RATING: 6 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 16:00
Gather round and join hands as we partake in a séance that’s absolutely not a sham in an attempt to conjure the spirit of the world’s most powerful illusionist. What could possibly go wrong?
Madame Daphne cordially invites you to a private séance to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini. But all is not what it seems, and when the ghost appears, things take a dramatic turn. Unravel mysteries a century in the making, and you could find yourselves doing more than escaping a room.
Our experience began well before ever stepping foot within “Madame Daphne’s Tarot Reading Room & Séance Parlor.” Days prior to our visit, a mysterious email arrived from a one Adrian Rook, Secretary to the Raven Queen. In it, he began, “Madame Daphne has longed for the day when fate would bring you to her door. It seems that day has come.” Mr. Rook’s warm hospitality was initially quite welcome, before quickly becoming almost… off-putting. There was something suspicious about his ever-present proper tone – and quite frankly no one has referred to me as “sir” so many times without adding, “you’re making a scene.”
Throughout the course of several emails to follow, Mr. Rook would make it quite clear that this was, indeed, a real séance, disregarding the fact that we had never once questioned the credibility of Madame Daphne. This almost proactively defensive tone only served to add credence to the skeptics among us. But just the same, the mystique surrounding this so-called Raven Queen was too great for us to overlook, and we soon found ourselves knocking at the terribly plain door marked with the insignia of a strange black bird escaped from its cage.
The door swung open almost of its own accord, creating a portal to a celestial parlor that was quite the juxtaposition from the stark white florescent lit halls we traversed to reach it. Small couches perched beneath countless hanging birdcages – full of everything but birds, mind you – would provide our only comfort in this already decidedly uncomfortable situation. Across from them, a very small tarot reading table, behind which sat who we could only assume to be Madame Daphne herself. Judging us. From beyond her cold, silently staring eyes. Suddenly our roles had very much reversed, for it was clearly now Madame Daphne’s turn to draw conclusions about us.
Behind her on a shelf sat three books – each inscribed with one of our first and last names on the cover, and initials down the spine. Within their pages lie our first surprise: personally prepared cocktails (or mocktails, if you prefer) served in a chilled vile to set the mood. It’s difficult not to wonder, as Madame Daphne watched us drink them without so much as a single blink of her eyes, if they really contained the ingredients they claimed to be mixed from. With our drinks also came special instructions for each person, not to be shared with the others.
Our session began with a common tarot card reading. One by one we took a seat before Madame Daphne, who stared directly into our souls while we each drew three cards. Say what you will about psychics – and certainly we too are skeptics of their abilities – but from only the cards I pulled, Madame Daphne told me that I had tried to flip a table recently. (To my defense, that restaurant the night prior had no cell signal.)
From there, it was nearly time for the main event: a private séance to attempt contact with the spirit of the greatest illusionist of all time, the legendary Harry Houdini himself. We sheepishly followed our hostess down a pitch black hallway, lit only by the flickering candelabra in her hand – an appropriate transition from the mortal realm for which we have become accustomed into that of the supposed spirits. Madame Daphne regaled us with tales of her personal connection with Houdini, to whom she claimed to be on a first name basis. She warned us of the dangers of conjuring spirits, as well as offered other mystic advice that might help us to succeed.
She then invited us one by one to enter her private séance parlor, offering us each seats around the table and instructed us all to join hands and close our eyes. What began as either attempted contact from the great beyond or common parlor tricks (we’ll leave it for you to decide) suddenly turns unmistakably real. As all hell broke loose around us, our trusted medium, made an unceremonious run for the door leaving her accent – and her guests – behind, locked in a room with a seemingly very pissed off spirit.
And now, it’s yet again up to us to save the day, without any real training in dealing with the supernatural or knowledge of how an actual séance even works.
Although split between three distinct rooms, the core of the action in The Man From Beyond occurs solely within the séance parlor we’re left trapped alone inside. But this experience is far more than a common escape room, and its multiple settings play to that perfectly.
Entering from a very plain staircase in a stark, white hallway, we find ourselves in the rich, blue Tarot Reading Room, speckled with golden stars as though to imply a magic already surrounds us. It is here that we first encounter Madame Daphne, an actor who will quickly become the main antagonist in this immersive tale we’ve become tangled within.
The adjoining hallway – as dark as the mysteries that lie ahead – serves as a hyper-themed, in-world “reading of the rules,” so to speak. Each important qualification of our impending experience is conveyed through framed portraits lit only by the flickering glow of Madame Daphne’s candelabra.
Once into the Séance Parlor, we encounter the highest attention to detail, appropriately enough as this will prove to be the space wherein the majority of our time is spent. Ornately decorated with antique furnishings – many of which are said to be recovered from the actual home of Harry Houdini himself – we find ourselves almost transported over a hundred years into history’s past. Dimly lit by wall sconces capped with electric candle sticks and a large crystal chandelier, the mood in her Séance Parlor – fraud or not – is unquestionably haunting.
Strange Bird Immersive stays true to its name (you know, the immersive part) by keeping each and every puzzle deeply rooted within the storyworld. Nothing feels out of place – and even better, almost nothing even feels like a puzzle to begin with.
Instead, this supernatural soirée leaves us to directly interact with the great beyond – manipulating prized possessions in an attempt to free the spirit of Houdini right before our very eyes. Though we walked in with no prior training in the mystical world of illusions, we left having successfully broken open unbreakable handcuffs, manipulated free a straight jacket and even escaped from Houdini’s own infamous Cabinet of Mysteries.
Every single moment of this adventure was logical, intuitive, well thought through and flowed deeper and deeper into the Houdini narrative. Our actions had clear consequence, and the sense of urgency was rich and forever apparent.
Even the clue system in The Man From Beyond fit perfectly into the storyworld. An old-timey projector aimed at a small movie screen was at our beck and call; should we need a clue, the only thing required of us was to push the button to start the projector. Once beckoned, a moving picture reel straight out of the 1920’s began to play, and its appropriately flourished “talkie slate” would serve as all the help we might need. This hint mechanism was so deeply in-theme that we found ourselves actually wanting to need a clue just for the chance to interact with it.
From the moment the door to Madame Daphne’s Tarot Reading Room & Séance Parlor mysteriously creaked open to the moment we returned to the mortal realm nearly two hours later, every single second of our experience told a story so compelling and so real that it was impossible to not become lost within it. In fact, I daresay The Man From Beyond may have an even more inspired ending than its epic beginning – but to learn just how it unfolds, you’ll need to experience its magic for yourself, firsthand.
In truth, The Man From Beyond actually has two distinct endings depending on how you play the game. To dumb it down, think “win state” and “lose state,” but know that Strange Bird Immersive is far more sophisticated than keeping it that black and white. Just know that the way you play truly impacts the outcome you receive.
Before we venture any further, let’s address the elephant in the room: it’s common knowledge that we at Escape Authority are fans of actors in games when implemented the proper way, but it’s also no secret that there are many out there who are turned off by having one in an escape room. Know now that this is simply not the case in The Man From Beyond. Strange Bird Immersive executes what is without a doubt the single best use of an actor we’ve ever seen in a game – book-ending the escape room portion but never crossing into it. What this means is that once the actor leaves, the game begins – and once the game ends, the actor returns to tie up the story. To be clear, the timed portion of the game, in its purest form, is your group alone to solve the puzzles, never hindered by an actor (mortal or deceased.) It’s unquestionably the best of both worlds – guaranteed to please all types of player.
The Man From Beyond is a fascinating hybrid attraction, seamlessly blending an escape game with immersive theater in a way that quite frankly we’ve just never seen before. It’s gameplay is clever, while its interactions are intimate, personal, emoitional and very real. In our travels we’ve been fortunate to experience many of the pinnacles of both genres – and if you share a similar luck, hear this and understand the gravity of these words: The Man From Beyond offers a more inspired form of immersive theater than that you may be expected to find in industry stalwart, Sleep No More. Make no mistake that the legendary McKittrick Hotel offers an experience like no other, but its 250 person capacity does little to connect with its esteemed guests on a level that Strange Bird Immersive is able to achieve with up to just 8 people per séance circle. The personal touch (not to mention a guaranteed intimate one-on-one interaction for someone in each group) allows The Man from Beyond to connect on a level unmatched in the immersive world, while constantly furthering its over-arcing story into an unforgettable climactic finale.
Strange Bird Immersive will be closing its doors after its final performance on July 15 – but make no mistake, this is a temporary measure. Beginning the very next day, the company will start their move to a brand new, much larger facility in the Houston market – one better suited for the level of immersive experience they offer. When they open the doors of their new location in the Fall of 2018, Madame Daphne will resume her séances with the confirmed return of The Man From Beyond.
And although Madame Daphne herself may or may not be a fraud, make no mistake that the creative geniuses behind Strange Bird Immersive are very much the real deal. In fact, they dusted off their crystal ball to give us an exclusive peek into the venue’s future – one that has multiple different immersive theater / escape game hybrid attractions in the works in addition to their original epic outing with The Man From Beyond. If you ask us, it sounds like a dream come true.
Venue: Strange Bird Immersive
Location: Houston, Texas
Number of Games: 1
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 90-120 minutes (60 minutes of which comprises the escape game portion.)
Capacity: 8 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $38 per person (4 people minimum)
**NOTE: Strange Bird Immersive will soon be moving to a new, larger, better venue. Beginning July 16, The Man From Beyond will be temporarily unavailable until Fall 2018.**
We thank Strange Bird Immersive for inviting us to play this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.