Here we are, a team of forensic experts tasked with tracking down a serial killer. Suspects are listed on a board on the wall, and we are all painfully aware that the killer knows we are on their trail… and that if we don’t catch them in the allotted 50 minutes, we will be their next victims.
Exitus, Wintergarden on Queen Street
2-6 players allowed
Listed difficulty: 9 (out of 10)
How We Played
My experience with Exitus this time around was very similar to my experience with “The Garden” – follow the link here for that review. Though Exitus takes a hands-off approach, with clues and timer designated to an iPad app, I found this worked well (though I should note that we didn’t need any clues for the room). Honestly, I think my complaints from my Butcher’s Burrow review – link here – have been addressed, though I should note that I did that room on the weekend, which is probably busier and that could be a contributing factor to the different experiences. In fact, I have to disagree with some of the other reviews I have seen about experiences with staff at the Strike Bowling escape rooms – such as this one and this one. The staff member we were assigned was not only enthusiastic, but happy to provide a debrief after the room (which helped us understand a couple of elements of the room we had skipped over).
So, let’s move on to the room. The theme of “Forensic” is an investigation, and one of the cleverest aspects of the room is how it integrates the narrative of the investigation into the puzzles. I will discuss this more when I talk about puzzle design, but in terms of the experience of the room, you really do feel like forensic investigators (well, perhaps more deductive investigators) deducing the answer based on evidence discovered over the course of the room. Supporting this is the room’s decoration, which is excellent. Though the sub-rooms are small, they are themed extremely well, and each room’s dressing actually contributes to successive narrative beats. The location or setting of each room actually progresses the narrative and investigation rather than simply offering a new space to explore.
“Forensic” contains some of the type of cheap-feeling props that bugged me in “Butcher’s Burrow”. Here, however, they are used in a subtle way that does not draw attention to them, instead supporting the atmosphere of the room, which gets progressively darker. Be warned, this room may not have jump scares, but it has some extremely creepy imagery.
In terms of surprises, this room is perhaps a little low-key, though there are one or two exciting moments, though one of the transitions between rooms was spoiled a little for us due to a cheeky shortcut we made (though it wasn’t a huge deal). There was one cool moment early on where the result of one of our actions didn’t become obvious to us until a few moments later, and there is fantastic use of props in the second segment of the room that really makes you feel like a forensic investigator.
Overall, the theming of “Forensic” was some of the best I have seen, and it is really one of the first rooms I have played that made me feel like I was role-playing a narrative rather than simply solving a series of puzzles
“Forensic” has a reputation for being one of Australia’s most difficult rooms, and though my team escaped in the fastest time ever for the Wintergarden location, I have to say I was extremely impressed not only with the complexity of individual puzzles, but how they fit together overall. Our speedy escape was really down to the exceptional teamwork of the six Brisbane Geek Social Club members tackling “Forensic,” and every bit of progress resulted in a cheer from all of us.
The narrative integration of the puzzles was superb. Clues and items found for early puzzles actually feed into the broader investigation – yes, you will have to find the killer! In fact, the method for ensuring you get the killer correct without simply guessing is genius, if somewhat prone to brute forcing (though brute forcing this puzzle would actually waste a lot of time, so it might be quicker to try and solve it properly).
The structure of the puzzles oscillates between open and linear. It would be helpful to have at least four people for the more open puzzles, as they benefit from having people able to approach different areas at once, and the linear puzzles tend to be seriously challenging, benefitting from a number of minds working towards the goal. One early puzzle had all six of us puzzling over it for some time before we each pieced together particular elements of it, bringing them together to solve the whole thing. And it is likely that the person who figure out the very first puzzle will get a rousing pat on the back from everyone. Every one of our six team members made a significant contribution to our escape, which is phenomenal for such a large team.
The puzzles offer some of the best variety I have come across. Although combinations are the end result in most cases, the way you get to these includes deductive reasoning, mathematics, logic, lateral thinking, physical investigative skills, and observation. The puzzles not only had variety, but made use of props that naturally fit into the setting. Nothing seemed out-of-place, and everything supported the central investigative narrative. The few red herrings did not egregiously distract us, and made sense in the context of the room’s theme.
One thing I should mention is that it is possible to skip one puzzle (a fairly annoying, time-consuming puzzle, if truth be told) in a similar manner to how I did for the “Time Travellers Room” – review here. This probably helped our time hugely, though it is just one puzzle and it didn’t really take anything away from the experience. It is worth noting, however, as some people might feel cheated by the fact that you don’t have to complete every single puzzle to complete the room.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the way in which puzzles were integrated into both the theme and narrative of “Forensic”. Be prepared for a challenging room that should be attempted after you have gained some experience with escape rooms. If you’re feeling confident, however, dive in and enjoy a room that goes beyond finding numbers and recognising patterns and actually makes you think more deeply about the significance of what you are seeing.
The Bottom Line
“Forensic” turned out to be one of the best rooms I have attempted so far. In many ways it was like a tighter version of the “Time Travellers Room”, which I also enjoyed very much. Both were exceptionally challenging, with puzzles that made thematic sense and required clever observation, though I felt that “Forensic” did a slightly better job with incorporating puzzles into the narrative. “Forensic” requires more puzzle solving and less searching, which is something I appreciate, as struggling with a puzzle due to a missing piece frustrates me immensely. “Forensic” also does an excellent job of providing an emergent narrative that evolves out of your progression through the setting and your use of clues and puzzles. If you have some experience with escape rooms, I highly recommend “Forensic” as an experience that succeeds in offering both a solid narrative experience and a challenging puzzle-solving one.