Brisbane Escapes: “Butcher’s Burrow” @ Escapism

Continuing my reviews of escape rooms around Brisbane, I entered one of the more recent venues, Escapism, to see what they had to offer. I found myself scratching my head in a serial killer’s basement with the clock ticking in “Butcher’s Burrow”.

General Details

Escapism, Wintergarden on Queen Street
50 minutes
2-6 players
Difficulty: 8 (out of 10) according to their website

How We Played

August 2015
5 players
Hints: 2 or 3
Approx 35 minutes

The Experience

To understand the experience you can expect from an escape room at Escapism, you need to know a little about the business. See, Escapism is not dedicated to escape rooms, instead being a subsidiary of Strike Bowling, meaning attractions including bowling, karaoke and laser tag are also offered at the same venue. Strike is, for the most part, a bar that offers a number of different entertainment options. When I went, it was for a buck/hens crossover party. We’d just had dinner and this (as well as laser tag) was to be the main activity of the night. There were eleven of us, and we split into teams of five and six – I was in the five, which attempted Butcher’s Burrow, while the group of six entered Forensic.

We had to wait a while after arriving before our room was ready. I suspect this is a ploy to encourage imbibing at the bar, though the provision of drink specials for participants goes some way toward alleviating my indignation at this tactic. Plus, it was a bucks/hens (hucks?) night, so we were expecting to get sloshed anyway. Ordinarily getting drunk before a room escape would be a terrible idea, but in this case… well, perhaps I’ll leave that to when I get to the puzzle design.

The fact that you are in a bar rather than a dedicated escape venue results in a few complaints. One of the more significant problems is the strain this puts on staff. Whilst I found all the staff to be friendly, enthusiastic and professional, the fact is that they are required to do way, way, way too much. Not only are they inducting you into the room itself, but they are offering hints via walkie-talkie (though it is worth noting that this may have been replaced with a tablet app hint system since I took part) and taking on bartending duties at the same time. With their attention divided, they are unable to keep on top of where you are in the puzzle quite as successfully as is done at other venues.

They do have individual lockers for each room, though, so your valuables will be perfectly safe. The key is provided to one of the participants, which is a good system and makes it easy to pick up your stuff as you leave (which is good as there is no guarantee a staff member will be around when you escape).

Let’s talk about the room itself, though. Escapism have clearly tried to put together something atmospheric, with dim lighting (which is actually quite cleverly integrated into puzzle design), various props and sparse wall decorations (also nicely integrated into the design). The room has a very lean feel, in that there is very little in there that is solely for decor. “Butcher’s Burrow” perhaps suffers a little from its ambitions – it tries to be atmospheric through use of props, but the more overt attempts end up being a little on-the-nose, simply because it is impossible to include them in a realistic manner. To illustrate my point, let’s use the example of a fairly common prop within the room: severed limbs (the theme is a serial killer butcher, don’t act so surprised). Of course the presence of severed limbs is creepy and atmospheric, until you get close enough to note that they are (of course) plastic and very, very fake looking (and feeling). This breaks the immersion that the more subtle cues such as lighting and wall decor work so hard to create.

Another immersion-breaker is simply a result of the venue overall. It is noisy. You can hear the bowling going on downstairs, as well as the revelry at the bar. Given you’re supposed to be locked in a crazy serial killer’s basement (or something), this totally pulls you out of the game.

Overall, I think the room would have benefitted from a little more subtlety in dressing. There’s no need to have severed limbs everywhere, and simpler, more realistic props would have served to maintain an immersive environment.

It is a creepy room, but for the most part those of a nervous disposition will be fine. Scares are relatively tame, so don’t let that put you off.

Puzzle Design

For the most part the puzzles are of the “find some clues, put them together, get a code” variety. Some of the clues are integrated into the environment in a way that does a great job of building atmosphere. There are a couple of puzzles that may give you pause, but the solutions are usually not too difficult to figure out. Occasionally there are puzzles that have multiple parts that seem to be parts of different puzzles, but with a little trial and error (or hints) you should figure these out. You will be dealing with a lot of numbers, though not necessarily doing actual sums – for the most part it is about ordering patterns and substitutions.

My group was out in 35 minutes or so, and it seemed very fast. I should mention the other group, which did Forensic, did not escape, so that room may be a greater challenge (I’m yet to give that one a shot). It may seem that I’m arguing the room is too easy, but honestly this is not the case if you consider the venue. By the time you get in, you should have had one or two drinks, and that slight buzz will make the room more enjoyable because the puzzles are perfectly tuned for an intoxicated team.

The Bottom Line

Reading back, I probably seem a little negative here, and it certainly doesn’t help that this is one of the most expensive rooms in Brisbane, particularly with a small group on the weekend (though with more players on a weekday that price becomes very reasonable). However, the fact is I had a great time. All my problems would be very serious for most dedicated escape room venues, with broken immersion and simple puzzles usually a big no-no. But the fact is, if you are visiting Escapism, you are not going just for the escape rooms. Strike is an entertainment venue, and you are expected to make a night of it. If you go in with this mindset, with a group ready to have a great night out at a bar and take part in a few other activities, you will have an excellent time. However, if you take your escaping seriously and want a challenging, immersive room, you are better off attending one of the dedicated venues around Brisbane.