Vienna Escape Review: Crime Runners


This is part of a series of articles on games in Vienna – click here for the introduction and links to all the other articles.

Crime Runners was my (and probably the team’s) favourite venue in Vienna, with strong values in pretty much every area and an owner who clearly cared about the business. The hosting was great, the staff were engaged outside the room, the production values in all the rooms were high, there was a clear narrative running through the games and the puzzles were good. If you’re only going to visit one venue in the city, then this is the one I’d recommend.

They’ve taken the slightly risky step of having a story running between their games and, critically, an order to them. We were very keen to play them as intended, and I’d imagine most players who sign up will be drawn towards Chapter 1 first. That isn’t actually necessary, though. The three games form a cycle – you can play game three first if you want and then you effectively play the prequels to find out what sequence of events led up to Patient Zero. Looking at what you’re told at each stage, I think it would be just as much fun to take that option.

The games themselves aren’t the hardest in the world. We played as a (very experienced) four and breezed through them with a single clue across the three games and spending an average of less than 30 minutes per game. I wouldn’t read too much into that, though: there’s enough content in each chapter to keep most teams occupied for much longer, and this really was a very special team.

Chapter 1: The Dark Secret of the Congressman (4 stars)

Chapter 1 is by far the most traditional of their escape rooms, presumably having been created when they first opened. It’s set in the Congressman’s study, which you’d be forgiven for thinking would mean fairly basic decoration, but they’ve gone to town to make this feel like a room fit for a king congressman.

The game makes a real effort to set the scene for the full three chapters, and I’d urge you to engage with the videos they show and not just continue searching when you’re in the room. There’s enough time to escape (and you’re unlikely to make progress during that time anyway), so pay attention because a big part of what makes these rooms interesting is the narrative that joins them together.

That’s not to say there’s not an enjoyable set of puzzles inside the room: there’s enough there to keep you occupied including one of the more personally frustrating searches I’ve ever failed on. We only needed one clue for this game (indeed for the entire venue), and it was for something that I thought I’d searched to exhaustion. I’ll add it to my long list of search fails…

The ending to the game was interesting but slightly disconcerting and definitely more than a little stressful. It’s hard to say more without giving away spoilers but I think the game is sufficiently good that, whether you like the style of ending or not, you’ll still have a great time.

Chapter 2: Crime Scene: Back Alley (4 stars)

Chapter 2 was a definite step up in theming from the already impressive first game. The story here is that a storm is about to hit and you have to investigate a murder before the evidence is destroyed. You’re in (unsurprisingly, given the title) a back alley, and the background effects throughout the game help you become fully immersed in the story. The wind blows, the lightning strikes and, as the game progresses, they increase those effects to up the tension of the game and give you the sensation that the storm is closing in. This is the game which made me feel like Crime Runners really understand the full breadth of escape room design; totally immersing the player in the story to an extent which is pretty rare.

And it’s not just in the effects where they bring the story alive: during the game, you start to learn more about the Congressman’s life, the evil plans that span the three chapters and where the story will lead in the sequel. You can ignore all of that if you want and still solve the puzzles, but I think it’s worth heeding their advice and downing tools during the brief video or audio segments that develop the narrative.

The set is beautiful, a real step up from the first game with a great caricature of a back alley and used well to hide clues for the opening puzzles. While it didn’t feel like there were quite as many puzzles as in the first game, they still felt like enough. My only complaint is that they seemed to focus very much on the observational – I’d have liked to see a few more that really made us stretch our brains to solve them. I guess that contributed to why I enjoyed the first game more (although I was the only team member who felt that way): once you saw the puzzles in this game, they were almost always instantly solved by my team mates, so it felt like there was a risk of missing out unless you were always rushing.

Chapter 3: Patient Zero (4.5 stars)

Of the 26 games we played over the four days, this was our favourite in spite of escaping in 22 minutes (once again, remember that this was the very best team I’ve played with, so don’t judge that time too harshly and we really were on a rool). I think that tells you a lot about how impressive it was. The production values were top quality, the puzzles were fun, physical and involving the whole team, and they brought the story to conclusion in a very satisfying way.

Like in the first game, there’s a design decision at the end of this chapter which some people will hate and some people will love. For me, it added to the game, but there was a risk that it could have backfired spectacularly, particularly for our team. I think it will work out fine for the vast, vast majority of teams, but go in with your eyes open!

I could talk about a lot of different aspects of this game that I liked, but I’m going to just pick out a few that I remember fondly. The opening scene is a great way to start the game – a beautifully constructed space which is just the right way to approach a bunker game. The key props that you collect through the game are really nicely designed and used in a way that seems “right” for the mission that you undertake. The finale “puzzle” is simple team-working at its best. Another puzzle earlier in the game involves humorous team-working. A third puzzle is simple team-working with a few surprises to make something straightforward seem just a little more interesting. I hope that starts to give a feel for why we enjoyed this game so much.

I’d highly recommend this game for three people. You can play with just two but it felt like the finale puzzle was built with three people in mind; if you have a bigger team, the extra players won’t be as involved, which is a shame (especially speaking as the person who was spare…). [Note – this review originally said that the game required three players which was incorrect]

That’s all on Crime Runners – want to read more about Vienna’s games? Click here to head back to the main Vienna page.

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