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  • Writer's picturelastcallthtr

Step Quickly & Quietly

Haven, Ashley, Katie, Riley & Sabrina

13th Room’s Silence creates a horror atmosphere with horror game mechanics unlike others I’ve seen in escape rooms. The room creates an immersive experience that feels unique in the landscape of escape rooms that may be very appealing for anyone looking to try something new in this genre. For my personal taste, I ran into several things throughout the game that lessened my enjoyment of what could have been a great experience. Some of these fall in line with the type of experience this room wants to facilitate separately from things I personally enjoy in horror. Others, though, do feel like parts of the core concept of the room.

From the initial booking on the website, the room explains little of its core concept prior to entering the room, providing simple triggers and basic information. Upon arrival, we found a relatively nondescript door with music playing and received instructions through a mail slot, including logistical rules and narrative context about our setting and objective. On the whole, this created an immersive sense of mystery leading up to our entrance in the room. It did, though, lead to some lack of clarity in the rules of the set-up for me, since I had no primer to the story prior to entering and then learned a lot of information all at once. I appreciated how immersive this introduction was, but it didn’t feel necessary to execute the room’s main vision, and left me with questions about what was allowable in terms of physical interactions with the space as well as why our main objective was what it was. It offered an excuse to explore the lair of our scare actor, but didn’t fully click to me beyond that. It was also the first moment in which we learned the genre of horror the game was working within. Since certain horror subgenres and tropes appeal to me more than others, learning the context upon arrival this way also made me wish I had known more in advance. Others in my group loved this onboarding to the room, though, so it has its advantages and disadvantages.

As the name suggests, silence and noise play a big role in the room. This gave the room elements of a stealth game, that when working at their best created a real life game of hiding, staying quiet, and quickly dodging away from the actor. On the whole, this element of gameplay really makes the room stand out, along with the fact that the rules state one can be eliminated if they’re caught by the scare actor. Fully leaning into this would’ve made the game shine much more fully to me. The biggest strength of the room were its atmosphere and scariness, which lend themselves to this stealth, horror concept. I would have loved other mechanics from games like these like making noises in other parts of the room to distract the actor or things like that. The idea of staying silent through fear and not screaming at jump scares felt unique to the room relative to other horror rooms I’ve played, though it wasn’t personally my cup of tea since I go to horror experiences to scream my head off. The room isn’t at fault for introducing this element into play, I just wish I had known to prepare for it (and, perhaps could have done this from the context clues of the room’s name). Our group also may have taken the mechanics a bit too seriously, refusing to verbally communicate at all for the initial portion of the room before we grew comfortable whispering, but it definitely added to the atmosphere.

The coolest sequence of the room was when our group of five ended up separated into a group of two and three while the actor was present. In the main, larger space, two of us had ample space to leap and dodge around the actor. When the actor left into the smaller room our three friends had been working in, all we heard for a bit was some banging and crashing as the actor (presumably) attempted to find them in the space. We could only listen while we hoped our friends survived. To me, this moment was the clearest one of the game’s execution working fully to its core ideas.

However, for almost the entirety of the rest of the room, the physical space acted as an obstacle to the scare sequences rather than a benefit for me. In fairness, I’m a bigger person and can be sensorially sensitive to touch. With puzzles that were largely linear in nature, it often felt as though half of our group of five were mostly just waiting in the room. The horror atmosphere added suspense to moments when we were waiting for others to complete puzzles, but also made the number of physical bodies in sometimes small spaces feel more noticeable. Apprehensively looking around and staying alert of potential jump scares was a great way to spend the time while others were solving puzzles. Wondering how to most efficiently dodge around friends and figure out who would go where was less so. In a sequence shortly after the one mentioned above, I ended up a bit pushed about as my group fled the room. This created a physical obstacle to interacting, and generally broke my immersion, since I was no longer thinking about the actual situation but just the orientation of bodies in the space. Once the actor left, I decided to simply wait in the larger room while my friends finished up the smaller one, since the puzzles were simple and linear and I trusted they could forge on without me. The rule about player elimination also exacerbated this, since I didn’t want to get eliminated or have anyone else be eliminated due to these difficulties navigating the space. On the one hand, I can understand it being difficult for a room to fully anticipate the movements of 2-6 people within it. But, on the other, I refuse to believe that any horror room should have being bumped about inherent as a risk, and that rooms cannot be designed with this limitation in mind.

Other than the puzzle’s linear nature, the puzzles had a couple of bright spots but on the whole felt fairly standard. The main obstacles were fear and lack of verbal communication when we wanted to stay quiet. This contributed to my feeling that more fully emphasizing the horror stealth game nature of the room would work more effectively since the puzzles themselves weren’t the main draw of the room. I did appreciate that they had a bonus track that could be solved with extra time, though our group didn’t end up getting to it. It did in general, though, feel like a good way to ensure every group gets a full narrative and full time in the room.

Since the room wants to safeguard its concept, I’ll add a couple thoughts after this below a spoiler warning. To close out for those wanting to go in without this knowledge, I’ll say that the overall atmosphere and horror mechanics of the room are definitely worth checking out for anyone with an interest in horror escape rooms. Certain things could have been added to play into its strengths, but the concept on the whole is fun. Additionally, some of the issues I ran into might not be issues for others playing the room. I was left wishing for clearer onboarding, a lobby space where a soft rather than hard break could be taken, and fuller puzzles. But, for what the room wishes to do, it’s obscurely immersive onboarding, immediate entrance to the world, and simpler puzzles allow for an intense experience for some.

Editor’s Note: This review was written after playing The Silence with Ashley, Riley, Katie, and Haven in August 2023 at 13th Room. More information about the room including how to book tickets can be found on their website:

**Spoilers on Narrative Content**

The room’s set up has players creeping around the lair of a blind serial killer. Ultimately, the goal of this narrative hook was to create a fun, sensory-based mechanic around noise. It felt a bit odd, though, to incorporate a disability into the narrative this way. Serial killers often succeed at doing what they do through an alignment with normative, societal expectations, so adding blindness felt like a clear departure from the narrative in a way that aligns disability with villainy. While his monstrous qualities were his murderous tendencies and not his senses, the room made the clear narrative choice to add disability for the purposes of showing it in a negative light. Horror as a genre can be rooted in fear of the other, so I don’t necessarily blame the room for working in this way. But I find much more interest in horror that subverts these expectations, rather than playing into them. Short of that, I would have personally enjoyed this blindness mechanic more in a literal monster narrative, since that genre relates to discovering the strengths and weaknesses of a unique monster, and since it would separate it from monsterizing marginalization. Not everyone’s enjoyment was affected by this, though, so it may not be a concern for every group.

**Spoilers on Player Elimination**

After finishing the game, we learned from talking to our game master that we couldn’t have actually been eliminated from the game. Given how careful we were given this rule, and that it affected my willingness to even enter certain spaces at times, I wished there was a different way for them to accomplish the same goal rather than a fake rule. I understood the desire to create fear of getting too close to the doctor, and encouraging players to not touch the actor. However, it fully affected my gameplay in ways that weren’t always positive and immersive, so I wished I had known going in that this rule wasn’t enforceable.

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