CSI: HOLLYWOOD - Puzzle Workshop
This is Matt's game No. 9.
Venue: Puzzle Workshop
Address: 18003 Sky Park Cir, Bldg 53, Unit F2, Irvine, CA 92614
Game: CSI: Hollywood
Here is a carbon copy of my Yelp review, posted originally on 02/25/2018:
CSI: HOLLYWOOD // Grade: A-
(Below is an updated review for "CSI: Hollywood". See my previous review for "Trapped".)
I've gone back to Puzzle Workshop and got another intense brain workout sesh. This time, we're detectives handling the disappearance case for a Hollywood starlet, Ruby. We needed to find out where she went under an hour, or else she could be gone forever. Oh noez!
CSI is a much stronger game overall compared to Trapped. First of all, the theme and the storyline is much more coherent and logical. I didn't expect the plot line to go deeper than the official trailer from Youtube! So with some new info gained from watching the intro video on site, I was very pumped to go in there and work on my case right away, whereas for Trapped, I was like, eh.
Once inside, I found that the visuals are also much more impressive. The photos from the official website don't really do the room justice. This very much felt like a dressing room for a missing actress, though it looked a bit modest--perhaps one found in a local theater, that kinda vibe. But it worked. I liked it. Furthermore, when the game proceeded into the latter half of the mystery, when more secrets were revealed, the visuals got even better. That's when I changed from liking it to loving it! My best guess is that the lighting helped. Very often, I find that if you want an immersive atmosphere, appropriate lighting isn't just essential, but critical. It makes or breaks it!
(A side note: nice touch on the fan, in keeping the environment cool and also giving that intentional feel. Bravo.)
The puzzles themselves were sprinkled throughout, and again, I felt like they threw us a good quantity to complete with only 60 mintues to spare. Some connected to the plot well, while some others are loosely themed, but all worked as a whole to tell a story. It felt more like an educational activity designed around a certain topic, which isn't a bad thing, per se. Just at times, it felt a bit weird. (But still fun!) The puzzles this time around were not as "Whoa! I've never seen this before!". They were more like a mixture of old and new puzzles/formats that felt just right. I liked the good balance--puzzles composed of some that we could solve confidently, and some that were more shocking and perplexing.
Of the dozen of puzzles available, some did have me like, "Wow! That was pretty cool!" I thought I should point this out because these are what I call "moments". You always want your escape room to have memorable moments, so you can recall it for years to come. And CSI definitely had its moments. :)
Like before, the puzzles themselves ranged from opening padlocks to some that involved magnets, computers, safe, and other technology gadgets. Having played enough games now, I can tell ya, padlocks aren't boring. When executed just right, the feeling of unlocking a padlock still hits you at the right spot. Mixing some tech ones just made the experience felt more premium. Once again, it felt obvious to me a lot of care and thoughts went into the designing process, so kudos.
Sadly to say though, when tech was involved, Puzzle Workshop hiccuped a bit. One particular puzzle, even when correctly solved, would not unlock due to magnets not being able to align *exactly* as intended. When sensors are this unforgiving, I tend to consider it as a bad design: In theory, super. The execution, so so.
And just to nitpick the game, so Puzzle Workshop has a chance to improve upon itself, I am not a fan of puzzles that are otherwise tedious to work through under a set amount of time. These puzzles are mediocre, fun-wise, and I'd probably still do them to pass time in leisure. But being forced to solve them to advance through a timed game, it seemed more frustrating than enjoyable. This one colorful puzzle involved putting 12 key items in order, and I felt that was an overkill. Had this been modified to say... 8-9, it would've been much more tolerable. (I know you know what I am talking about, owners! Wink!)
Finally, at times, I was able to hear chit-chat noises from outside the room because the walls weren't soundproof. This somewhat ruined the immersion, which isn't this company's strongest suit to start with. I don't want to dock off too many points for this, but perhaps a faint background music, or some kind of appropriate white noise, would help maintain the illusion of the storyline. Just a suggestion.
Overall, I rate this room 4.5, maybe 4.75 stars, so I'm upgrading it to 5 whole stars ;) Puzzle Workshop has a niche that it fulfills, which is provide a truly family friendly setting for teenagers and even kids alike to experience the joys and surprises of escape room games. Even though sometimes, I go for a more intensely themed experience, or a horror-filled escape session, this company gives me a nice change of pace that put puzzles themselves in the spotlight, and let them shine as the main stars, Hollywood style.
And yup, we found Ruby! Case closed!