Brisbane Escapes: Total Carnage @ Cryptology

I seem to be getting into a habit of being captured by serial killers. This time I found myself cuffed to the floor in a pitch black room. The killer would return soon, and I’d need to escape to avoid the Total Carnage they were bringing.

General Details

“Total Carnage”
Cryptology, Kingpin Bowling, Chermside Shopping Centre
60 minutes
2-6 players allowed
Listed difficulty: 9.5/10

How We Played

2 October 2017
3 players
Hints: 1 official, many extras
Around 45 minutes

The Experience

Cryptology is a business similar to Exitus. It is an offshoot of a large entertainment franchise surrounded with arcade machines and a bowling alley. It’s therefore better suited to parties or events rather than the more personal experiences of some of the independent escape room businesses.

It shares some of Exitus’ problems: sound leakage from the shopping centre and arcade undermine the room’s aura, the props were heavily worn (despite this being a newly opened business) and a more corporate, commercial approach to room design (noticeable in comparison to the inventive and experimental rooms I tried in Melbourne). However, Cryptology does improve on Exitus when it comes to staff, providing a dedicated gamemaster who watches and communicates with you the entire time.

In a way this is good, but it does draw attention to the biggest issue with Total Carnage: the effort to create a scary room is undermined by the company’s business practices. Some of the props and room design elements evoke an eerie feel, but it is undermined substantially when the gamemaster’s voice is constantly flowing from the room’s speakers. A pitch black room is a lot less scary when the light and sound of the surrounding arcade remains a constant companion.

Nevertheless, Total Carnage’s approach to set and prop design is a definite step up from the equivalent room in Exitus (Butcher’s Burrow). Though the room is fairly sparse, what is there fits the theme well. Unfortunately, the maintenance on some of the puzzle-essential props is lacking, making some details difficult to distinguish.

Though Total Carnage doesn’t do anything particularly imaginative with narrative, it does provide a decent amount of variety and interest in the activities it asks of you. The puzzles are also appropriate for the theme. Though Total Carnage does not go out of its way to offer anything truly innovative, enough care has gone into its design to avoid accusations of being a bland cash-in.

Do keep in mind that Total Carnage does require you to be comfortable with being handcuffed to the floor in the dark. There is not really any way to avoid this without skipping a chunk of the experience, so if that does not sound appealing this room may not be appropriate for you.

Puzzle Design

Though I found the puzzles in Total Carnage provided a decent amount of variety, there were some frustrations that definitely coloured my opinion of the room. Cryptology identifies Total Carnage as their hardest room, but apart from one or two clever twists to the puzzles, I found the difficulty to be frustrating more than it was fun.

The problem was insufficient indication of how puzzle elements combined, or what was required. There were cases where actions would provide a code, but with the numbers jumbled and no indication of how to order them. Similarly, there were devices that had to be used in a specific way, but provided no feedback to indicate this. This creates an anticlimactic finale due to a lack of instruction about how the final puzzles work.

The problem with these awkward design flaws is that the gamemaster is required to constantly interject to inform players that they were doing the right thing before and just need to keep doing it, or to provide information that players have already intuited. It is frustrating rather than fun to sit around plugging various iterations of the same four digits into a keypad because the puzzle lacks information about how to order them.

Similarly, there are problems with hidden items. I have no problem with searching for objects as long as it is clear that there is a piece missing from a puzzle. In these cases, the puzzles appeared solvable, and the gamemaster needed to tell us we were missing something.

These flaws are frustrating because they undermine what is, at heart, a decent set of ideas with a couple of surprising and clever twists thrown in. With a bit more thought about communcating information to the player, Total Carnage could be a superb room.

The Bottom Line

Total Carnage is an enjoyable room that suits its role as an addition to the Chermside entertainment precinct. It doesn’t do anything particularly special or unique, but it provides a solid experience and ensures teams have a dedicated gamemaster, which is a step up from similar businesses.

There is a solid puzzle foundation here, but it needs a bit more consideration given to the game’s flow to help guide players through the experience. With these more intricate details solved, Total Carnage could easily go from frustrating to inspired.

I was invited to join the folks from Lock Me If You Can for this escape room experience. You can check out their escape room reviews here.

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