Halloween Horror is Here Year-Round
At Cross Roads Escape Games on Halloween night, my group and I start psyching ourselves out about the scares we’re about to experience before we even enter the lobby. Not that the room will need any of our help accomplishing that fear. With a hearty mix of challenging puzzles and thrilling horror sequences, The Weeping Witch delivers exactly what it promises in its format as a horror escape game.
As we began the onboarding for the game, we watched a video explaining a great deal of lore relating to the room. We learned that we came here to meet Madame Ruby to remove our family curse, though the room we would enter now has a demonic spirit instead of the resident psychic. Having missed Cross Roads previous Seance event featuring Madame Ruby, I can only guess at the overlap between the events, but didn’t feel during the event that I was missing anything from having not experienced the previous event. One particular touch I enjoyed from our onboarding experience was a choice to select protective runes -- these gave me a sense of control, engagement, and costuming that I loved having going into the room, and they came up a couple times inside the room.
Once we entered the escape room, we alternated between sequences that focused on puzzle-solving and horror narrative, with the premise that the witch could only act in darkness cluing us in as to when to turn our logical brains off. The tension built as we solved puzzles, never sure which one would darken the room and launch us into a horror sequence, and every step of the way feeling all too certain that our next action would be the one. Within the horror sequences themselves, the lighting, sound, pacing, and overall performance effectively created a sense of fear. The consistently creepy atmosphere and growing tension when the lights dimmed enhanced this effect -- as soon as we saw the lights dimming, or thought that they might be, our group immediately clung together in a protective clump for safety. Despite the room feeling on the smaller end of escape rooms I’ve been to in terms of physical size, it made use of its space and created effective jump scare and horror sequences.
The scare actor in the room beautifully executed their choreography, creating moments where in darkness the witch would disappear and reappear, keeping us forever on our toes about where she might appear next. Visually, it felt like we were being pursued by a monster right out of The Grudge or The Ring, with an eerily disheveled costume and a slow, menacing pursuit of her victims. Technical choices around her character design only added to the sense of this monster’s power, allowing her to perform inhuman actions I’d never expect a scare actor in an escape room to be capable of. Combined with a narrative set-up that evoked folk lore of demons whose false cries for help trap their prey, the horror in the room fully created the sense that we were trapped in the room with a demonic spirit playing with her victims. If you’ve ever wanted to viscerally live in a horror movie, this is the room for you.
It may be worth noting that during at least a couple moments of these sequences, people in the back of the group found themselves at times physically bumped back into walls or bookcases as our group recoiled from the specter haunting us, which definitely decreased enjoyment for them for a little while. Given the variability in group size and placement during these sequences, I doubt that’s something a room’s design can calibrate. It’s also something I’ve experienced in other horror rooms, where I’ve left with bruises. So, while not specific to this experience, I did want to mention it because it affected the experience.
Beyond the horror experience, the puzzles were no joke, either. I’ve been to horror escape rooms where the main difficulty of the puzzles is fighting against your fear, and we definitely had to contend with that sometimes. But, on the whole, the challenge of the puzzles felt more similar to the puzzle-solving challenge of a difficult escape room than of a horror experience. We had some assurance that we wouldn’t be touched by the spirit while the lights were on, leaving us free to solve the puzzles in a lesser state of fear. And the puzzles themselves had difficulty beyond the fear and adrenaline coursing through our veins. We utilized a variety of puzzle-solving skills in our efforts, and frequently swapped puzzles with each other to get another set of eyes on a problem, asking for hints when we needed them.
The room also had an incredibly entertaining hint system. Narratively, the hint system mostly fit in -- it wasn’t fully explained but worked with the atmosphere. But we had so much fun having this “friend” with us in the room that I didn’t question it too much. The puzzle’s themes worked very nicely with the spooky atmosphere in the room, and I particularly enjoyed the ones that gave us physical actions to take that engaged us in the narrative beyond the action of puzzle solving. It felt as though we performed magical rituals, summonings, and interacted with haunted items that were necessary to solve to succeed. Some of these actions led us into scares, and made the room feel so much more immersive in nature. The final puzzle capably incorporated everyone, and led into a final sequence that gave us a climactic sense of having finished what we set out to do from the start. As we transitioned from solving the final puzzle into what became the final narrative sequence of the room, we found ourselves viscerally, physically engaged in our mission, keeping our enemy at bay despite her increasingly frightening attempts to thwart us. In our hour in the room, we went through a full, cinematic journey of a horror story, and this final moment made us feel like the (terrified) heroes defeating the evil that lurks in the shadows.
When we left the room, I found myself left with a couple questions about what had narratively transpired -- why the monster acted the way it did, or what was acting as our hour-long timer, for instance. Upon talking to a couple of my friends who did the room with me, I learned that the answers were there in the opening exposition. I had simply forgotten them upon being presented with puzzles and scare sequences. Having an opening exposition block is a fairly standard structure to escape rooms, so I can’t exactly fault this room for having one. But I still did find myself wishing I had a few more reminders of the scenario throughout, if only for my specifically faulty memory. This didn’t affect my experience within the room too much, though, as the design of the room and elements inside offered plenty of environmental narrative flavor.
On the whole, I’d definitely recommend this room to people that love horror and love escape rooms. The theming and actions of the puzzle-solving enhanced the horror in the room by giving us actions we could take to solve the mystery as the hapless protagonists of the horror story we found ourselves playing out. The horror sequences, in turn, added stakes to the puzzle-solving, since none of us wanted to see what would happen if we didn’t make it out. If only one of those two things appeals, the puzzles may feel like they get in the way of the horror sequences, or the horror may be too intense for a regular puzzle-solving experience. In playing within both genres, however, I found the room incredibly effective, and would recommend it to those who love all things scary and all things puzzles.
-Sabrina Sonner, Latest Call Editor
Editor’s Note: This review was written after a group consisting of Last Call Producers Sabrina, Ashley, and Jacob and collaborators Riley, Haven, and Kale attended the room in October 2022. The room is still open at the time of publication, and tickets can be purchase on Cross Roads’ website: https://crossroadsescapegames.com/the-weeping-witch/