ZOE – Escapade Games’ Immersive Haunted Escape Room
Escapade Games’ ZOE, in Fullerton, is part immersive theater, part haunted house, and part escape room. But – most importantly – ZOE is an experience. All escape rooms have some sort of theme that guides the puzzles within, but ZOE drops the players in the middle of a haunted house and wishes them good bye… I mean, good luck.
ZOE can only accommodate six players per game, so my group of nine split up into two teams, mine going second. When my team came to play, I could see how the first group was buzzing with excitement, huge smiles plastered on their faces. I knew I was in for a treat, but I didn’t know exactly what to expect. The first group didn’t give anything away, other than the advice to “pee first!” Their laughter trailing behind them, they left me and my group to our fate.
The game master of ZOE led us to a dark room with creepy dolls crumpled in the corners or in an old trunk where we could stow our belongings. Even the restroom (we took the first group’s advice to heart) was decorated with headless dolls hanging from the ceiling, and a soap dispenser filled with blood and severed ears and fingers. Children’s laughing and chilling lullaby music slithered from the hidden speakers as we signed our waivers – a sure sign that something intense was in store for us. Then, it was finally time for us to enter the room and meet Zoe…
Meeting Zoe (SPOILERS)
Blindfolded along with my three friends, we were led inside the house. We waited, hands on each other’s shoulders, while our game master told us the tragic story of Zoe, a little girl that had been killed in the house. Zoe’s spirit haunted the house searching for her favorite doll, which we had to find in order to help her escape her frightening Uncle Robert, who wanted nothing more than to keep her – and us! – trapped in the darkness forever. While we listened, I heard one of my friends call out, frightened. I heard the terror trickle down the line of my friends until something brushed against ME. A dirty, gnarled hand caressed my face, nails grazing my cheek. I heard heavy, rattled breathing close to me, and the hairs stood up on my neck. Behind us, the game master finished her story and locked the door, leaving us alone with who- (or what-) ever was in the house.
Finally freeing ourselves from the blindfolds, my team and I looked around the darkness, a single candle our only salvation. Huddling around the candle, we began our search for clues and started completing the puzzles laid out before us. We eventually found more light and solved everything in the first room. Zoe’s ghostly voice whispered at us to go to her room before urging us to “RUN!” The music intensified and suddenly Uncle Robert, a grotesque man with a mangled face, lunged at us with a crackling taser. Screaming and clinging to each other, we ran for Zoe’s room, shouting for someone to shut the door behind us.
In Zoe’s room, we frantically searched and solved with a newfound urgency, dreading seeing Uncle Robert again. When the lights flickered, we waited while the door creaked open. It was Zoe herself. Matted, stringy hair covering her face, Zoe held a candle and addressed us silently, snarling in someone’s face or grabbing their leg during a blackout. She slunk out of the room with one of her dolls and left us without any clues. Pumped with adrenaline, our “game” with Zoe and Uncle Robert continued for 40 minutes until we ran, breathless, out the front doors to safety.
The Aftermath (No Spoilers)
ZOE absolutely excels at immersion, truly embodying the “escape” room concept. Running for our lives, my team and I weren’t concerned with checking our time on the clock. We were absorbed in the world Escapade Games created, fully engaged in the story presented. The time flew by as all of our senses were utilized in the rooms – blindly feeling around in the dark, the smell of copper (blood?), and crawling through tight spaces… The puzzles themselves weren’t particularly difficult, but the challenge was working through the fear. The tension was palpable, our reactions visceral, and I couldn’t have had a better time.
I don’t recommend this room if you get debilitated when scared. But if you can work through the fear and have a good time, I can’t recommend ZOE enough! From the actors to the production design, this room is top-notch!