Inheritance: We were set to inherit a fortune. But only if we could solve our crazy deceased relative's riddles in order to locate it.
Mad Scientist: Another mad scientist bent on vengeance. We had to find a way to defuse the bomb before we fell victim to his plot.
Pros: Let us begin by saying that the owner at Vault Escape was completely awesome. She clearly loves what she does and we appreciated her joy and the effort she put into her rooms. Also, she made a great game master with her attention to our progress and helpful hints as needed. The rooms themselves had clear, logical game flows. The puzzles were quite solvable and overall tied to the theme of each room. We can honestly say we enjoyed playing the games and figuring out each puzzle. The linear nature of the room also helped our progress. The rooms were small, best for two to four players. The sets, however, coincided with the general theme of the room.
Cons: A few of the puzzles tripped us up a bit with possible alternatives, but overall these are nicely designed games and rooms. Set-design is basic, but it works! It is mostly about good game flow and puzzles to us. We recommend this as a solid room escape experience among the best Illinois has to offer.
The Railcar: Trapped on a speeding transit train, we had to figure out how to put the brakes on this choo choo before we plunged to our deaths. In the process, we unraveled the evil plot of a domestic terrorist.
Pros: The game master was awesome. From the moment she walked out to greet us, she exuded an enthusiasm that was worthy of the greatest game masters in the world. She truly set the tone for the game we were about to play. She even managed to skillfully deal with the annoying hungover college kids we had to play with who thought they were ever so funny and clever to the amusement of nobody ever. She was a true master of the art of game mastery, if it was an art. We were then led inside the game play area we stood in awe for a moment at the cool set and pondered the background story as it played on the screen. Once the clock began ticking however, our attitude rapidly changed.
Cons: The puzzles were mostly riddles and math problems, typical of the kind found in any standard puzzle book. This is becoming one of our major issues with many escape rooms, the general lack of creativity and unwillingness to tie the puzzles to the storyline. We found ourselves parceling them out like homework. "Who's good at math?" "Who can do riddles?" "Graphs?" Etc. We trudged through these like a child shoving down their veggies. Even the mechanical puzzle, which I usually jump to do, was tedious and near impossible to complete. We escaped through a default method that allowed us to essentially bypass the difficult puzzles and move forward anyway. All in all, a puzzle design fail. But hey we got to hold a victory sign in the end. Score!
Traumatized: Captured by a serial killer . . . you can guess the rest. Essentially we had to escape or die.
Pros: Amazingly cool set and altogether horrific environment. Perfect for haunted houses, zombies, laser tag, and just hanging out in a scary room. We played laser tag and loved it. We definitely recommend you plan on spending hours here and shoot some zombies while you are at it. The escape room itself had a total immersive feel, except for the game master's presence in the room, which felt more oppressive than if Dr. Trauma himself had been in the room.
Cons: There were so many puzzles (complex and illogical) that we were overwhelmed and the game master had to literally chart them out on a white board and guide us to each hint to help lead us through the game. We did not get far at all and more people most definitely could have helped. There were so many red herrings and distractions however, that playing this game was difficult to impossible at times. The sheer number of puzzles made progress exceedingly slow. The game master's apparent judgement on our abilities diminished all of our confidence and we temporarily determined to pretend that our name was the "escape wannabes" rather than the "escapologists." We literally succeeded at nothing except single-handedly saving our team from obliteration in laser tag. But the escape room experience was a total loss.
The Hideaway: Kidnapped and taken for ransom, we had to escape a secret room.
Pros: At the end of a long streak of escape room fails in Illinois, we were ready to hang up our hats and relinquish our title as escapologists. Until, we played The Hideaway at Hidden Key Escapes. We walked in determined to prove we were not complete failures. We were also starving and set on escaping before the restaurants closed. We set to work, methodically moving through the numerous puzzles. Clear game flow and logical puzzles helped keep us on track. We needed only one hint at the end (requiring us to move a piece of furniture despite our general hesitancy to do so given so many exhortations against doing so in other rooms). Finally, we escaped with much time to spare. We were elated and starving. So we hurried on out of there with a renewed love of escape rooms.
Cons: None. We escaped. We were literally so thrilled after our succession of losses that this place felt like the best escape room experience in the world. Seriously it did. But in retrospect, a clearly articulated storyline would have been nice. More creative set-design perhaps? Aw heck, who needs those, this is the best Illinois has to offer, so let's just congratulate them for logical puzzles and good game flow. Here, Here!*
*The sarcasm in this review is a result of Poorly-Designed Puzzle Fatigue (PDPF), a condition brought on by fruitlessly attempting to solve so many poorly design puzzles at other escape rooms in the area. Not at Hidden Key, thank goodness.
Einstein Room: Not sure what the story was for this room but there were images of Albert Einstein on the wall so we are guessing that's where the name came from.
The Gallery: Famous paintings adorned the walls and we were tasked with discovering the forgeries and solving puzzles to escape.
The White Room: A completely white room. 30 minutes. That's all you need to know.
Pros: There were three escape rooms at this place and clearly we love escape rooms.
Cons: Where to begin... Let's start with the game master. When we arrived, she proceeded to provide a 15 minute lecture on the DO NOTS of the room. These included the typical rules such as do not climb or break as well as a few we had never heard of before such as "put the clues back right next to where you found them so the staff doesn't have to work so hard in resetting the room" and "don't do any renegade moves." She went on to explain that renegade moves included jumping ahead. Now, it is our belief that in a well-designed game it would be truly impossible to jump ahead (lock-picking aside) so this has never been a problem for us. However, during and after our game we were indeed chastised for making renegade moves, much to our surprise. Apparently, we solved several puzzles "before we were supposed to" which to us was not a problem at all but to the game master was apparently a most vile violation. Our advice: if you don't want people to jump ahead, make sure there is no way for them to do so. It is all about puzzle design and good game flow. Besides that issue, we found the puzzles mostly tedious to complete, feeling more like homework than imaginative and fun puzzle solving. The same was true for both the Einstein Room and the Gallery. In the Gallery, we played with several children and were pleased to assign some of the more homework type puzzles to them rather than have to trudge through them ourselves. The sheer number of puzzles combined with the arduous nature of them made it difficult to escape in the time limit. With no story lines, we didn't necessarily feel invested anyway and were not really sure why we needed to even escape.
With regard to the White Room, let's just say that we solved it after we failed to solve it. That will make much more sense to you after you have played it. Interesting concept and we appreciate the philosophy behind it and especially the fact that it was completely contrary to our room escape instincts and challenged us to rethink our game-play strategy in general. With that said, we were divided on whether we disliked it very much or hated it altogether.
The Chamber: As King Arthur's knights of the Round Table we had to find a way to free the sword from the stone and escape the castle.
Pros: We loved the introduction and the set in the room where they introduced the story to us. Our group of ten was very enthusiastic and this helped get us more excited for the experience to come. Our game masters were very happy young people who also surged with enthusiasm. However, our initial excitement quickly waned.
Cons: Let me just say that even more than set designs, what we most appreciate is logical, thoughtful and creative puzzles. Unfortunately, Escape for Fun did not deliver. We needed hints for every single puzzle mostly because the logic of each was convoluted. If, for example, we had discovered a certain number combination, often those numbers would have to be rearranged in some random unknowable combination in order to unlock a lock. Since many of the locks were the same type this created for a large number of possibilities that required either trial and error or multiple hints. In the end, we did not solve a single puzzle without hints from the game master. The set design was good. The room was very small and there was not much to do for large numbers of people. Many times people were standing around wondering what to do.
Cover photo taken at Countdown Live .
We are escape room fanatics who have played over 300 games in the U.S. and Europe. We love the art of escapology and we wanted to share our adventures in playing room escapes with you!
Rooms Played: 329