Los Angeles, Nov 2018
Some escape room themes promise quality before you know anything else about the game. Lab Rat’s premise has the kind of originality that suggests something special, and it more than delivers.
You are the test subjects of Ratkenstein, rodent would-be doctor, who needs you to pass his intelligence test to get his dissertation on human intelligence accepted. It’s a fantasy inversion of animal laboratory testing where humans are in the cages and rats are pulling the strings, a smart premise that is completely unique and a perfect setup for an escape room. It also provides a rich seam of rodent jokes into which the decor gleefully digs deep. Under plenty of time pressure I still kept stopping to look at and enjoy the witty room decorations.
Video segments cleverly blend into the scenery to build the setting and the story. Your time stops ticking down during each major piece of story, a sensible way to encourage players to pay attention. Like the static parts of the decor, the video is entertaining and often amusingly scathing about your presumed lack of intellect.
When reviewing games I rarely have much to say about the overarching structure of the puzzles and environment beyond whether it’s linear or not, whether there is a single room or multiple. But Lab Rat has such a sophisticated and successful structure that it must be deliberately designed. Like a well-plotted movie, it starts off constrained and tightly focused, then expands out, develops through unexpected twists, and returns back to a conclusion that ties up each and every loose end. There are all sorts of opportunities for players to confuse themselves with puzzle components they’re not yet ready to tackle, and in each case the game anticipates that and gives just enough of a nudge to keep them from heading off down rabbitholes.
The games on my shortlist of really outstanding escape rooms tend to have something unique about them, something they do that’s different or bigger or simply better than any others. Lab Rat doesn’t have a particular gimmick or innovation, but stands out for the sheer wacky energy of the premise and its implementation. It includes a variety of classic escape room puzzle ideas, but in novel and interesting ways, each with some twist on design or presentation. No part of it felt like filler, and at least one puzzle idea was utterly new to me, which – after close to 500 games – pretty much never happens.
Lab Rat is funny and sharp, dramatic and clever. It provides a meaty intellectual challenge while keeping it constantly surprising and entertaining. It’s packed with great ideas and memorable moments, and it fully deserves a place among the shortlist of best escape rooms anywhere. I’d tell you to rush to play it, but you might want to save it up and play a few other games first – you may find them harder to enjoy after seeing just how high Lab Rat sets the bar.