Los Angeles residents can wrack their brain on abstruse puzzles from classic survival horror game
Running now through November 5th in Los Angeles, the Resident Evil Escape Room Experience is a real-life homage to the survival horror franchise, as thorough a translation of the game experience as it is a tidy exposition of its design limitations. The project is a collaboration between Capcom's internal marketing team and creative agency (and game nostalgia merchants) iam8bit, which is also hosting the experience at its Echo Park gallery space. Its mission: to build hype for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, slated for release early next year on Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PSVR.
Escape rooms are essentially real-life versions of point-and-click adventure games. Players are locked in a room or series of rooms and, using objects and clues scattered about, must solve a series of puzzles to escape within a given time limit. There are versions set inside communist prisons, aboard abandoned pirate ships, and within Area 51. They're generally campy and often attempt to scare contestants (you'll notice more of them in the run-up to Halloween), often employing some combination of Lost's popcorn metaphysics and the sort of stoic, environmental storytelling experiments found in games like Myst.
The modern-day escape room trend dates back to 2006, but only started to gain popularity around 2010 when they became a Groupon mainstay: pay $25-50 for you and a group of your friends to spend an hour solving puzzles together, actively engaged in a task of pretend survival, and without the distraction of screens and brands and public restrooms. They are generally thought to be good, wholesome, gender-inclusive analog fun, and are often used by employers as opportunities for workers to bond and problem-solve with one another. A revised edition of the book Stuff White People Like would likely dedicate an entire chapter to escape rooms.
To its credit, experiencing the escape room adaptation of Resident Evil feels, in many ways, a lot like playing an old Resident Evil game. A group of eight of us were given 45 minutes to make our way through a series of rooms fully furnished with on-brand accoutrements: wood-paneled walls covered in grotesque paintings and taxidermy animal heads, bloody test tubes and broken microscopes, and all manner of shitty lighting. We were led through the experience by two Umbrella Corporation employees in lab coats, ostensibly there to record data about our performance, as well as provide feedback or a hint or two when necessary.
The puzzles, like many in the game series itself, are generally rather opaque. Without spoiling anything, you're tasked with matching images to numbers in order to figure out lock combinations, rifling through drawers to find keys and trinkets, and flipping switches and levers. As the clock ticks, the tension rises, and all the while loud, scary things attempt to frighten and disorient you. It's like games without the shooting or the dying, where all the terrible dialogue spills from your own mouths because that's what hurriedly solving arbitrary puzzles sounds like, right?
What's most fun here is the real-time typecasting that takes place upon the opening buzzer. Watching everyone in the group gravitate towards their preferred functions on the Meyers-Briggs spectrum is its own form of entertainment: some immediately take the lead and begin delegating tasks, others slink to the corner and attempt to pick locks, and still others, after just a few minutes of frustrated ambling, look like they'd rather be enjoying the Green Herb from the comfort of their own sofas. The big takeaway here, it seems, is that there are three types of people in this world: Jill Valentines, Chris Redfields and Leon S. Kennedys.
Tickets for the Resident Evil Escape Room Experience are available for groups of up to six at a time (the ideal number to avoid a "too many cooks" scenario), and the gallery is also taking private bookings for companies or well-heeled zombie-hunters.