earned 13 years of attraction design experience under my belt. Black Site was not an exciting game. Black Site was barely even a game to begin with. To state that my opinion stems from us not having the “suitable” number of players is openly false. Two or four or six or eight would change nothing about the fact that the game essentially takes homework worksheets and tries to pass them off as “puzzles.” Right from the start the game was very dry. But it was when I reached that open book test on the seven wonders of the world, and the subsequent multiple pages which might as well have been from a high school text book defining them that I simply was not interested in continuing. That isn’t a puzzle. It’s literally homework. There’s no reasonable justification to think a person would have fun searching through pages of information to answer subsequent additional pages of pop quiz questions. That’s. Not. A. Puzzle.

It’s never a good approach to attempt to insult my intelligence or my experience by implying that my opinion of Black Site stems from not giving it “a whole-hearted effort,” or that I “did not have the appropriate number of people,” yet that was precisely the approach taken by the venue’s owner. Neither are true markings of the problems with that game – especially not “my effort.” I walked in with an open mind, hopeful that I would find something better than Pirate Plunder to talk about. I walked out – literally  – with the realization that it was actually a step backward.

I feel a bit like a broken record, but I really need to drive this point home: At the time I’d played nearly 300 games. I’ve walked out of only two. Black Site was one of them. This is going to come across as harsh, but it needs to be said to establish the gravity here – there are only two games I’ve ever encountered anywhere that were bad enough to have prompted me to leave without even trying to finish – and Black Site was one of them. That’s a very large sample set when it comes to this sort of attraction, and as such it simply cannot be dismissed or disregarded.

Unrelated to the gameplay, it also needs to be mentioned that  in the preshow videos there was talk of *selling* extra clues to players. What is that about? That’s not a good strategy at all. That feels like a cash grab to a player, and will really turn people off big picture. This wasn’t mentioned to us at all by the staff –but I have heard about it from two of the three readers who wrote in to me about Make A Break Escape that it was pushed upon them during their visits. In their cases, I’m told that it was made clear that you must buy your extra clues up front, and if you don’t need to use them, you do not receive a refund for them. It feels dishonest. Even if it’s not at all intended to be. And honestly it’s even worse when this tactic is conveniently left out when the invited reviewer is in the game.

At the end of the day, Make A Break Escape ranks as one of Florida’s absolute worst venues. Pirate Plunder was not a good game, and Black Site was just one of the worst out there, period. A lot of improvements need to be made to get the product on par with others in the local market. The key here is that while those improvements are *by no means impossible* to do, they need to be recognized for the flaws they are and accepted first, and then actually corrected for this venue to ever be worth a visit. It’s simply critically important to the longevity of Make A Break Escape as a brand.

I am a firm believer of forming my own opinion, which is why I walked in to the venue with an open mind. Prior to my visit no less than three completely unrelated readers reached out to me with similar experiences at Make A Break Escape, and to each of them I said thank you for sharing your thoughts – but I will see for myself in due time. There seems to be a consistent stigma forming regarding Make A Break Escape in its short existence, and as such I hope more than ever that its owner will take a step back and reassess the many problems evident at the venue in an attempt to salvage things before that reputation spreads like wildfire.

Venue Details

Venue:  Make A Break Escape

Location: Largo, Florida

Number of Games: 5

GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:

Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 6 people

Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.

Cost: $28 per person

EAR Disclaimer

We thank Make A Break Escape for inviting us to play this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.

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Make A Break Escape - Black Site
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