The video feed flickers and switches over from our Zoom tour of Aleister Crowley’s estate to a grainy home recording. A young, once handsome priest sits strapped and bound to a wooden chair, his eyes blackened pits. A demonic growling comes from his lips as an older priest approaches, crucifix and holy water unsteady in his wavering hands. The time for the exorcism has come. virtual exorcist
Virtual Exorcist, from Emergency Exit in the U.K., has been reworked from its in-person escape room to a virtual iteration. Built for six participants or computers, the sixty-minute escape room is entirely played over Zoom. Like in Amsterdam Catacombs and Evil Dead 2, Virtual Exorcist is an avatar-based experience, in which players will communicate and direct a Game Master who is on-site and physically interacting with the room. But what sets Virtual Exorcist apart from all other escape rooms we’ve played – both virtual and in person – is the inclusion of a second live actor in the room, in addition to pre-recorded video clips, who serves as a steady-camera operator throughout the experience. This addition truly elevates the experience and allows for a unique perspect and view that other rooms don’t offer. While the ambiance of Virtual Exorcist is quite eerie and creepy, the room is perfect for adults or young adults who have a penchant for the supernatural. There is no gore or adult language, but the exorcism theme and in-game video clips might be off-putting to some.
Virtual Exorcist finds participants entering the supposedly haunted Crowley Manor, which was said to be home to famed Satanist Aleister Crowley decades ago. Participants engage in the Manor in several different points in time, one following two priests from the Vatican who have entered the Manor, and one that investigates the original Satanic practices of Crowley through an exploration of the haunted establishment. But for your group, you only have an hour, because anyone who stays longer will simply disappear. Participants enter the eerie Crowley Manor via their tour guide Ronnie, and his cameraman Liam, with the intention of exploring what happened to the priests, uncovering the house’s secrets, and hopefully escaping alive.
The haunted location theme isn’t new to the escape room world; however, Virtual Exorcist stands out from the rest in its absolutely brilliant use of remote technology. The entire game takes place on Zoom, but includes impressive in-game video clips that sporadically play throughout the experience. As players uncover certain clues, video clips automatically play in the Zoom application, creating a seamless transition. The result is that participants all see the same content at the same time instead of needing to navigate to a separate window to watch videos independently. These eerie, found-footage-style videos propel the narrative and investigation forward, and help keep players engaged, invested, and immersed in what is happening on screen.
The most innovative use of technology in Virtual Exorcist, however, is arguably the most basic: the utilization of a second cameraman. This second camera is a novel approach to virtual escape rooms, and lends itself well to the ghost-hunter premise. Initially conceived to eliminate motion sickness for participants that might feel queasy in rooms featuring strictly POV coverage, Virtual Exorcist uses a steady-cam that also allows for a smooth view of the entire investigation. Additionally, the Game Master is fully on screen and able to talk directly into the camera to participants, which furthers player-character connectivity. Our staff thought this inclusion was a brilliant approach and one that other virtual rooms might consider adopting.
Another stand-out of Virtual Exorcist is the lack of an online inventory system, similar to Amsterdam Catacombs. Instead, the Game Master is entirely in charge of walking players through which clues and puzzles are yet to be solved. This works to the room’s advantage two-fold: First, players will not be distracted by flipping between sites to view clues, thus keeping them engaged in the action. Second, this approach is most like being in the room, during which players must keep track of everything and remember what puzzles are left without the benefit of an inventory system. This system works perfectly, especially with a highly competent Game Master; however, some players might be disappointed that they are unable to study the clues and puzzles independently.
Given the nature of Virtual Exorcist‘s varying narrative threads, participants are given a wide range of puzzles and clues to solve. From ancient Satanic artifacts charged with evil to a more modern laptop, there is a narrative reason for every prop, clue, and puzzle in the room. The set design is appropriately spooky but simplistic, allowing participants to focus on only the clues and puzzles needed to complete the room. This minimalist approach makes sense in virtual escape rooms, in which players don’t have the luxury of splitting up for a swift and complete search of the room. Here, players are at the mercy of their avatar and how quickly they can keep up with sometimes rapid or contradictory directions from players.
Virtual Exorcist more than makes up for the sparse set design in its effective use of lighting, sound, and effects (both physical and virtual). Flickering lights, moments of darkness, and noises from other rooms set the stage nicely for an unsettling experience – in fact, Emergency Exit suggests playing in a dark room. Quick inserts of grainy CCTV footage help invest participants in the experience, bringing to mind horror movies during which the audience calls out to characters who are in jeopardy. Eagle-eyed players will also notice some subtle – and some not so subtle – ghostly activity throughout the experience which adds to the immersion and spooky, “real-world” scenario.
The role of a Game Master is to walk a fine line of helping players with puzzles without being overtly obvious about it, allowing players to come up with the answers themselves. In virtual escape rooms, this role is even more difficult, as players need to be able to find all the clues in the room without taking too long to explore. In Virtual Exorcist, Game Master (and room creator) Ronnie Carson is a charmingly jumpy character. He humorously interacts with participants throughout, and acts as a self-conscious Ghost Hunter host-type character. With a back-story for every prop inside the room, Ronnie proves to be a knowledgeable and delightful avatar/Game Master, and doesn’t hold back in letting participants squirm coming up with answers themselves. He also provides moments of humor and levity to an otherwise spooky experience. Taking on a role of his own and furthering the Ghost Hunter vibe, cameraman Liam provides Ronnie a foil for his frustrations and fears – although silently from behind the lens – and leads to some entertaining character-character interactions. The video clips used throughout the experience also lend an air of authenticity to the room. Experienced actors David McIellen (Broken) and Ciaran Griffiths (Shameless) play the two priests whose previous expedition to the Crowley Manor had a less-than-ideal outcome, and their quality of work is immediately apparent; they ably elicit fear and empathy without any direct participant interactions.
Virtual Exorcist has been on several escape-room best-of lists and it’s easy to see why. The combination of truly impressive tech, eerie ambiance, and delightful character interactions make this one of Haunting’s favorites. Virtual Exorcist is truly one of the most immersive virtual escape rooms on offer, and full of edge-of-your-seat supernatural excitement.
Emergency Exit also offers another virtual escape room, The Beast, which continues the narrative started in Virtual Exorcist. The Beast is a ninety-minute escape experience that combines their in-person Conjure and Poltergeist rooms, and is good for six connections. We at Haunting cannot wait to continue our escape from Crowley Manor.
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