RATING: 5 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 10:00 / $2,222,400
An imaginative spin on crime finds us deep underground on a mission that reinvents just what score-based games can be!
You’re on a team of mastermind thieves, but someone in your ranks has been taking an unfair share. You’ve broken into his vault to take back what is rightfully yours. Fortunately, you’ve got experts in every field; and a man in the van that charges by the minute. How many treasures will you be able to uncover before your time (and budget) runs out?
Uniquely it’s not until after the game’s story is presented that things get truly immersive. Each member of our infamous criminal team is presented with our own individual role, instantly making us active characters in the storyworld of Smugglers Tunnels. With those roles come unique skill sets, and the knowledge of how to complete a vital task to the mission.
Once in the Tunnels themselves, it’s impossible to not be eager to find “your moment” to be the hero (or, villain, in this case) to further the plot with the theft of untold riches. This character-centric plot twist truly draws players into the storyworld in a way far more active than they may ever expect- essentially requiring every member of the team to “carry their weight,” so to speak, by achieving their own mini objective to further the greater team goal.
Escape Chronicles combines these aspects into a total package that becomes an instantly immersive narrative adventure where any disbelief is quickly suspended, making the stakes – and subsequent consequences all the more realistic.
As the name would suggest, Smugglers Tunnels exists in a series of underground tunnels – dimly lit to create a sense of mysterious intrigue (but never too dark to become scary.) Rocky walls surround us, both bringing the space to life while simultaneously hiding some great hidden reveals and unexpected secrets throughout our adventure.
Although our mission is heavily team-based, players start split between two different segments of the tunnel – forced to help each other to ultimately open up the caves into a larger shared space. This only further enhances the sense of discovery to be had with each subsequent reveal – from hidden tunnels to secret passages that lie ahead.
Escape Chronicles incorporates some delightfully authentic gameplay into Smugglers Tunnels, making it impossible not to feel like experienced criminals in our own right. Tasks feel more like real-world objectives that may lead to the heist of the century than just more puzzles inside an escape room.
One moment in particular – my own personal character-based objective – was so outside the box and different that it resulted in me stopping everyone else’s progress just to ensure they knew what I had just accomplished. It will go down as one of the more clever (and effectively one of the more realistic) escape game moments I’ve ever seen.
Those character-based roles assigned at the start of our experience add a whole new layer to what an escape game can be – leaving each member of our team a time to shine in their own key moment. We found these mini objectives so compelling that it was difficult to not stop what we were doing to watch each individual achieve theirs one by one when the time would arise. This clever twist on gameplay guarantees that every member of the team plays an important part, and in a sense inspires participation from all – even those who may traditionally be less active or less confident in a given game.
The puzzle steps are not just story-driven, but they’re also entirely intuitive. Smugglers Tunnels never once loses its steady forward momentum – leaving players with constant, clear direction of what to conquer next.
But in a sea (or, in this case, cave) full of positive attributes, it’s the score-based aspect of Smugglers Tunnels that makes this experience truly stand out as a memorable one. Escape Chronicles reinvents the proverbial wheel of what a score-based game can, and perhaps should be, by presenting options, and in effect consequences for those options, that can drastically impact your team’s overall score. Evoking the spirit of a classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, Smugglers Tunnels offers players several moments to make a choice – one that could result in adding either a counterfeit or a priceless original item to your heist’s collection. Those choices in their own right involve puzzles that must be solved to deduce the proper choice – adding both immersive reality to the storyworld while creating a fresh, new type of challenge in the gameplay.
Smugglers Tunnels, like any great score-based game is about far more than simply escaping the room – but rather escaping the room with as much loot as possible in as little time as possible. (After all, your man in the van is paid by the hour, and that salary comes directly out of your own winnings!) The game doesn’t end when you exit the room; to the contrary, this heist is on until you either run out of time and get caught by the feds, or triumphantly band together and and shout your established code word to initiate extraction.
And if you’re a real criminal over-achiever, you might just score some unexpected loot by achieving one of several secret bonus easter egg tasks!
After playing hundreds upon hundreds of games, it’s oftentimes difficult to find something truly unique and original. Escape Chronicles offers a breath of fresh air, reinventing the genre to provide an experience so fresh and different that it creates an instant emotional connection.
Every moment within the Smugglers Tunnels is packed full of adrenaline and a story-driven sense of discovery. It left our very experienced and sometimes perhaps jaded group feeling like we’d just played our first game all over again.
Afterward we debated which of the venue’s initial two offerings, Smugglers Tunnel or Testing Facility was our favorite. Both offer refreshingly edgy approaches to the escape game tropes we’ve encountered time and time again. Smugglers Tunnel might just barely get the nod thanks to its redefining of what a score-based game can be – but at the end of the day, why choose between them? Escape Chronicles, in less than their first year is already home to two absolutely must-see games in the highly competitive Los Angeles market – and when you couple their imitativeness with their willingness to break the mold and passion to create epic attractions – they no doubt have a very bright future ahead.
Venue: Escape Chronicles
Location: North Hollywood, California
Number of Games: 2
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 8 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers. (Private games are available for an additional fee.)
Cost: $27 per person weekdays / $30 per person weekends
We thank Escape Chronicles for inviting us to play this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.