by Nick Joyner
The Great Room Escape's preliminary puzzle room, the only photo I was allowed to take so as not to spoil the experience.
Halloween may be far off but a good scare isn't too hard to find. As part of the 13th Floor's plans to develop events throughout the year so that the haunted house isn't just a fall-time gig, the revered San Antonio attraction has started developing suspenseful puzzles to step up the traditional jump-out-and-scare-you haunted house game. To preview this first step in the evolution of scare tactics, I experienced it firsthand.
The Great Room Escape is simple to explain: solve the puzzles and clues in the room to avoid being killed (touched) by a chained-up zombie. It's like Saw, minus the bodily dismemberment. Phones, bags, cameras, and other items are left in the lobby; you only have yourself, your group mates (up to 12 at a time), and your collective problem solving skills to rely on. After hearing the backstory about how the zombie came to be, you are invited to complete a puzzle in the anteroom to gain entry into the main event.
Giving as little away as possible, the scares start as soon as you enter the decrepit study-bathroom combo room. Within seconds you soon discover a hungry zombie chained to the wall, at a strategically safe distance so as not to reach you right away. You sigh with relief, until a mysterious voice announces through the room that the zombie's chain lengthens every five minutes, adding to the portions of the room that he can reach and creating parts of the room that you must avoid. If you don't get out in 60 minutes, the zombie will get loose and kill you all.
Your escape route is through a door with four locks, for which you must find the keys. Several feet into the room lie two boards, which are the first two obvious clues you must decipher. As a word of advice (since my group didn't do it), complete these first because they will soon be out of your reach. After solving these puzzles, you are led to examine other portions of the room, inspecting for useful objects, markings, locks, and combinations. To avoid giving the trickery away, I'll spare you the details of the different puzzle pieces.
The key to escaping lies in collaborative group effort. As some members use their expertise to complete preliminary parts of the puzzle, more is revealed for others to work on. Different insights are invaluable for some of the tasks that might require several tries to complete. Plus, with more people to scatter around the room, the zombie is less likely to feast on your brains.
The Great Room Escape doesn't rely on cheap thrills or jump-scare mechanisms. Instead, it is a highly suspenseful game that requires critical thinking and searching. No vampire is gonna jump out of a coffin at you, but your heart will certainly start racing as you see the time dwindling away and the zombie getting more mobile.
At nearly $40, The Great Room Escape can be a little pricey, but if you have an hour to spare and you're in the mood for a different kind of terror, it's definitely a unique thrill.
Starting on Friday, July 18th, the Great Room Escape will be open every Friday and Saturday, at 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., up until September 6th. For more information about The Great Room Escape: Zombie! and to buy tickets, visit its website. The 13th Floor's Great Room Escape: Zombie, 1203 E. Commerce St., (210) 388-0382