This review of Cross Roads Escape Games: The Psych Ward does not contain any spoilers. 

The orderly insists that we line up; it is time to take a vote. There are Insane patients amongst our ranks, determined to bring us down. It is up to us, the Sane, to sniff them out. The orderly tallies up our votes as we call out our accusations one by one. With the final count, two among us are sent into the padded and locked solitary-confinement cell. Hopefully, with the lunatics at bay, we can tap away at the series of tests surrounding us to gain points for our team: the Sane, of course… At least I think these are the Sane ones I’m helping.

 

Crossroards Escape Games - The Psych Ward - Doctor
Photo by Ian Momii

Cross Roads Escape Games is ready to accept new patients into The Psych Ward, their brand new immersive escape room billed as a strategic game of trust and betrayal. With the buzzing reputation of their horror-themed The Hex Room, with its intricate details and tantalizingly low success rates, The Psych Ward is at once intriguing and intimidating. Unlike what you have come to expect from an escape room, The Psych Ward’s objective is not to escape, but to win.

This game pits teammates against each other and forces us to look closer at the way our friends, and fellow inmates, behave along the way. We are now patients in a psych ward run by a rather conniving doctor who has concocted a non-linear series of tests and puzzles to gauge our mental faculties. The overarching truth is that most of us here are Sane, but a few of those we thought we knew are Insane and working against us from within. Throughout the game, a scoreboard of sorts keeps track of which team has the upper hand, which can either bolster your confidence or agitate the nerves.

Crossroards Escape Games - The Psych Ward - Chair
Photo by Ian Momii

In our hospital gowns, we are individually ushered through a secret sorting process and then into the main ward, a small room packed to the gills with contraptions and walls of flashing lights, buttons, dials, and secret compartments. We definitely have our work cut out for us. Lights around the room illuminate to indicate which puzzles are activated for each portion of the game. Throughout our confinement, different sets of puzzles trigger as they are completed, and others turn on to give us new pathways to explore. The orderly barks instructions at us, and the omnipotent doctor cackles and tells us of his odd intentions through tube TVs lining the room. The effect is a cacophony of stimuli and fractured clues that really do start to make you feel a bit insane. It’s wise to have a few crack puzzle-solvers in the group, as it’s easy to feel baffled in the midst of the doctor’s Taj Mahal of puzzles. Just hope those wunderkind aren’t playing for the other team. However difficult the puzzles, though, it’s exciting to see so many reinvented mechanics, new technologies fused with old, clever variants of genre tropes, and a fresh twist on teamwork.

Just one of the unique aspects of The Psych Ward is the inclusion of a live actor within the story; an orderly is tasked with keeping an eye on us and giving us veiled but helpful hints along the way. After all, who would leave a bunch of insane people alone in a room full of buttons and switches? Our orderly, played by Donnie Buckingham, is a jovial but firm gentleman; he has a job to do, but is always happy to keep us entertained. One minute, he’s tickling our funny bone, and in another we are quickly reminded that we are subordinates in his hospital. For a game with an original set of rules and unorthodox style of play, this character is a tremendous advantage to keeping things on track and relating the game back to the story. We truly are patients in this ward, and we better not step out of line.

Crossroards Escape Games - The Psych Ward - Straightjacket
Photo by Ian Momii

Even when the puzzles begin to overwhelm, and your fellow inmates tinker away in a corner or locked in a cell, the story marches on. The truth of the doctor’s intentions begins to reveal itself, which leads to an unexpected climax that throws any predictability aside. There are some very ingenious and unexpected technical feats within The Psych Ward, especially in its more transportive moments, which almost forgoes the need for a suspension of disbelief. The plot of this hour-long game is set up as such that all who enter, experts and novices alike, will experience the full story. Then again, for the most adept, there are plenty of secrets to discover hidden within the puzzles and the room itself.

When all is said and done, the points are tallied, and the Insane are revealed. Hopefully your deduction powers were strong and you made the right accusations along the way. It is difficult to be sure when you can feel your own mental faculties slipping in this disorienting world. One thing is certain: Cross Roads has another wholly unique and engrossing immersive escape room with which to challenge adventurous Southern Californians.

Crossroads Escape Games - Psych Ward - Cell
Photo by Ian Momii

For tickets and more information on Cross Roads Escape Games: The Psych Ward, check out their website and Facebook page.

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