A broken down car. The vast expanses of the outback. A mysterious shed with the door ajar. You enter looking for help. Welcome to your own personal Outback Hell.
Escape Room Oz, Caloundra
2-5 players allowed
Listed difficulty: Medium
How We Played
9 October 2016 (with special Halloween bonuses)
40 minutes 19 seconds (a new record!)
After a family weekend holiday at the Sunshine Coast, what better way to usher in our inevitable return to reality than with an escape room? Having enjoyed my previous experience at Escape Room Oz (in their Time Travellers Room) I jumped on the excuse to return and try a different room. I chose Outback Hell as it seemed to offer a nice middle ground that would serve as an introduction to escape rooms for two players while also suiting three veterans.
Darren, the owner and our gamemaster, has lost none of his charm and enthusiasm, and the orientation is smooth and fun. There is now a limit of three clues per game, still communicated via walkie talkie. Having a limit of three clues gives the experience more structure, which is great, and Darren is a master at offering enough information to lead you in the right direction without giving the game away.
The room itself is nicely decorated, and we were lucky enough to experience some extras added for Halloween. These were amusing for some, terrifying for others; one in particular got quite a scream from one or two of us. Outback Hell contains some fabulous antique pieces of furniture that feel right at home in the old outback shed setting. It also contains one of the most fabulous custom locks I have ever seen.
The story is simple, but quite effectively implemented. You discover the room’s main task immediately, and work towards it the entire time, with no major surprises or narrative evolution emerging. This makes it a great introductory room, as it remains challenging but the objective remains clear the entire time. Scraps of photographs begin to fill out some of the backstory, but these are always in support of the puzzles.
Outback Hell offers a huge variety of puzzles, from intricate searching to simple codebreaking and association puzzles. There are a couple of really wonderful physical props that serve as quasi-puzzles that are very cool to play with.
Structurally, the room felt reasonably linear with a few open elements. You progress through a series of puzzles that logically lead you on to the next one with an occasional stumbling block as you realise you are missing items of information. This could be frustrating for some, but it is usually very obvious that you need to find something more in order to progress. What was a little more problematic was that some keys opened multiple locks, but there was little to no indication that this was the case. This might have been ok, but the locks are sometimes a bit stiff, which could cause players to miss locks they should be able to open. If you stall, your first port of call should be to double check whether the keys you already have might have further uses.
A related problem in Outback Hell is less a problem with the room than with the frame of mind veteran players might find themselves in. I tend to be extremely hesitant to open or fiddle too much with antique-looking props, tending to assume that if it looks legitimate it is not part of the puzzle. One or two hidden items actually do require the kind of fiddling I normally avoid, and part of the briefing specifically identifies the props that you do not need to play with. In truth, the use Outback Hell makes of some very authentic props is very impressive and works in the room’s favour, but conventions in other rooms might stymy some players.
The Bottom Line
Outback Hell is a highly enjoyable room that I would happily recommend to veterans wanting to introduce new players to escape rooms. It has some challenging search elements, but is structurally straightforward with a clear objective all the way through. There are some wonderful authentic props and furniture that are cleverly incorporated into the puzzles, as well as the greatest padlock I have ever come across. We played with the maximum of five players which worked out well since there were a few red herrings to give everyone things to do, but I think that two experienced players would also have a great time here. If you find yourself in Caloundra, then, don’t be afraid to experience a little Outback Hell.