RATING: 5 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 7:40
I use a computer every day; a startling statistic given how often one of them tries to kill me.
You and your fellow participants have voluntarily agreed to participate in Bentham Laboratories’ latest study. Professor Bentham and his helpful assistant PAL will lead you through a series of tests, all in the name of scientific progress! Do you and your team have what it takes to outsmart the professor and his creations?
On paper, Testing Facility doesn’t have a much going for it; it appears to be a bland office theme, set in a bland office break room. Luckily for us, Escape Chronicles didn’t put this game on paper; they put it on a sentient super computer hell bent on destroying us.
Just seconds into our visit to Bentham Laboratories, it became clear that there was absolutely nothing ordinary about Testing Facility. Escape Chronicles has crafted a storyworld that is fresh and unique, and perhaps more importantly really funny. What results is a world so easy to become immersed into that it feels more than an actual threat directly aimed at us than a series of puzzles in a break room.
PAL is bent on taking over the Lab, and Dr. Bentham is, well, kind of an idiot. The juxtaposition of these two distinctly different character types provides enough laughs that at times, may require you to remember that the clock is ticking away and your focus is required. It’s just so easy to get lost in the banter between Bentham and PAL.
Testing Facility is a rare instance of a really plain, sparsely decorated office space feeling instantly organic. The main room is so mundane that you might even want your break to end sooner, just so you can get closer to clocking out and going home.
It’s full of “just enough” objects to really sell the oppressive office motif, from a communal lunch table to lockers, a coffee pot (complete with “World’s Okayest Employee” mug) and, of course, motivational posters that don’t ever particularly serve to motivate anyone.
The theme lends itself to a somewhat unique perk we don’t often see in an escape room – the ability to sit down as a group at the table to tackle the various puzzles left in our way by PAL. It may not sound like much – but in this storyworld, it adds a layer of realism that further brings Bentham Laboratories to life.
Testing Facility makes fun use of objects organically found within it’s mundane world to create puzzles that feel authentic in the narrative. Lockers hold more than just personal belongings, and waiting room quality magazines hide more of a story than their cover articles might imply at first glance.
Every action feels inter-connected with the drab and goofy storyworld of Bentham Laboratories – and each step flows smoothly from one to the next to keep us and our fellow office slaves droning along at a steady, fulfilling pace.
More importantly, Escape Chronicles uses these puzzles, and objects obtained from them to ultimately build toward a narrative climax that ties the whole world together. As PAL gets more and more powerful, it becomes clear that the only way to stop it is to destroy it entirely. Obviously, the way to destroy a computer program is by uploading a virus – but it won’t be as simple as inserting a single disk. (Probably because Bentham Laboratories lacks the technological prowess to utilize up-to-date equipment capable of reading a disk big enough to hold the entire file.) And just as you might expect in such a lackluster science facility, the computer system is slow, and upload times have a perfectly frustrating lag.
So yes, if we were to look at Testing Facility on a piece of paper fresh from Bentham Laboratories top-of-the-line-in-1986 dot matrix printer, it may not seem that unique. But with only an hour to spare, we really don’t have that kind of time to waste waiting for it to print. Clocking in for a shift at Bentham Laboratories resulted in an experience rarely found in any office, and even more rarely found in any escape game – because Testing Facility had us laughing from start to finish, almost non-stop.
Escape Chronicles does a great job of adding that layer of ridiculous story narrative through the use of PA system announcements from Dr. Bentham – sometimes when we asked for them, and others when we didn’t. Not only is this use of audio a means of furthering the storyworld, but it also doubles as Testing Facility’s hint system. Each and every hint we could ask for has a pre-recorded audio response from Dr. Bentham at the ready – but in such a lackluster office, you probably shouldn’t expect them to always be as helpful as you may hope.
As found in Smugglers Tunnels, Testing Facility is also ful of some cleverly hidden easter eggs and bonus puzzles – ones that are almost never clearly apparent and require players to just happen upon them almost (and sometimes entirely) by accident. Not only do these further the narrative flow, but consistent with the entirety of our shift at Bentham Laboratories, they provided even more comic relief.
Escape Chronicles is truly a breath of fresh air in an overly saturated Southern California market. They dare to be different, and seem to always achieve it. What results are games that – for novices will be incredibly fun, but for enthusiasts will be incredibly fulfilling. In a world full of the same six or seven tropes rehashed over and over again, Escape Chronicles constantly pushes the envelope to redefine what an escape game experience can be – and that, to us, is the greatest break of all.
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.