RATING: 3 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 5:00
Take a ride in an unmarked van to a warehouse stocked with a disjointed collection of an old video game, dated escape room puzzles, Edgar Allan Poe, a spaceship (probably) and free ice cream sandwiches for all.
Come explore the mangled heart of the Dark Raven Museum. An institution that once stood at the forefront of machine learning technology, has now fallen to chaos in the wake of an unforeseeable event.
The museum’s custodial AI, a meticulous recreation of Edgar Allan Poe himself, has become infected with a madness much like that of his namesake. He has escaped his programming, seized control of the museum technology, and taken his creators hostage.
So far all attempts to shackle the AI and restore order have ended in disaster. We are counting on you to succeed where everyone else has failed: face Poe, and restore the Dark Raven Museum to its former glory.
Warehouse 29 promises an elaborate hybrid of escape game challenges, high tech virtual reality and immersive theater interactions with multiple live actors. It’s an ambitious concept that, on paper, makes it stand out from much of its industry competition. So, does it deliver? Well, if we answered that in the first paragraph you wouldn’t have much reason to continue reading.
But no, it does not.
Let’s start at the beginning. Secret agents do not simply arrive at Warehouse 29. No – like all good detective stories, they start at a bar. Or at least, the parking lot of one, courtesy of Legend Brewery. It is here that an unmarked black van will arrive ten minutes before your experience is set to begin to usher you off to the actual venue, or, on the date of our visit, ferry you through heavy traffic (though this is certainly beyond the control of even the highly trained super-agents of Warehouse 29.) Along the journey, our driver gave us a quick briefing on our mission, and then spent the rest of the time making friendly small talk such as the standard “so, is this your first escape room” fare that did nothing to maintain the storyworld mood. (Again, to their credit, this would have been less excruciating without the traffic.)
Upon arriving at the Warehouse proper, we’re presented with the usual escape game mission of “you have just XX minutes to ___ or else!” Unfortunately that urgency is quickly hindered by just how long it takes each member of our secret agent crew to get suited up in their Virtual Reality vests and googles.
The multiple “hurry up and wait” moments are hardly Dark Raven Museum’s greatest flaw; instead that distinction goes to its seeming lack of understanding for its own identity. It goes from occult museum to some sort of monk monastery to Edgar Allan Poe to what can only be described as a spaceship? It’s not really clear. But what is clear would be the fact that none of the presented story’s Rogue-AI-Turns-Edgar-Allan-Poe is ever truly apparent once the clock starts ticking. It’s just a disjointed mess.
“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see” -Edgar Allan Poe
A quote which here was clearly misinterpreted to mean “Nothing you see is believable, and built with only half the effort.” Warehouse 29, from start to finish was an exercise in home-made minimalism. But not the kind of minimalism that is a distinct style choice; this one feels more about putting the least effort into building scenes so tickets can be sold.
Dark Raven Museum begins in a blackened space full of crates. It is here that agents suit up for the Virtual Reality portion which starts the experience. Once in the digital world, agents are likely to relive fond memories of years gone by, back when they still owned a Playstation 2. Sadly, the graphical quality has not evolved much since the apparent AI took over. Much worse, the system is incredibly finicky. Twice members of our group had to exit the first room to be re-suited because their headsets were malfunctioning. And even once we all purged forward, every member of the team reported similar experiences with repeatedly glitching video that was actually on the verge of making a few of us nauseous.
Once the VR headsets are (mercifully) removed some fifteen or so minutes into the overall experience, the remainder of Dark Raven Museum exists totally in the physical world – or, at least, as much as plywood and paint can carry it. After leaving the video game, agents find themselves in a sort of attempted world of Poe, with a clear nod to classics such as The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tell-Tale Heart. Gravel and broken slabs of stone littered on the ground attempt to give the impression of real world implications to what was encountered during the VR portion. It is here that we discover our first of several live actors.
Further on, we gain access to what can only be described as Edgar Allan Poe’s studio apartment, that is if Edgar Allan Poe was really, really poor. Plywood walls spray painted red hardly transport us to another time. The very minimal of set dressings surround a desk, bed and a few chairs giving a distinctly “budget escape game” flavor.
“But this is where things really get exciting,” Poe said sarcastically. From here we venture into another world – a literal maze of plywood and pool noodles, dimly lit and stalked by another actor, this one sporting a somewhat embarrassing store-bought Halloween costume. In bad Six Flags Fright Fest fashion, expect little more than jump-out-scream-in-your-face-run-away. This is not acting, and it’s certainly not immersive theater.
And then naturally we end up in the grand finale, a pièce de résistance that feels much more like “Dollar Store Spaceship” than anything else. More plywood walls, foil bubble wrap accents (because futuristic) and, for good measure, a glowing tube in the center of the room that doesn’t actually serve any purpose.
Beginning in the very glitchy VR world of Dark Raven Museum, it should come as no surprise that the puzzles were fickle and at times difficult to make work, even though we immediately understood what we were expected to do. Aligning ourselves in specific spots is quite difficult when the game footage is jumping all over the place in our headsets.
Once into the physical game, things flow much more smoothly, but don’t expect any puzzles that will truly “wow” even a moderately experienced player. Much of Dark Raven Museum’s gameplay feels dated – like it came out of an escape room designed years ago and was not adapted to today’s tech-driven possibilities. This is especially a problem in a game that is, at its core, a story about advanced technology.
And then there’s the actors who, while not a “puzzle” per say, truly add nothing to the overall experience. For example, while agents work on tasks within the maze, they’re “stalked” by monsters – and even given guns to fight them off. A neat touch on paper – but when you consider the fact that these monsters have zero consequences, it’s difficult to take them seriously, making the guns nothing more than an exercise in futility. If you aren’t simply frightened by their appearance, there’s literally nothing else they can do to you. They don’t kidnap you. They don’t hinder you. They don’t incur any type of penalty. They just hiss or scream and then run away. Simply put, they add absolutely nothing to the gameplay.
The grand finale, which should by nature of this narrative be a tech driven extravaganza that really delivers a “wow” to send players home is, instead, more out-dated escape game fare of codes and numbers.
At the end of the day, Warehouse 29 does a lot of different things – but the problem is it doesn’t do any one of them particularly well. And this unfortunately is not one of those theatrical games where the sum of its parts come together to form a greater whole. From start to finish, Warehouse 29 is just awkward.
Dark Raven Museum isn’t a bad game – but it’s also not a great one. We’ll always appreciate a venue that tries to think outside the box – but clearly in the case of Warehouse 29, the team from Ravenchase Adventures (who are behind this project) bit off far more than they could chew, resulting in a flawed, temporary-feeling product that was just far too ambitious for their own skill sets.
Warehouse 29 could have been something truly unique – sitting among very limited company as one of the only attractions that attempts to blend escape game puzzles with the cinematics of immersive theater. Unfortunately they simply could not manage to pull it off to the level we’ve seen exhibited by other venues, leaving us feeling deflated and devoid of emotion by the time its 75 minutes were up. But at least it ends with all you can eat ice cream sandwiches.
Venue: Warehouse 29
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Number of Games: 1
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 75 minutes
Capacity: 8 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $30 per person (A minimum of three people are required to play.)
We thank Warehouse 29 for inviting us to play this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.