Review: Helter Skelter
Locked In Escapes, Colorado Springs, Colorado
#110, Won, $30/person
“Helter Skelter” is another take on the “Trapped in a serial killer’s lair” theme. The players take on the role of law enforcement officers who have been “anonymously tipped off” as to the location of a serial killer.
It sure is lucky that we got that tip, right? It's definitely not the serial killer trying to trick us, right??? Our team ran into the room like Scooby and the gang, expecting to lasso the bad guy that no one suspected.
Escape room veterans will hear that “CLANK” as the door slams shut and realize that we’ve been had. The team has got 60 minutes to find a way out before the killer returns and turns us all into re-runs. The stage has been set, can “Helter Skelter” deliver on the creepy promises that it has made?
The first thing I want to call attention to is how much I liked the beginning of the experience. The narrative that we heard going into the room was nothing special; you could probably swap it out for any other “Serial Killer” escape room, and you wouldn’t really lose a whole lot. What I really liked though, was starting the game in an extremely dark room, with what seemed like zero tools to progress the story. Normally, I might’ve said that this room was too bare, but in this case it served to focus our team and get us in the right mindset. We advanced to the next room very quickly and we were excited because we felt like we were really making good forward progress.
Unfortunately, this is where the experience took several mis-steps. The first thing we noticed was that the quality of the props was very low. This wasn’t one of the usual problems we see with upkeep, it was just obvious that about zero thought had gone into making the experience really immersive. We were supposed to be convinced that we were in the lair of a serial killer by a series of canned goods, where the label had been torn off and replaced with names of organs. Sorry, but that’s just about the absolute minimum that you can do to convey that message, and it ends up feeling lazy.
Furthermore, it seems like the designers have decided to use the second room to introduce the fact that the serial killer is a music aficionado. That’s fine, except it doesn’t fit anywhere in the story, and our team is left wondering why we’re finding musical references. The weak prop design shows up again in this part of the experience and it starts to feel like there’s not even an attempt to immerse the players in the story.
Towards the end of the game, the players come across a “puzzle” that breaks some cardinal escape room rules. I can’t spoil the puzzle here, but veterans will easily recognize that 1) it teaches (new) players dangerous lessons about what they can and can’t do in an escape room and 2) it breaks the promises that the escape room staff have laid out at the beginning of the game.
Once we got out of the room, Team Bluefish privately talked to the game master about a math-based puzzle that our group had had some difficulty with. We suggested that a key part of the puzzle could be taken two different ways (resulting in different answers) and we pointed out that a correct reading of the puzzle would take the player down the wrong path. The game master didn’t seem to be interested in hearing our understanding of the puzzle, and we were basically shut down and told we were wrong. That’s fine. It doesn’t hurt our feelings, but it suggests how rooms are run at Locked In. Player feedback is extremely valuable to any escape room, and when feedback is ignored it makes it feel like the business doesn’t care about the experience of the players. Eventually we were able to talk to one of the owners about this issue, and she was very kind and assured us that she would take some steps to clear up any confusion players might have.
Puzzles: Felt like a lot of guessing and didn’t really give players the opportunity to feel clever. Theme: Theme started out good, but quickly lost steam. Props never helped to make players feel like they were there. Game Master: During play the game master was ok, but the debrief was rushed. Upkeep: Everything worked correctly. Customer Service: Staff was courteous, but it felt several times like they just weren’t interested in talking to the players. Extras: Nothing else to add.