We walk through an unassuming door and are led into a small kitchen area by a woman in a lab coat. We are asked to sit while our personal belongings are secured away in a trunk. We are preparing to donate an hour of our lives locked in a room finding the cure to the world’s zombie epidemic.
As the lab technician explains the Zombie Room rules and backstory, we hear a loud moan come from the adjacent room. I should note that, being a seasoned veteran of horror movies, zombies just plain don’t scare me anymore. However, upon hearing that horrendous wail, I experience a level of real life terror that I actually did not think possible. My heart starts thumping, I feel my eyes widen, and my blood turns ice cold.
I can’t believe how quickly my emotional response changes from cynically not knowing what to expect to utter and extreme panic. It is exhilarating and anxiety-inducing all at once.
The Zombie Room employs all different types of undead. The actors are allowed to craft their zombie characters in any way they want – some are George Romero-style slow walkers, some are fast runners like in 28 Days Later. “I have a zombie that looks like a little girl and another who calls herself a ‘Rockabilly Zombie,’” Valley Escape Room owner Felicia Samponaro explains. “All of the zombies consult with my make-up artist Cecilian Orta, and she makes it happen.”
After hearing the preliminary moan, relief rolls in as our zombie was one of the slower variety. My initial flight response turns into focus as my group begins finding clues. At this point, the game reminds me of something like Resident Evil, in that you have to solve puzzles as you go along. The skill level of the puzzles are a good balance between easy and hard – some more challenging than others – but we do have to use our critical thinking skills because the game isn’t without a curveball or two.
Felicia experienced her first escape room in Houston, where she used to live. “The game made me so happy,” she says. “It made me feel like a kid again – finding things in the room then trying to solve them. I played with a group of 8 strangers, and by the end of the game it felt as if we really knew each other because we experienced this amazing thing together. You could literally see joy on everyone’s faces. I want to give that feeling to other people. That’s why I started the Escape Room.”
We’ll be in the room for an hour, and we have to stay on our toes because every so often an alarm sounds, and the length of the zombie’s chain is loosened. Eventually he will have full reign of the entire room. If he
bites taps any of us, the “victim” has to sit out for a few minutes and is restricted to only participating verbally. The tension rises, but we steady on.
Valley Escape Room (located on Pecan Blvd. in McAllen) opened in November 2015 to a lukewarm reception. “A lot of people hadn’t heard of it and didn’t understand why being locked in a room for an hour would be fun,” Felicia says. However, these days, as the concept has gained more buzz, she finds her business to be growing splendidly; she plans to expand her space and even add a new theme in the coming months.
Currently, you can play the Zombie Room (also available in Spanish) and the Titanic Room. In the Titanic Room, you play FBI agents deployed to find the stolen Blue Diamond necklace, and you have an hour to solve the mystery before the thieves return. The feel of the Titanic Room is more relaxed than its Zombie counterpart, and the puzzles may be a bit trickier. “The Titanic Room was my first room, and that’s just a great game for everyone. Not everyone likes being scared, so I offer an alternative,” Felicia notes.
In the room, we quickly begin to organize our clues, one followed by another. The zombie taunts us as we have to get near him to find our next hint. Time is running out, and soon we won’t be able to hide from him. We are getting sweaty; not only does the Zombie Room keep your brain active, but is also physically demanding. We scramble to solve our puzzles, but some things just don’t make sense. We are using math skills, code-breaking, faded memories of chemistry class. But finally, a breakthrough! With less than two minutes left in the game (and the formidable ghoul merely inches away), we decipher the last clue and find the zombie cure!
Success! Relief! Satisfaction! Exhaustion – in the best kind of way.
Valley Escape Room is a fun, imaginative game that can serve as a great team building exercise for coworkers or bonding experience between friends, family, and even strangers. The niche concept of escape rooms definitely fills a gap in RGV entertainment. “When I first opened (and even now), I had customers who have heard about it in other places and couldn’t believe there is an Escape Room here in RGV,” says Felicia. “So I am happy I brought it.”
For more information or to book a game, visit www.valleyescaperoom.com