Escape Room SP: Harbinger [Review]

Escape Room SPLocation: Escape Room SP, Vila Mariana district, São Paulo (SP), Brazil

Date completed: June 2016 (2 players). Failed to stop the Eldritch gods!

Creativity: 7.5; Difficulty: 6; Atmosphere: 10; Fun: 9

Requirements:

  • Fluent English (planned for Aug 2016) or Portuguese
  • 4-6 investigators

It is 1920 and players of Harbinger are assailed by a collective nightmare and united by a disconcerting letter from a stranger named William Briden. The unhinged prose of the letter speaks of unnerving discoveries and hints at something dark being unleashed on the poor Briden, who seems to be in a shaken state of mind. Players of this escape room must investigate the mystery behind Briden’s disappearance and prevent an unspeakable horror in less than one hour.

After finding out about how Escape Room SP created an escape room based in the Cthulhu mythos, I was extremely excited and keen to try this rooom. Why?  For readers not familiar with the Cthulhu setting, it was the creation of legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft whose stories have influenced many horror authors including Stephen King,  Bently Littleand and others like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.  Lovecraft stories typically revolve around discovery of ancient forbidden knowledge which reveals cosmic horrors of the universe to unprepared minds – the path of knowledge is paved with madness. It is a terrifying setting where the unknown and the unexplainable are best left undisturbed.

With that in mind, Pa and I took on the roles of classic Lovecraftian investigators to satisfy my insatiable curiosity behind this room. I had to know!

In this immersive game, players of Harbinger are gradually sucked into the scenario  and are introduced to the story even before the game even starts. To create this experience, Escape Room SP will send to players a copy of Briden`s letter (via email) and the collective nightmare which is relayed through an expertly produced short film, a shortened version of which can be found here.

Once at Escape Room SP, players will be assigned roles Doctor, Detective or Archaeologist and each of these roles/class options will have their own items that will become relevant to the game, a pretty unique feature. The props involved in this game are high quality and bring out the weird 1920s horror setting in keeping with Lovecraftian fiction. A copy of the letter, which is available for players to read again, is replicated on aged paper with fine calligraphy and the dream sequence movie can be screened again. This then leads to a smooth transition where the players are physically led to Briden’s apartment by a foreboding robed acolyte and the game truly begins.

Escape Room SP_Sala Harbinger-Créditos Maria Rita Corain (2)

The Lovecraft horror setting, with its impending slow burn and in depth examinations of the human psyche when confronted by the supernatural, is a hard one to to nail. However, the crew at Escape Room SP have done a marvellous job through attention to detail on the decor, props and a rather unnerving soundtrack. Madness is in this room.

This sense is also enhanced by subtle technology which is coordinated with the progress of the game and delivers creepiness rather than jump scares. There are also a lot of written material which are relevant to the game but also tied in with the story. We played the game in Portuguese with English hints and the documents were very well produced, fit the scene and extremely well written. According to Escape Room SP, a full-English version of Harbinger will be available by August 2016.

To top off the setting, any assistance to you will come to you through voices from an antique radio. Listen very carefully.

Harbinger

The puzzles within Harbinger were not too hard and the game is strictly linear. However, the puzzles do tie in very well to the Cthulhu lore and the actual story. A little bit of search and logic will get you through it all. Nerves too. The atmosphere in this game might make for a more tense game in some people.

Harbinger was recently launched when we had our run through and there were some very minor issues with technology which we highlighted to the staff of Escape Room SP and they were kind in receiving our feedback. The room is otherwise without fault. In fact they’ve indicated to us that they are still improving this room based on player feedback so this is very positive to hear. The minimum for this room is four players although we were allowed to play with two on that occasion. Four is a pretty good number for this room, which isn’t large.

According to the owners of Escape SP, Toni Wang e João Vitor Antonini, the idea of the Harbinger is to unleash a sense of strangeness in the participants, similar to the setting and texts from the board game Elder Sign, that are always skewed from reality.

This brings us to the next point. Harbinger was made in partnership with Galapagos Games, the gaming company responsible for distributing popular international board games in Brazil. In this instance, Galapagos Games and Escape Room SP worked together to deliver Elder Sign and Harbinger at the same time. Beyond a smart marketing move which introduces fans of the Cthulhu genre or board games to escape rooms and vice versa, this also allowed Escape Room SP to freely apply the Cthulhu setting to Harbinger, making for an authentic Lovecraftian experience. We are 100% in favour of partnerships that increase quality and customer experience in Escape Rooms: we had seen a similar arrangement in Escape 60’s Assassin’s Creed, made in partnership with Ubisoft, also in São Paulo. Then we played this amazing horror room. Certainly something that should be more explored. 

After one hour in that nefarious bedroom, we failed to defeat the machinations of the Eldritch gods. All was despair…. Not really. We had an awesome time. Pa enjoyed it. I was really thrilled given how much of a Lovecraft geek I am.

If you happen to be in São Paulo, swing by and defeat the cosmic powers where we failed!

Out of the Room

Service: The staff at Escape Room SP super friendly and professional. Guilherme, our gamemaster, provided much of the atmosphere by being in character, much like he was in Atelier. His performances in these rooms borders on live actor level even though he was still very much engaged as the gamemaster, with excellent bilingual skills.

Players not from Brazil may have to email Escape Room SP to organise bookings, as the direct credit card payments are tied to the Brazilian National ID numbers (called CPF, which every Brazilian has). Also, it is nice to inform the staff if you wish to play in English. Either that or you can bring a friend who could also read Portuguese.

The venue has a medium-sized waiting area with free wifi, which you’ll have to solve a simple riddle for the password. There is also an Easter egg puzzle somewhere in the waiting area. Lockers for personal belongings are also there, and water and coffe are available for purchase.

Communication: As mentioned, hints are given through an antique radio. You can talk to the walls and the voices will give you the direction. Take heed.

Surroundings: Escape Room SP is at a 15min walk (1km) from Ana Rosa subway station, near Ibirapuera Park, a beautiful green area in this gigantic concrete city.

From there it is also a short taxi ride to Paulista Avenue, São Paulo’s main street, where there is plenty of options to eat and do some shopping. We suggest stopping at any cafe and ordering a “Pão de queijo” (pronnounced pan-de-kayjow), a cheesebread. It’s a local treat and great gluten-free snack. Enjoy with a fresh fruit juice, such as pineapple + mint.

If you are interested to know more about Lovecraft’s Cthulhu setting, check out this excellent 1920s style silent film adaptation of Call of the Cthulhu from 2005 made by a group of fans. Also look for the book “Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H. P. Lovecraft”. But don’t read it at night.

We also played Side B  and Atelier at Escape Room SP and there were pretty cool.

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