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Escape Room Review: Universal’s Great Movie Escape not your typical escape rooms – for better and worse

by Andy Haynes

The Attractions Magazine team was invited to check out Universal’s Great Movie Escape at Universal Orlando CityWalk and experience their two all new escape adventures based on “Back to The Future” and “Jurassic World.” Here’s my unbiased, spoiler-free review.

The entrance to Universal's Great Movie Escape in Universal Orlando CityWalk.
The entrance to Universal’s Great Movie Escape in Universal Orlando CityWalk.

The venue itself is housed in the former Groove nightclub in CityWalk and is beautifully decorated as an old-timey style movie house. The lobby space is massive compared to some escape rooms and covers two stories with two bars, many seating areas, and a balcony inside and out. While awaiting our time to go through the rooms, we were able to try out several of the drinks themed to the two experiences, including The Gigawatt Glow, The Raptor Bite, and The Hoverboard Highball. They were each great and were all available as both cocktails and alcohol-free mocktails. The lobby area offered plush chairs and, even though the air conditioning was turned up a bit high, was a nice place to chill (ha!) before and after each experience.

Looking down at the lobby of Universal's Great Escape attractions.
Looking down at the lobby of Universal’s Great Escape attractions from the upstairs balcony. Not pictured is a bar downstairs and one upstairs. There’s also an outside balcony upstairs. You don’t have to be doing an escape room to enjoy the bars.

Now, let’s make this clear right away: these are not classic-style escape rooms with one hour time limits, clues, locks, etc. In fact, the “lock” in the attraction’s logo was the only real lock we saw the entire time we were there. The advertising materials refer to this attraction as “not just an escape room, but an escape adventure” and that’s not just clever marketing. It would be more accurate to think of them as interactive walk-through attractions with puzzles. Both experiences feature a filmed actress as a video guide who appears on screens, and as a voice in each room helping to guide the way. I was impressed by the amount of dialogue recorded in each room, covering many different eventualities, and hints that a group might need. At no point was a live attendant required to walk in or make an announcement to help us through something when we were stuck.

Each experience features an unheard-of eight different rooms/show scenes each, with one or more puzzles or puzzle-like tasks to solve before the next room is opened. There is no backtracking, and once you move on, the door behind you shuts. This is probably to facilitate allowing multiple groups to move through the rooms at the same time, with a couple of rooms as buffer between the parties. The rooms are also designed in such a way that minimal resetting is required on the part of attendants. Many of the puzzles have varying possible solutions, which we realized cleverly allows some rooms to be solved (for instance flipping switches and levers to certain positions according to specific instructions) and left in that “solved” state which, when the next group is given a different set of instructions, allows them to solve the room anew. (The next group would be given a different set of instructions, so what was “solved” for the previous team is all mixed up for the new one.) 

Attraction warning sign.
A warning for what you may experience. But the fog effects can be turned off by request.

There didn’t seem to be a “fail” state for the experiences; if we took too long solving a specific puzzle, an in-game reason for the room to be automatically solved was given and we would experience that room’s conclusion before the doors were opened to the next part of the story. Some rooms featured repeatable puzzles while other rooms offered one-and-done puzzles. This meant sometimes, when we were doing particularly well, we could be stalled in a room, repeating a puzzle with different variables again, or we could merely complete a puzzle once and move to the next room if we were lagging behind.

The puzzles also offered varying difficulties and needs depending on the number of players. It was clear certain rooms could require more or fewer variables to be accounted for and manipulated for larger or smaller groups. I liked this mechanic since it meant that groups of the maximum size (eight) would have things for all the players to do, and groups of the minimum size (two) could still complete each task.

With this in mind, of course, there was no possibility of not escaping in the time limit, and, in fact, every group is basically guaranteed to spend about the same hour completing the entire experience regardless of skill level. This is going to be great for the typical customer satisfaction and the casual players looking to dip their toes in the escape experience, though it might not be exactly what escape room enthusiasts are looking for as the rooms can lose their sense of urgency.

As for the rooms specifically, we were pleased to see they weren’t just reskins of each other. While all of the above is true for both experiences, the different themes gave each room a unique atmosphere and puzzle style. The puzzle types were varied, and a pleasing mix of physical, digital, and analog. Each room offered an experience that was still enjoyable without being familiar with the source material, but offered “Easter eggs” and additional enjoyment the more you knew about the movies. Each game felt different enough that guests who enjoy one would certainly enjoy the other without feeling that it was a repeat experience. Let me do my best to give some thoughts on each experience specifically without giving away any spoilers.

Back to the Future sign.
The sign above the downstairs entrance to the Back to the Future escape attraction. The is only one entrance to each of the two themes.

Back to The Future: Outatime

Doc Brown's outfit.
The lobby has some replica outfits and props from “Jurassic World” and “Back to the Future” on display.

In Back to the Future: Outatime (stylized like the license plate on the franchise’s famous DeLorean which, unexpectedly, does not make a single appearance in the entire experience), your team are guests at Doc Brown’s Institute of Future Technology (an homage to Universal’s previous Back to The Future Ride) when Biff Tannen, the franchise’s villain, steals a new time-travel device and starts wreaking havoc through the timeline.

Your guide through the experience is a quirky institute employee seen on video throughout, and Doc Brown himself, albeit concealed from sight (though actually voiced by Christopher Lloyd with all new dialogue recorded for the attraction). Without spoiling specifics, the experience travels through several different times and locations, some new to the franchise and several old favorites.

I felt this room did the most to reward fans of the original trilogy the best, and the more familiar you are with the source material, the better. From in-your-face props and settings to incredibly small and obscure nods to the films, superfans of the movies will take a lot from this experience.

The actress who served as the filmed guide for these rooms was my favorite of the two, partially because she was given the more fun script and was able to be quirky, but she was more animated throughout, really adding to the attraction.

Jurassic World control room.
Inside one of the Jurassic World control rooms. Your team must work together here to escape into the next room.

Jurassic World: Escape

Entrance to the Jurassic World attraction.
The upstairs entrance to the Jurassic World attraction.

The other escape adventure available is Jurassic World: Escape. In this attraction, guests take on the role of new geneticists on their first day at Jurassic World, completing some tasks when, wouldn’t you know it, things go wrong and dinosaurs start escaping. Not being as iconic as the nearly 40-year-old “Back to the Future” franchise, Jurassic World was forced to rely more on its theming, atmosphere, and puzzle design, and I feel was really the stronger of the two experiences.

It uses sounds, lights, and fog effects (it should be noted both experiences featured fog effects, with an option to have them turned off before starting) to create an atmosphere that was instantly recognizable from the various films. I do want to be clear that the show sets in both experiences were incredible, and the design teams that put them together should be given all their kudos, but the Jurassic World theming really impressed me. Each room was uniquely designed and really felt like it could have been plucked right out of the “Jurassic World” movies.

Overall

In total, I had a really good time participating in both of these experiences and would recommend them. As an escape room enthusiast, I feel those seeking a classic escape room experience may be disappointed with the gameplay style and ultimate lack of urgency over whether or not the “escape” is a success. But, I think the experiences are really top-notch for what they are, and if thought of as their own hybrid between escape room and theme park attraction instead of a pure escape room, a lot of fun can be had.

Our escape team.
Our escape team, consisting of, from left, two staff members from Attractions Magazine, two from Orlando Informer, and two from All Ears.

Escape room elements such as searching for clues, lateral thinking, and logic assumptions with trial and error still exist, and frankly, the puzzles were still fun to solve even if repeating ones got a little – well – repetitive. We did have a couple of instances of props not working correctly (which really isn’t great at a preview, but expected), and some moments where we weren’t sure if we hadn’t solved the puzzle correctly or something just wasn’t working, though this is not an uncommon experience in escape rooms.

The price points at the moment are high compared to other escape rooms, though the structure of the attraction does guarantee a full experience, and the production values are superb, so there is that. There is a chance you will be put in with strangers as you go through the rooms, which is always a bit of a minus for me (especially with one specific puzzle in Back to the Future requiring all the players to touch each other), but private room buyouts are available. Advanced reservations are recommended and can be made through the website.

For more information or to book your Great Movie Escape Adventure, visit universalorlando.com.

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