RATING: 5 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 12:31
There are some who believe our country was built on the backs of nefarious secret societies. Well it’s time we show our patriotism by stealing their mascot.
From their start, Escape Artists set out to link each of their games into one over-arcing storyworld, though what resulted were more subtle easter eggs hidden throughout them. With Secret Society, they return to that vision, establishing what truly is their first sequel game.
Secret Society picks up immediately where The Rest Easy Motel left off. Trapped and captured by the sinister Motel manger, your unconscious body is carted off to a dank prison cell in the Secret Society’s equally secret headquarters. It is here that you await various experimentations to determine if you’re worthy to become a new member, or be killed. You know. Secret society stuff.
It’s important to note for first time players that Secret Society, as a game, does stand on its own. You do not need to play The Rest Easy Motel first in order to understand what’s happening in their newest game, although playing them back to back will obviously enhance the story overall.
In truth, the connection itself feels almost a bit forced. While watching the pre-show video prior to playing, there was a moment where I actually wondered if our gamemaster had perhaps pressed the wrong button – because the video was *so* Rest Easy Motel themed that it seemed like it must have been intended for the other game. Even the website’s [limited] backstory is far more about The Rest Easy Motel than the actual game we’re here to play. “Theme, tagline and titles for the other game, so secret society” is essentially the backstory we are asked to accept.
This reliance on a somewhat unrelated game is an unfortunate crutch for a tale that, if given the chance to be told on its own, is strong and full of mystery and unexpected twists along the way. Stripping away the forced notion of a sequel, Secret Society takes us into a truly nefarious world where an evil Big Brother-type organization has their fingers deep in all facets of society. Kidnappings, human experiments and naturally a little bit of the supernatural tie together an experience that’s a little bit horror, a little bit mystery, a little bit Indiana Jones and – the biggest (and perhaps best) surprise of all, a lot of comedic relief. What results – intended sequel or not – is an adventure that stands on its own as the most refreshingly unique story Escape Artists has to tell.
Secret Society is a bit of a hodgepodge of different scenes, but comes together in a way where they still have a certain logical flow to them that makes them work. Starting in a bunker-like jail cell, we find ourselves trapped with a very unlucky [and very plastic] former captor, instantly creating a sense of urgency that we need to get ourselves out of here before it’s too late [perhaps to find them a more realistic skeleton.]
From there we find ourselves in a very small medical office-type space, clearly implied to be where our kidnappers would seek to examine us, if, you know, we weren’t so awesome at escaping captivity. Its small, sterile walls hold few secrets beyond a stool, a small table and a wall-mounted clipboard, but given the context this actually makes sense.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: What self-respecting Secret Society wouldn’t have an electro-shock treatment chamber? Well don’t you worry – it’s here! And it’s appropriately hidden in a basement, under a staircase to the outside world – close enough to give you hope that someone might hear your cries for help – but far enough away that no rescue will ever come.
Escape Artists makes use of some of their best hidden passages to date, masking the entrance to The Grey Skull Society’s sacred ceremonial chamber. It’s here that Secret Society takes a decidedly Indiana Jones-flavored turn (and while on paper that may seem a bit too wacky, in execution it actually works really well!) A large stone idol, ominously flickering candles and ample amounts of cobwebs set the scene for an exciting finale.
Secret Society shines brightest with its puzzles. A healthy mix of keys and codes with a little bit of tech, the steps through this journey feel decidedly more adventure-based than just completing another task. Many are clever and fresh, and some even inject a bit of light-hearted fun that sets a memorable tone.
Adding to the story-realism, the style of puzzles really do evolve the further you venture through the Grey Skull Society’s compound. Inside the cell, the mood is all about escaping. In the shock treatment chamber, however, things become more mechanical – maneuvering levers, switches and gauges to override the equipment.
And as the story evolves to a more adventure-flavored tone, so do the actions you take. Once inside the ceremonial chamber, some exceptionally clever physical puzzles await; ones which will leave little question that you are indeed a highly trained hero capable of retrieving the sacred Grey Skull that gives this Secret Society their dark power.
Despite its range of story moods, Secret Society, at times, does still rely a bit more heavily than it perhaps should on four digit number codes. The pitfall of this, as is often the case with numerical padlocks, results in some activities feeling much more like “just puzzles” than stories. The good news, in the case of Secret Society, is that these puzzles are smaller ones and easier to brush off – but they are certainly still present.
Despite a bit of a muddled start thanks to its quasi-identity crisis with The Rest Easy Motel, make no mistake that Secret Society does stand tall as Escape Artists’ strongest game to date. Once left to do its own thing, Secret Society takes a very different path – not just from the existing Escape Artists games, but from many other games we’ve seen. Overall, its puzzles are fresh and fun, even if one or two rely a bit too heavily on “find the numerical code.”
For us, the biggest surprise in Secret Society was its tone. Here’s the thing – when you go into a dungeon-type cell as the prisoner of a sacred organization bent on world domination, it’s pretty reasonable to expect a serious, darker tone. And while the mood certainly remains dark, the tone is anything but. Escape Artists surprised us with a really clever, tongue-in-check layer of comedic relief that added exponentially to the mood of the overall experience.
Throughout Secret Society, several “love letters to escape game enthusiasts” can be found, poking fun at some of the things we all detest finding in games, exposing over-used tropes and, with a wink, sprinkling in just a bit of “you didn’t really expect to find a puzzle like that here, did you?” To a novice playing their first or second room, these little nods will go widely unnoticed, but to readers of this site – who tend to be much more experienced players – there will be several moments where you’ll look to each other and realize they just said exactly what we’ve all been thinking.
And then there’s a bit more specific easter egg that doesn’t apply to just any player: for only the second time that we’ve encountered (in a game not designed by me, at least), Escape Authority is mentioned as a hidden character in The Grey Skull Society’s past. As it turns out, should they destroy the world, it might actually be us who initially drove them into darkness. Oops.
Secret Society is perhaps the best example of Escape Artists doing what they do. It’s proof that you don’t need a giant budget or Hollywood-quality scenic to effectively set a tone and tell a story. It’s full of clever puzzles and nods that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a venue who, at their core, are fans just like you and I – and it’s for that reason that Escape Artists will always be a highlight experience in the Orlando market.
Venue: Escape Artists
Location: Sanford, Florida
Number of Games: 4
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 6 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $31 per person
Escape Authority readers save 15% using code EscapeAuthority
*Not valid for new games in their first six months. Not valid towards gift vouchers.
We thank Escape Artists for inviting us to preview this game during its soft opening period. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.