RATING: 2 Keys RESULT: Loss REMAINING: X:XX
We’ve got a limited air supply down in this cavern, but I don’t think it’s the lack of oxygen making us confused.
You’re sent on an expedition in search of a lost civilization’s ancient mysteries, hundreds of feet below the surface of downtown Los Angeles. After arriving in a mysterious underground cavern, you’ll have less than an hour to uncover the secrets and escape before your air supply runs out.
The Cavern begins with a descent into the space by way of a mining “elevator” complete with a television screen showing the view outside the carriage. Having a room focused on a show moment is a great step to building story, but here it’s brief, not that interesting, and ultimately feels like a waste of real estate since there isn’t any gameplay to be had in the room at all.
Ancient civilizations are fascinating. Lost cultures, practices, deities all make for a wide range of story opportunities. Escape Room LA tries its best to incorporate an archaeologists’ search into the fabric of the gameplay by way of a journal, but often these story beats just come off as an instruction manual for the puzzles. There’s pieces dropped throughout the game of some sort of larger ritual or ceremony that the archaeologist was investigating, but it never quite builds into a cohesive whole.
The Cavern also features the “Actor as Gamemaster in costume” problem. A friendly research assistant tags along on your search only to stand in the corner, shrug, and occasionally scold you for trying to pick up or use a prop you aren’t supposed to touch for 60 minutes. If someone is going to be in the room with players they need to have a purpose beyond just monitoring gameplay. Otherwise they’re in the way and should be replaced with a simple security camera.
Caves and rock work are incredibly tough to pull off on a budget and it shows. The Cavern opts for mostly painted and textured walls with a few small pieces of rock work to supplement the idea of a cave. It’s an okay attempt that’s helped out by a decently dark lighting palate. As with all things, lighting with darkness hides imperfections.
A bright spot is the props scattered about the play space. These work well to sell the dig site appearance and almost everything plays a role within the gameplay. There is a lot of stuff in this room, and it doesn’t feel wasted.
An oddity is a few specific pieces of decor that are not to be touched or moved from their initial positions. Apparently there was instruction to that effect given to our group, but at some point things were moved leading to difficulty in solving one of the late game puzzles. If gameplay critical items are not to be moved around they should be permanently affixed to their positions.
If you’ve played The Detective prepare yourself for a case of Déjà vu. Quite a few puzzles follow the exact same format as ones in the game next door with only the thematic trappings differing. It’s strange because the borrowed puzzles were also some of that game’s weaker offerings.
The dreaded, and seemingly trademark, Escape Room LA, “Solve this incredibly long puzzle just to be told to look underneath a random object for a piece of information,” puzzle also makes an appearance. This design decision baffles and irritates me. Solving a long puzzle string should net the player with a reward or progress of some kind. If the only progress is essentially the game telling the player, “Hey, do discovery,” that really is not progress. It’s just a time-sink. The problem is, there is no way to know which puzzle will be the discovery puzzle, so be prepared to waste your time somewhere.
By nature of the large group size and non-linearity of The Cavern, every player will have a slightly different experience as they work through different puzzle chains. This does allow for players with different skill sets to work on puzzles better suited to their sensibilities, but also means some players will walk away having only seen some of the lesser quality puzzles in the game. There were some clever mechanical based puzzles that integrated well with the archaeology theme of the room. However, these puzzles were also where the gamemaster piped in the most to correct our “incorrect” usage of certain tools.
The Cavern could be a good game with some alterations, but in many ways it feels like a re-skinned and poorly executed version of The Detective. All the issues we had with that game were back, with some new ones in tow.
Square footage wise the room feels small because of the large number of tables in the space and the wasted elevator pre-show area. While not a problem on its own, the issue is exacerbated by the 10 person group size. It feels crowded and cramped with players bumping into each other to get from place to place. This group size coupled with the non-linearity makes it difficult to properly communicate as a team, especially in a public game when players could be paired up with multiple groups. This is an issue with any public game of this size, but the fractured gameplay structure and layout of the space just makes it all worse.
Despite its unique theme, The Cavern squanders its opportunity to create a standout experience by leaving its story buried at the dig site and pulling out a number of puzzles better left buried.
Venue: Escape Room LA
Location: Los Angeles, California
Number of Games: 4
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 10 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $32+ per person (prices vary between weekdays and weekends)