VR escape rooms at District 3

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VR and jumps scares? What could go wrong? Pexels via Pixabay

If you think horror movies are intense, just wait until you experience the story through VR

Escape rooms saw their initial rush of popularity half a decade to a decade ago. Some people were immediately won over by the idea of having to find clues, solve puzzles following a storyline, and escape the locked room within a set time frame. Others were immediately put off by one or all of those elements and resolved to avoid the opportunity at every opportunity.

I don’t have a ton of experience with escape rooms. I’ve only attended two, and neither were successful escapes, but I thought it was special to be able to interact so intimately with a story someone’s created. They’re also a great way to perk up your curiosity again if you’re finding it’s been low. So, whether you’re hitting writer’s block, burnout, or are just sick of the midterms slog, they’re helpful.

Just about the only way to make these stories more immersive would be designing them for virtual reality (VR), and that’s exactly what several game designers and publishers have been doing. My partner also had experience in escape rooms but neither of us had done one using VR, so I went online and booked us a room with District 3 Escape Rooms.

I should preface the game review by noting that District 3 provides much more to customers than just VR escape rooms. In addition to physical and VR escape rooms in their building at 2237 6th Avenue, they have a VR arcade, a board game cafe, thousands of games available for purchase, and escape rooms available online as well. District 3 is quite flexible in their hours of operation, allowing bookings from 10:30 a.m. to midnight. My partner and I booked our slot for 8 p.m., and appeared to have the place to ourselves the whole evening.

We were greeted warmly when we arrived, then ushered into a large room containing five rolling chairs. We received thorough instruction on all equipment and controls and were given the opportunity to get comfortable with everything before the escape room began and the clock started ticking. While the headset was mildly uncomfortable at times and I could see it being difficult to wear on top of glasses, the handheld remotes fit comfortably and I found the controls responded well; no glitches to report.

There are 30 VR escape rooms listed on District 3’s website, sorted into three categories based on the amount of time you have to escape the room: 10, 30, or 60 minutes. There are a few options that appear geared towards classic family-friendly fun, and plenty of others in the areas of action, adventure, sci-fi, thriller, and horror. After peeking through the trailers available for the games on the website, my partner and I had picked Sanctum from Arvi VR developers, one of the horror options with a 60-minute goal.

I don’t want to spoil too much – it is, after all, an escape room – but the premise involves going to an abandoned monastery to rescue a detective friend named Anna who was investigating disappearances and has now disappeared herself. Seeing as the game was labeled ‘horror,’ my partner and I were each preparing for quite a scare what with the VR element, but overall we found the atmosphere and plot more spooky or eerie than horrifying. While there are no jump scares, there are things that will appear suddenly, so make sure you keep your eyes open and your wits about you.

Sanctum was difficult enough that we did have to ask for one hint during the game, but normally the next step in the problem solving was quick to find with a little trial and error, and I think the designers made it instinctive (but not simple) for players to sort clues and relevant information from storyline fluff and distractions. In the end we succeeded and escaped the abandoned monastery, placing 13th out of everyone who’s tried Sanctum so far. Whether you’re into VR or not, I’d recommend giving one of the VR escape rooms at District 3 a try, and definitely make sure you save some time to peek through their board game selection after you escape.

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