RATING: 0 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 9:30
More locks than puzzles, some questionable decor, and the only thing worse than finding an actual zombie in the room: prior knowledge puzzles!
It has been several months since the collapse of the world. A virus originating from an unknown source has caused a zombie outbreak that has overtaken society. The few survivors that have not been contaminated have taken refuge in various locations. Many of these locations are running low or are out of supplies.
You have come upon a roadhouse bar. There is only one hour of fuel left in the generator. You enter the premises hoping to get an hour of refuge while collecting the supplies you need to defend yourself and survive the Zombie Apocalypse!
For yet another zombie-themed escape room, the premise here is actually somewhat unique. Instead of trying to cure the virus or escape the zombies, your goal in Zombie Roadhouse is to collect a series of items you’ll need for survival such as rations, ammunition and a first aid kit. This sets up a milestone-driven gameplay that actually feels like you are accomplishing something as you find each of the needed supplies, rather than simply moving from room to room with no clear indication of how far into the game you are.
Other than acquiring the required items, there’s another story taking place in Zombie Roadhouse about the previous owners of the bar. In order to understand it, however, you will need to make it through a full printed page of backstory that is given to you before the game. This, in and of itself, is a problem. A great escape room will give you a bit of background at the beginning, and then tell the rest of the story through the room itself. Zombie Roadhouse, instead, gives you a short novel to read, which is difficult enough to care about even *without* its many spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.
If the story of your room really does depend on your players reading a full page of text that you’ve written, you should at least proofread it before printing it out and laminating it.
Zombie Roadhouse feels very hit and miss in the scenic department. A decently crafted bar is the (only) highlight of the room, and it also acted as our storage space for collected items during the game. It was very useful to have a large table to lay out what items we had and hadn’t used… and, unfortunately, to use for the multitude of homework sheets we came upon. More on that later.
Other than the bar and a few other items in the room, however, Zombie Roadhouse feels very homemade with little attention heeded to the smaller details. Many of the items on the shelves are cheap and feel out of place. More specifically, we couldn’t help but wonder why dog toys were used in place of prop food items. Let’s be clear; we’re not expecting real food to be used in any escape room, but no designer should ever opt for a squeaky purple hamburger over something more solid and realistic-looking. Zombie Roadhouse is meant to be a scary room, but it is currently anything but.
We also feel it’s worth mentioning that every escape room should, first and foremost, be focused on the safety of their guests. There’s a reason many venues have safety videos that include not climbing on or moving heavy furniture: these things create very real hazards. Obviously, you cannot stop everyone (let’s face it, many people simply lack common sense), but Zombie Roadhouse actually requires the movement of a piece of furniture that is heavy enough to cause permanent physical injury if it was dropped or fell over, so much that I was unable to move it by myself and needed to get another set of hands. A good rule of thumb: if a small child couldn’t move it by themselves, it probably shouldn’t move at all.
The first thing you will notice when you walk into Zombie Roadhouse is the gross overuse of locks. There is very little linear progression to the room. Instead, dozens of locks are available to you right from the start. While I loved having an indication of how far along in the room we were, at the beginning the sheer number of locks we needed to open was overwhelming and several minutes were often wasted just trying to figure out which lock a key or combination opened. Despite all this, we can’t figure out how fourteen–yes, fourteen–people are supposed to have individual tasks to do in this room. We were a team of five and still escaped with plenty of time left over. Just because you can physically fit more people into the room doesn’t mean you should.
Finding codes was another mundane task in and of itself. If there’s one thing we know about Breakout from playing all three of their rooms, its that they truly love worksheets. Indeed, solving puzzles in Zombie Roadhouse is more equivalent to doing pages right out of a gradeschooler’s homework folder. There’s a fine line between a puzzle being frustratingly difficult and frustratingly boring. Unfortunately, what we encountered in Zombie Roadhouse was the latter. A note to escape room owners: if your guests are playing hot potato with a puzzle simply because none of them want to sit down and do it, you should probably reevaluate whether that puzzle is beneficial to the experience as a whole.
Finally, we need to talk about prior knowledge. I normally try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but I will say this: If you do not know the names, characters and DVD cover art from horror movies as far back as the 1970s, you should not play this game. It is one thing to require basic math and reading skills to play a room, but it is another to require knowledge that cannot be found inside the room itself. Thankfully, this is not a difficult fix, and could be remedied by including something as simple as movie posters somewhere in the room. But they’re not.
And honestly, what do classic horror movies have to do with surviving a zombie apocalypse in the first place?
Before we wrap things up, we at Escape Authority feel like we need to make a statement about prior knowledge puzzles in escape rooms: they simply cannot exist. If you expect your players to come into a room armed with the names of every position in baseball, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, or even the names of horror movie icons, we cannot score that room higher than a zero. It is one thing to include that information in the room, and another to expect your players to come in already having it memorized. These are escape rooms, not Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
Prior knowledge puzzles, simply put, are unacceptably poor design and are never okay to include in your game.
Zombie Roadhouse could easily be sitting at a two key rating, if not for its reliance on prior knowledge. It is not necessarily a bad room, but not necessarily a good one either. We would love to see it removed or changed to allow for a better rating.
For a horror-themed room, Zombie Roadhouse simply lacks any defining “wow” moment. The room is large, spacious and well-lit; everything a room intended to scare its guests shouldn’t be. While I love the notion of collecting items towards a larger goal, the puzzles and scenery of the room simply do not lend themselves to a larger story of any kind.
Breakout may find themselves in high demand back in their small town Michigan home, but they have a lot of work to do if they want to stay afloat next to many of the rooms with high production values that can be found here in Orlando.
Venue: Breakout Escape Rooms
Location: Orlando, FL
Number of Games: 3
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 14 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $32 per person
We thank Breakout Escape Rooms for inviting us to play this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.