The Experiment–an Escape Room with a Twist

Recruitment poster

The concept of the The Experiment is slyly genius.  We are test subjects participating in a behavioral and psychological study of people who enjoy escape rooms! This meta concept, coupled with its pedigree (from the creators of The Virus, a room so nice we reviewed it twice), had me hooked immediately. This experience promised to be a room for “enthusiasts,” a true roomer’s room, so to speak.

Tell Me a Story

Hosted by “Professor J. Elias,” the Experiment makes a point of being story-driven. Using narrative as the focus is the next big thing in escape rooms. Themes have always been present, but they were often minimal. Escape the basement before the killer comes back, or defuse the bomb before it explodes.  These often masqueraded as story, but they’re not really.  They are a setup, with no progression.  The Experiment aims to change that with a complex character and an honest-to-goodness plot twist, which was a really cool surprise.

Because of that plot twist, I don’t want to spoil it–like I wouldn’t for a movie!  I can tell you that our host’s enthusiasm was palpable while we got prepared, and again at the end as we got a tour of little details we may have missed during the Experiment. However, I can still provide a few details to let you know if you’d be a good test subject.

Thrown For a Loop

The initial setting is stellar. I can say that the Experiment starts with not everyone in the same place.  This separation is a feature I’ve seen before, not only in escapes, but in immersive theater.  It’s a fun way to give people different experiences and conversation topics for afterward. Interestingly, we were led in blindfolded, so as not to spoil the theme. It sounds unnecessary, but after going through it, I think it works well. With the setup of a psychological experiment, your mind is still a blank slate on what is in store, and they keep that mystery as long as possible. Not to mention it avoids giving people time to look for clues in the setting before the game starts.

Getting through the first section involved a great moment of teamwork. Entering the second section revealed another lavish setting that was really fun to experience. Somewhere around here is a shift in the story, which is accomplished in dramatic fashion, with stage theatrics that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I thought it was truly innovative and would like to see more of this theatrical presentation in future rooms.

Unfortunately, the next area can’t quite live up to the level of the first two. Although there is one incredibly cool effect, that is used very well, the design of this area is unfortunately a bit bland and reverts to a lot of locks and codes. The puzzles to get the codes are good, but a drawer with 3 different locks on it is a bit frustrating. The goal of this area is to emphasize the message of the story, and get the main point across, and I did appreciate it from that point of view. I only wish that both aspects could have been conveyed at the same high level.

Denouement

Indeed, we did escape :)

The Experiment is ambitious, and I applaud that. The theme sells itself on a meta level, examining the behavior of escape room fans. Doubling down on this, the room itself is an experiment, pushing the story aspect and in fact, giving a very unexpected conclusion to the story.  One might even say counter-intuitive. It was a message that really made me think, as I both agreed and disagreed with it at the same time.  It’s absolutely a message worth considering in real life, which is not what I expected going into my 53rd escape room.  Kudos for that!

On the other hand, the eagerness to try new things and see what works doesn’t always pay off.  One of my co-solvers said it “felt like they were actually running 3 different rooms.” I see his point, and I also see how that would leave some players cold. It does feel a bit disjointed. What I call a “plot twist,” others might call inconsistency. One thing to consider–I have done significantly more rooms than this friend, so maybe it truly IS a room intended for people who think they’ve seen all there is to see in the genre. Even so, his opinions are just as valid and maybe The Experiment’s boldness didn’t work 100% of the time. It certainly moves in some new directions from other rooms and gets a lot right. It’s no surprise there are one or two misses scattered among the hits, but I think they’re worth it for all of the original ideas. The more varied and broader the escape genre becomes, the better for everyone–especially enthusiasts!

The Experiment is open Thursday through Sunday, with more times available on the weekend days. They are located at 1500 S. Los Angeles St., Unit 4, Los Angeles, CA, 90015.  Tickets are $33, and more information can be found at their website here.

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Ryan S. Davis

I love board games, thrill rides and travel. I'm happy to watch and review all kinds of movies, from mainstream blockbusters to art house indies. As a Warner Bros. employee, I'm privileged with a glimpse of Hollywood many don't see, but my opinions here are my own and not representative of the company.

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