Warsaw, Mar 2017
Horror themed rooms appear to be popular in Warsaw. We played four in a weekend, and each had a very different style to it. With Orphanage, the style was exuberantly disturbing, combining decrepit institution horror with freaky images and a whole lot of children’s toys. There’s no slasher gore here, this one aims for a more psychological type of horror.
Orphanage is an unusual escape game in several respects. Firstly, the aim is not in fact to escape. You’re investigating long-past events, and your task is to identify a specific individual; it is in fact possible to open the final exit door without having quite completed the game, and the timer only stops when you make your selection. Some of my teammates saw that as a flaw, and felt it would be more satisfying for making that selection to trigger the final door, and I can see that it would break immersion a lot if a team charged out of the room into the waiting area and then had to file back in again to complete the last puzzle properly. On the other hand, I really like that the win condition follows the story in this way. It’s not described as an escape scenario, and there’s no reason that finding the right person should be needed to physically get out.
The game also breaks convention in that the operator hands the team two starting items: a briefcase full of information and a magic box with which to ask for hints. The hint box is also used to submit your answer to the final puzzle, for which you get only a single attempt.
Throughout the game, you’re expected to return to the information in the briefcase for clues on how to progress. Normally I have a deep dislike of laminated printed sheets as puzzle clues – it’s too often a lazy option, and tends to force teams to wade through accidental red herrings. Somehow, bringing these clues in with us made them feel less artificial, and for me it actually helped the immersion, acting as the background knowledge that a real investigator would bring to the case.
The hint box was a less anachronistic alternative to a clue screen, but it does have the downside that you can leave it behind – which we did, in a location we couldn’t then easily get back to. (There was a backup way to get hints in that situation though, so it’s a problem they’ve anticipated and dealt with.)
Much of the later game relates to a large mechanism that is an ambitious idea but which doesn’t entirely deliver – for it to work correctly the game needs to give very specific instructions for how the team should arrange themselves, which interrupts the flow a little and is prone to time-consuming back-and-forth if you don’t get the idea straight away. I also think there was a bad clue related to this, where some objects provided as part of a puzzle are entirely unnecessary to its solution, and in fact imply an incorrect approach.
The deliberately grotty furnishings are great, and far more authentic than most rooms. Too much so, in fact: I draw the line at actual panes of broken glass on the floor.
It’s a difficult game to rate, because I loved many aspects of it while feeling it misfired in other ways. In particular I felt it was story-driven in a way that I’d love to see more escape rooms emulate. Story text wasn’t provided purely as filler in which to hide unrelated clues; players need to actually pay attention to the characters. At least, that was the impression I had during most of the game, though the final puzzle drew back from that rather. It had a fun start and some impressive mechanisms throughout, built mostly with found objects – no MDF or cheap plastic decorations here. And even so it added up to a not completely satisfying experience, with a few too many points that didn’t flow as smoothly as they should. It falls between two stools: the story-driven, authentic-decor side of it wasn’t followed through consistently enough to really work, and as a straightforward escape room it was unpolished and a bit clunky. Nonetheless, there are some really good moments mixed in here, so if this description piques your interest I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.
This is one of the most challenging rooms I’ve had to rate. One of the striking things was how strong the story was; you’re investigating the disappearance of some children, and you’ve “acquired” a briefcase full of clues before you go in (laminated papers were at least reasonable in this context); you succeed not when you exit the room, but when you identified who organised the escape. The hint system was probably designed to be cost saving, but was more appropriate for the theme than a TV screen.
The immediate challenge is to break in, with a nice physical puzzle. The story then continues as you delve deeper into the orphanage. There is one particularly impressive feature to this room, which for the most part reinforced the story, giving it the right creepy feel (temporarily isolating some members) whilst encouraging teamwork. The more standard puzzles were also on theme.
My main issues with this room were:
- The décor; it felt very traditional. I admire them for putting part of the search in a bathroom, but there was glass we could have injured ourselves on, there was plumbing still attached to the mains, with lots of parts of the room that felt like it hadn’t been consciously looked at (rather than say, deliberately designed to look neglected). Similarly the final part had some appropriate objects and some that felt they were junk that had been thrown in. The middle felt artificial by contrast.
- At least one of the puzzles required some external knowledge.
- There was no instruction to bring the communications box with you. This should be a critical part of the initial briefing.
Overall this room could be improved to a 4 if they made the badly decorated areas slightly better and the well decorated areas slightly worse to give a consistent feel.