“You and your team are now professional excavators. You’re used to traveling below the earth, but things go wrong on this expedition. Together, you must face the darkness underground. Do you have the skills to find your way back to the surface in under 60 minutes?”
I was in Chicago for a few hours before a flight; giving me just enough time to meet up with a good friend and tackle an escape room. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to make it to any of my wishlist rooms (most of which are in the city core), instead prioritizing a room that would let me get to the airport in a timely manner. Which is how I found myself at “The Dig”, a room at Escape the Room’s Oakbrook location.
Doing an escape room with a friend is always fun, but overall we didn’t really “dig” this room. It’s a shame, because the game was solidly built and could be an excellent experience with a little more work.
The narrative was the biggest issue with the game. Look at the game description above, almost none of that applies to the experience. The game starts in a church and features a large stained-glass window with light shining through it. You never feel like you’re truly underground, even when you do eventually find your way to the titular dig. There was no real story at all.
The church itself was an intriguing design, using some sinister-looking iconography to hint at a potential cult, however that narrative thread was never developed. Likewise there was something equally intriguing inside of the dig, but it was essentially just a puzzle piece for another puzzle.
The components in the room were well made and could have been quite immersive, if a little more care was taken with the story. While it’s true that not every game experience needs to be a narrative masterpiece, a good narrative is what elevates a good puzzle experience into a great puzzle experience. Without a narrative backbone for this experience, we ended up being surprised when we solved the final puzzle and the experience was over. We had seven minutes left at that point and—thinking that we still had more puzzles to go—had used a hint on that puzzle that we probably wouldn’t have used otherwise. Instead of feeling elated at the end of the experience, we felt confused and deflated.
Some of the puzzles in the experience were pretty inspired and fun. However, a few of them were very finicky, requiring a level of precision that seemed past the bounds of fairness. A good rule of thumb is that if a player knows exactly how the puzzle should work, then they should get a consistent answer every time they attempt to solve.
One of the first puzzles in the room is a large sliding block puzzle. There was nothing unique or even particularly fun about it, it just felt like a way to soak time off of a larger group of people.
The props and puzzle components were solidly built and I feel that with a bit of work and refinement this room could be retrofitted into a really satisfying experience. As it stands now—unless you’re trying to squeeze a room in before a flight at O’Hare—I can’t really recommend this room.