[N/A] THE DEN - The Cromwell Estate
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This is Escape Mattster's game No. 36.
Venue: [CLOSED] The Cromwell Estate
Address: 1088 N Tustin Ave, Anaheim, CA 92807
Game: [CLOSED] The Den
Here is a carbon copy of my Yelp review, posted originally on 09/09/2018:
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THE DEN // Grade: A-
"...Enjoyable experience, would recommend."
4th stop of our birthday escape room tour, we wanted to go SCARY. With so many "horror themed" rooms popping up left and right in 2018, I wanted to do a legit one that our group's been eyeing since we got hooked early on: THE CROMWELL ESTATE'S "THE DEN".
I was grateful to find out all sessions are now switched to private. Really, if you're an owner and reading this, go private! As Julie (co-owner) had told us post-game today, it only took them 1 or 2 games, in which strangers didn't get along, to ruin an otherwise perfect day for both the staff and the patrons. Thanks for giving us that extra layer of comfort and security.
Then the bad news came.
...Turned out our car broke down, tampered with, to be exact. Amidst a storm, our cell phones had no reception. Damn you, horror cliches! Our only hope is to b&e into the titular establishment, and maybe borrow a phone?
THEN BAM! FIRST JUMP SCARE (of many to come)!
Hunting season had commenced.
Den started off beautifully with an ornately decorated front porch. What looked serene on the outside was sharply contrasted from the creepy silence from the inside. Finding our way in was almost too easy--did we really break in? Or did someone want us to venture deeper inside where we shouldn't?
The overall narrative and production value of Cromwell were both decent, in terms of attention to details and actual execution. Even though this game actually took place in business building complex, the game designers gave their best effort to ditch that "square box office" feel that plagues many of the OC's escape games. With some careful floor plan maneuvering, coupled with atmospheric dim lighting, throw in a creepy plot line aimed to distract, for the most part, immersion made the office vibe vanished.
To be 100% honest, the set/props might not be as elaborate or movie-grade as The Basement, but it did the trick. (In fact, I preferred this over Basement.) Shrouding room(s) in darkness helped, but the strong ominous tone and mood lingered throughout the game due to other outstanding elements that could easily make up for what slightly lacked in the art department.
For one, the story made a lot more sense and felt substantially more complete (vs some other games). Though the premise was a common horror trope, nothing new, the game narrated through very concise wording and required minimal reading. It gave just enough info, got to the point, and prompted players to move on. Bravo.
Any voids and gaps in the story line was supplemented by, spoiler alert, the live actor. (Thus, the many parallels to Basement.) Without a doubt, the live actor (who was actually co-owner Evan) only bolstered the game experience, without being intrusive or annoying. His main job was to frighten, which proved successful by my total of 5 to 6 screams during the game. (I was also convinced his character was gonna kill us at some point.) His other job... I'll let you find out yourself. He was that extra spice that brought out the true flavors of the game.
Finally, besides the live acting, Den checked off all the check boxes of what makes a great horror room: it should require us to get down on their knees (crawl, etc), jump through hoops (figuratively), and maybe discover some delicious secrets that are my favorites--trapdoors and such. I walked out satisfied ;) I'd say the scary level is about 4-5/10. It's perfect for today.
On a more personal level, Cromwell, in many ways, was a testament to my own escape room "career" and growth.
Having started playing in late 2017, I am now fully proficient in escape room language, ie, the ability to crack through locks and codes like a second nature. The well themed puzzles in Den were mostly gen 1, with finding keys, lock combos, etc as main objectives. (In comparison to the scavenger style employed in Basement, this was more my cup of tea.)
The puzzles might've been challenging to beginners, but no longer true for me and my group. In fact, we were only stuck on the final puzzle, and used 1 hint to achieve a respectable break-out time, with about 15 minutes left. Thus, I recommend this room for players seeking easy to medium level of difficulty. For more experienced players, this is more of a horror hang-out. It's still a good time, and it's excellent for ego-stroking as you turbo-rapid-fire-open all the padlocks ;)
Furthermore, I am not as big as a scaredy cat that I once was. I now face the unknown as the first guy in line, head on! (This game was linear, and featured a room-to-room adventure format. Tried and true, still excellent.) I partially wanted to do this room as a preparation for a more horrifying room named Zoe; and now...
Zoe... My body is ready.
The connection between Cromwell and me on an emotional level is well reflected in my grading. And the special birthday message from the staff was the icing on the cake.