Brisbane Escapes: Haunted Academy @ Puzzled Room Escape

We stepped into the pitch black. Eerie noises echoed through the space, shadows flickered and vanished as our weak candles flickered in our hands. Would we be able to solve the disappearances and escape from the Haunted Academy?

General Details

“Haunted Academy”
Puzzled Room Escape, 1177 Logan Rd., Holland Park West
60 minutes
2-6 players allowed
Listed difficulty: 4/5

How We Played

28 May 2016
6 players
Hints: 1
60 minutes + extra time

The Experience

Haunted Academy is, unsurprisingly, a horror-themed room. Using, for the most part, only the light from weak electric candles, participants scour the eerie space for clues to allow progression. The horror comes entirely from the expertly developed atmosphere, which utilises lighting effects, set design and a haunting soundtrack. There are one or two well-placed jump scares. For the most part, if you are of a nervous disposition, I would suggest you let others unlock the locks!

As is the case in Puzzled Room Escape’s other room, Puzzle Tech Murder, Haunted Academy tells a linear story using laminated placards that direct you towards particular puzzles. The story is told well, develops naturally, and encourages you to progress to find out what is going on. Haunted Academy has some of the best integration of puzzle with narrative I have seen. Beginning as a kind of investigation, we soon progressed to an incredibly inventive finale that really makes you feel as though you are participating in the adventure.

Haunted Academy makes use of a type of lock that I have had problems with before, notably in Fort Locks’ Dream Catcher room. Here, we got stuck for a full two minutes having used the correct code but unable to jimmy the lock open. I am starting to think that venues should start looking for an alternative type of lock to these, as they seem to have problems every time.

Another concern for some is the fact that the room is so dark, and the handheld lighting system provided is weak and cumbersome. I personally don’t have a huge problem with this, as it was appropriately atmospheric and I could still see everything I needed to. However, there was one notable occasion (in actual fact, an occasion that made a significant contribution to causing our loss) where the low light combined with the design of a particular prop caused us to misread something extremely important. The lesson to take from this is that in a dark room, read things carefully, do not scan them. The darkness does slow down opening locks, and definitely contributes to the room’s difficulty, but can easily be managed.

Our gamemaster for the evening was the room’s puzzle designer, and he continued my excellent experiences with staff at Puzzled Room Escape. As well as allowing us to finish the room off despite running out of time, I have found Puzzled Room Escape’s staff to be eager for feedback, seeking out ways to continually improve. With their clear enthusiasm and dedication, I can’t wait to see what is to come.

Puzzle Design

Haunted Academy is a hard room – possibly the hardest in Brisbane. In order to complete its tasks, you will need to be focused and methodical. Our team’s problem was a collapse in our normal methodical approach towards the end, where we began to rush and miss details. One puzzle in particular (which was our downfall) can cause huge amounts of time to be lost if you do not apply all the knowledge you have gathered, or misinterpret particular details.

Despite their difficulty, the puzzles are all fair. The linear design, and the implicit guidance provided by the story placards, means that groups that go off on a tangent, or get caught up in irrelevant details, have only themselves to blame. I did note one fairly egregious red herring, and there are a couple of occasions where things could be cleared up through subtle changes in the visual design of certain objects, but methodical teams with an eye for detail will get there eventually.

The linearity and narrative progression also give the room a strong sense of flow. Though in the heat of the moment you may not realise it, it is almost always clear what elements are relevant to the task at hand, and teams honestly have no excuse for wasting their time on irrelevant details.

This is definitely a room I would recommend for teams of four, or perhaps five. There is not enough to work on at any one time with six, and with the amount of information to parse through here, it is important that team members remain focused and do not distract one another.

For the most part the puzzles are brain burners, requiring you to notice small details and extract particular details from particular contextual features. More than any other in Brisbane, these puzzles subsist on the “aha” moment, where everything suddenly comes together and you figure out how to progress.

The Bottom Line

Teams with an eye for detail and a methodical approach should find Haunted Academy achievable, if challenging. They will be rewarded for their efforts with some of the finest integration of puzzles into the narrative in Brisbane, and an immersive, creepy, and atmospheric room that will have them squealing in fear, delight, and victory. Those new to escape rooms should definitely get a few other rooms under their belt first, however, as Haunted Academy requires an experienced and collaborative team.

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