April 24, 2021 – At the end of our stay on the east coast, Christina and I hit the road for home late. We intended to get on the road early but ended up spending a lot of time in New York City, and it was already well on the way to evening when we hit the road. I had scouted ahead and spotted an extremely unique-looking challenge- the Duos game at Escape.exe.
Thankfully, Escape.exe had a slot available at a time we could make, so I booked it and we headed straight for our destination. We got there with just enough time to spare to be comfortable.
The Duos game was an interesting twist. Site 117 is a challenging escape room meant for groups of 3+. Groups of two can play the game via the Duos variation- Duos offers the same game with fifteen extra minutes on the clock as a way to even the playing field a little. The room offers a few different threads that can be tackled simultaneously, and the seventy five minute clock is more than enough to make the goal attainable for a strong team.
Site 117 has two major points of emphasis that work very well together: story and choice. These two elements make Site 117 an extremely memorable experience, even as I write this a few months later.
An immersive story is a common goal of most escape rooms, but few aspire to create a narrative bigger than a single game. Escape.exe aims high in this regard and brings those ambitions into the setup and gameplay for Site 117. The story elements are well-integrated and don’t slow down the experience at all. We were led to the room by scientists from Escape.exe and outside interaction like hints and nudges come in the form of Escape.exe’s AI assistant GAVIN. If you’re in the mood, you can actually start the game before getting to the location by playing around on Escape.exe’s web site a bit. There’s a neat free mini puzzle hunt hidden on the site, as well as a built-from-scratch prequel game available for purchase (I played through it- it’s a worthwhile adventure and even has a secret ending hidden within).
The other element I mentioned, choice, is possibly the most unique part of the game. At this point I’ve solved about five hundred different escape rooms. Only about ten have had an element of decision-making involved, and each of those experiences was quite memorable. Even among that small pool, Site 117 stands out for an important reason- the element of choice here leads to radically different outcomes. In most cases in which the game offers choice, the game still plays out the same way with minor variations. The team at Escape.exe was gracious enough to let us take a look at the paths not taken, and I was extremely impressed with how much our decisions changed the game and the final outcome.
Escape.exe’s work here is commendable. It would be easy enough to keep all the content identical for all paths, track the players’ decisions, and play a different ending based on the choices made. Escape.exe built out substantially different content players will encounter based on decisions made. Most groups will never realize how much additional content was in the room because no single playthrough covers everything. It’s the escape room equivalent of the method actor who continues living the role while the cameras aren’t rolling – a mark of tremendous dedication and passion for the craft.
Of course I can’t complete a review of an escape room without mentioning the puzzles, and the puzzles were also of very high quality. The puzzles made unique use of the space and a few favorites still stick with me, particularly some of the ones that use the physical space in unusual ways. I also really appreciated how hints were given- we were stuck on one part that didn’t feel hint-able, but we used a hint and sure enough, GAVIN offered us a clever solution to keep us moving forward.
We cleared the challenge, having to sweat a little at the end as the pressure amped up. The room’s finale is cleverly designed to ensure a memorable finish, and we were thrilled to accomplish our goal.
Rumor has it (ok, more than a rumor- we spoke to the designer afterward) that the next game at Escape.exe, Neon Tokyo, ups the impact of choices to an even greater degree, and it sounds like when we make our next visit, we may have to book back to back sessions of the same game to experience all of it. And that wont be a problem at all- with as much as we enjoyed our first trip to Escape.exe, we’ll jump on any excuse to dive back into their games.