A sweet-spirited supernatural adventure redefines the preconceived notion of what a haunted house can be.
Though posted within our Reviews section, this entry will not include a Key Rating. As a team, we at Escape Authority feel the correct thing to do is disclose that I was the Creative Director of this attraction, and while I am excited to share its final results with you, our readers, I cannot officially endorse it in order to remain neutral to other games we have and will continue to review.
Originally built in 1891, the legendary Hyde House has played host to visiting dignitaries, royalty and heads of state, but at its core was the loving home of Harrison and Constance Hyde, and their sweet young daughter Isabella.
Though stories conflict, what is known of their fate centers around the sudden death of Isabella, after which Harrison and Constance were never seen again. Some believe it was an accident; others have much darker beliefs. For decades, The Hyde House sat vacant, slowly deteriorating from its elegance amid local legend of some type of curse, claiming evil spirits still haunt its halls.
The Hyde House Historical Foundation, established in 1974, was created to preserve the legacy of this once grand estate. Today, thousands of visitors tour this very spot in hopes of having their own supernatural encounter.
One group of visitors, though, is about to have an experience like no other. Left alone without their tour guide, they’ll become lost in the Hyde House, and learn what truly happened to dear, sweet little Isabella.
After a chilling supernatural encounter with Isabella’s ghostly spirit, they realize her intentions are pure, and seek out to help reunite her with her cherished doll, which she has named Emma. With their help, Isabella may have hope at last to be released from this Earthly purgatory, and finally set free her lonely soul.
The Haunting of Hyde House sets out to break the common mold, proving that not all ghost stories need to be based in horror.
To the contrary, this game was designed to be an elegant take on a much more family friendly “Scooby Doo spooky,” clearly based within the supernatural realm and unquestionably impacted more than once by haunting occurrences, yet void of any gore or true terror that might alienate a wider audience. The goal was to create a ghost story suitable for every age group; chilling enough for teens and adults yet innocent enough for children to enjoy with them.
Thanks to sweet little Isabella and her toys, the young and young at heart are able to bravely venture into this mystical world without fear, destined to walk out with their own ghost stories to share.
The Hyde House Historical Foundation sets the scene for an experience that truly stands alone among the standard “haunted house” flare. The dignified former home of the Hyde Family has become a local landmark, and has been lovingly preserved for generations, presented in its new museum-like setting perfect for guided tours. Amateur ghost hunters flock from near and far to get a peek into the old Hyde House, many in hopes of having their own chilling encounter with one of these residence’s alleged spirits.
A guided ghost tour of Hyde House begins just inside its front door, where our host shares some of the alleged secrets we’re about to discover, though it’s difficult from his tone to not recognize the clear doubt in his voice that any of this could possibly be real. Just the same, all of the house will be at our disposal – with the exception of one particular room that is to remain forever off limits.
A velvet rope and a boarded up door separate tour groups from what is alleged to be the most haunted place in Hyde House: Isabella’s bedroom.
Before getting the chance to so much as ask why, our tour is cut short when our guide receives an urgent radio call from the operations office. Promising that this should only take a minute, he leaves us alone in Hyde House. Naturally, as they often seem to in old haunted houses, the door locks behind him – keeping him out, and trapping us in.
With our cynic chaperon removed from the picture, a chill fills the air as we make our very first contact with little Isabella’s wayward spirit. Unwilling to show herself in front of our disbelieving guide, she has a clear sense that our souls are far more sympathetic. Tension turns to tenderness as we learn the true motives for her haunting.
Isabella has been trapped in this mortal realm longing for one thing to set her spirit free: being reunited with her cherished childhood doll, Emma.
With our mission clear, Isabella invites us to play one last time before freeing her soul to the great beyond. But first, we’ll need access to her bedroom – a room not only blocked by that posh velvet rope, but locked, without a doorknob, and boarded up.
With a little help from our new phantom playmate, that problem is about to solve itself.
Isabella’s bedroom is a space frozen in time – clearly sealed off from the rest of Hyde House for decades following her untimely loss – a loss which caused Harrison and Constance far too much pain to be reminded of what once was. Boarded away from the world, Isabella’s room has faded away from its once light-hearted lavender and white color scheme, falling into an evident state of disrepair. Paint peels and plaster chips, while the ceiling struggles to support itself under the growing cracks and subsequent water damage.
Victorian-era portrait windows overlook the perpetual storm that surrounds Isabella’s existence. Between them, atop an antique dresser sits a mirror that teases glimpses from our world into the beyond.
A doll house sits empty across from her bed. Toys are neatly stacked in their proper places, including those perfectly arranged atop Isabella’s impeccably made bed. Above it, locked safely in a prominent display case sits Emma, her prized possession, and the one item that has trapped Isabella in this purgatory for so very long.
As we further explore, our pure intentions become more evident. Clearly Isabella becomes trusting of us, and she begins to reveal herself more and more – building towards finally inviting us to join her in her most secret sanctuary – her playroom.
But Isabella is no ordinary little girl, so it should come as no surprise that her playroom is anything but traditional. A secret passage transports us from the mortal realm into the darkness between worlds. At the end of this tunnel, hidden somewhere between the very walls of Hyde House itself, sits Isabella’s playroom.
A dark tunnel into a Supernatural abyss leads to the toy-filled SANCTUARY of an innocent child’s lost spirit.
Isabella’s playroom is equal parts sprightly and somber. Colorful dolls trapped in locked cases provide a perceptible paradox against the cold, grimy bricks and exposed wooden studs that line inside the walls of this space, wherever it may be.
A vintage gramophone from a time long lost shimmers in the supernatural green aura that fills the air. It’s only made all the more ominous by the aging Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone, which seems to have a spirit of its own – one that feels like it’s forever watching us, judging us.
The mood is heavy, but but the goal remains clear. Sweet Isabella is counting on us to free her spirit.
Every second spent within Hyde House exists soundly in little Isabella’s world. As such, it’s only (super)natural that each puzzle along the way would be something that hearkens back to the games we played in our own childhoods.
I truly believe that the key to creating a memorable escape game experience is ensuring that each of its puzzles are not only unique and original, but fully entrenched in the storyworld in such a way that completing them is a logical part of the over-arcing narrative being presented.
The Haunting of Hyde House does that mantra justice by giving each of its puzzles a connection to the whimsical world of childhood innocence. How often do you get to see grown adults playing hopscotch, hide and seek or musical chairs?
Step into Isabella’s playroom and you will.
Expanding on the success of the adjacent Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny, puzzles throughout The Haunting of Hyde House are original, unique and entirely in theme. They’re meant to inspire a sense of inclusion into the story rather than a feeling of “solving puzzles in a game.”
Make no mistake that we have entered Isabella’s world, and now we’re here to play with her one last time.
Ultimately these whimsical games of yesteryear deliver us the most transcendent of trophies: Isabella’s favorite doll, Emma. And it’s only with Emma in hand that Isabella is finally able to conjure her physical form a final time to collect the one worldly item she cherishes most.
The story of sweet little Isabella Hyde is destined to receive its happy ending, right before your very eyes. And it’s all thanks to your help.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to create in a short time some of the most renowned, most original and most immersive games the industry has seen. And while it will always remain difficult to pick a “favorite child,” one goal remains constant each time I sit down in front of a blank piece of paper to unlock my imagination:
It has to be different.
After playing hundreds of games myself, needless to say I’ve seen quite a lot. And while some of those games continue to leave me inspired as a designer, I do not want to create an attraction that can ever be described as “like ____.” It. Has. To. Be. Different.
The Legend of Atlantis was my twist on an Indiana Jones-flavored adventure tale through a lost world. Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny was a long over-due soirée into the world of a slapstick comedy escape game. Christmas is Canceled is an exciting mix of adventure and thrill, based on the original attraction that began as my home haunt in 2016.
And therein lies the obvious connection. Those home haunts are a result of my undying (pun intended) love of all things Halloween – so it only made sense that my next creation should truly enter the boundless realm of the supernatural. But here’s the problem – there’s a lot of haunted house games out there, so how do you make it stand out?
You make it about the emotion. You connect the audience to the character in a profound way that creates instant feelings for her.
You immerse them.
And just like that, the legend of little Isabella Hyde became more than just another ghost story. It became real. And thanks to you, it will forever have a happy ending.
Venue: Gatlin’s Escape Games
Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Number of Games: 3
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 8 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
*** It saddens me to have to add this note after what should be a happy ending, but upon my most recent visit to Gatlin’s Escape Games, I was disappointed to see the condition of The Haunting of Hyde House. In the interest of always being open and honest with you, our readers, several of the effects were not functioning as designed, and some puzzles were inexplicably changed, hindering the flow of their intended design. Among them, a generic wooden puzzle – something I would never include in a game’s design – replaced a logical in-world supernatural audio clue. Isabella’s diary, intended to be full of child-like crayon drawings that tell a clear story for another puzzle was instead turned into a book full of lengthy pages of words – some of which are written backwards ti make things all the more frustrating as they burn away precious minutes from the clock without reason. And the finale scene’s ceiling is full of Christmas lights in an apparent attempt to mimic the popular NetFlix series, Stranger Things – stepping dangerously close on someone else’s intellectual property in a way I could never endorse. The venue asked for notes following my visit – notes I was of course happy to provide to them. It is our understanding, however, that several months later, none of those notes were addressed. So, although I remain proud of the attraction I created, please understand that a visit today may not yield the intended experience. ***