Cryptology: Total Carnage [Review]

Cryptology, Chermside, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Date completed:  October 2017 (3 players). Succeeded escaping.

Creativity: 5; Difficulty: 4; Atmosphere: 3.5; Fun: 4.5.


  • Fluent English
  • 2-6 players. We recommend no more than 4.

Waking up trapped and cuffed in a dark dungeon, we were once again captured by some maniac serial killer. We had one hour to find a way out, before the criminal came back to probably end our days. While the “Saw premise” for escape rooms is very common these days, it’s all a matter of execution (as we have seen in some notable examples). So  we were curious to see how Cryptology, the escape room brand from Playtime / Kingpin Bowling, would develop this theme.

Soon we noticed strange sounds around us. But they were not the heavy footsteps of the serial killer…

Even before we opened our eyes, the sound of the arcade and bowling venue outside the escape room us was really evident. We could hear the plushie machines, whack-a-mole, the latest Terminator shooter and other games. Once we got rid of our blindfolds, we could also see the light from the arcade leaking into the escape room through the door we came in through. For some, this would be a mood killer, but we tried to ignore it or just imagined our nemesis was hiding in the backroom of a carnival. This external stimuli detracted from the atmosphere of Total Carnage, but it did give us enough light to assist us slightly with removing our hand cuffs, which were fixed to the floor, in a reasonable time.

Without spoiling what we found, a first impression we had of this escape room was also true for later in the game: Total Carnage had an interesting variety of puzzles, but there was often something off in their execution. Items were hidden in places that made no sense; puzzles with no indication on how to sequence the results; props that were so worn it was impossible to be sure of an answer without checking with the gamemaster (GM)…. This room really suffered from a lack of attention to detail and care. There was potential here, but the execution really left a lot to be desired.

That said, our GM Corey was very attentive and nudged us through the sound system every time we were stuck. His service was first rate and allowed us to have fun despite the circumstances. As we have observed in other bowling-venue-escape-room-franchises, the quality of a GM makes a huge difference and can make or break an experience. As long as what we experienced is a consistent characteristic, Cryptology has an advantage over its competitors here in Australia.

For this this adventure, we were joined by Brisbane escape room specialist Andrew Couzens from Gotta Get a Room (follow the link to read his review of the game) and the three of us started exploring the bare room around us. There was a fair bit of search, which was quite surprising, considering the room initially looked almost empty.

The puzzles in Total Carnage involved mostly association, search and observation. Despite the name of the venue, decryption was not a feature in this room. One of the observation puzzles towards the end of the game was the most interesting, requiring players to think outside the box.

There was a transition point in the game from one area to another, but flow was really patchy, with us sometimes performing tasks not seeing how they related to the overall story. It was also very apparent that the first area had far weaker puzzles than the second. The game is linear and better suited to smaller teams, or some people will have little to do. Playing with few people, however, will make the game quite expensive, as Cryptology charges per game, not per person.

Due to the nature of some puzzles in this room (eg. cuffed to the floor at the start, fake blood as warned in the briefing), we do not recommend wearing white when going in. One of us ended the game stained, although we only noticed later as we spent most time in the dark. The lack of light throughout the game felt exaggerated and unnecessary at times, as if it was used simply to increase difficulty of puzzles by making them hard to see.

We escape our ordeal in 45 minutes, however our team would not have realized if the GM didn’t tell us – we did not notice when the game actually ended. Overall, we were miffed and underwhelmed, with the sensation that it could have been so much better.  Hopefully some of the issues have been addressed. In Sydney, Cryptology reviews by Escape Rooms in Sydney show a more positive outlook. For the price charged (AUD $100 to AUD $150 per game on weekends), we would consider other options before trying another room, but we would not completely discard the idea.

Out of the room

Service: Our gamemaster Corey was attentive, did a proper briefing and observed us during the entire game. He was responsive and checked in with us to see if we were on the right track at the right times. There were lockers for our belonging at the entrance. Toilets are available down the corridor, as Cryptology is located in Chermside shopping centre.

Communication: Players communicate with the GM via a sound system although it is activated by a button on a panel in the first area. One hint could be asked for every 10 minutes. We used one, and also got a few nudges through the sound system along the way.

Surroundings: Cryptology in Brisbane is located inside Chermside Shopping Centre, so there are many options for food and shopping just a few meters away.

Total Carnage was also reviewed by Gotta Get a Room.

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