All photos by N. Maxwell Lander
Where Dark Things Dwell is a new Escape Game taking place at the Black Creek Pioneer Village outside of Toronto. For the most part, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the veteran team at Secret City Adventures. Players are asked to solve a series of puzzles in order to defuse a potentially perilous situation, and those puzzles aren’t too far removed from the puzzles in other Escape Games. You’ll need a mix of logic and pattern recognition to overcome a difficulty curve that is challenging without being intimidating. Based solely on those design merits, Where Dark Things Dwell is a perfectly fine way to spend an evening.
However, that’s about where the similarities end. Though it has many of the same trappings, Where Dark Things Dwell is far more ambitious than other Escape Games, and – as with real estate – location is the thing that truly sets it apart. Whereas most Escape Games take place in a single room or two connected rooms, Where Dark Things Dwell is spread across the entire village of Black Creek, sending players scurrying to multiple historical buildings to solve puzzles and rescue villagers from the thrall of the many, many cultists that prowl the village streets.
Even without its more specific narrative elements, the dark village filled with masked figures is wonderfully atmospheric. The walks from one building to the next are one of the unexpected highlights of the game, fostering a tangible sense of presence that easily outstrips most competitors. Escape Room settings can often feel contrived. Where Dark Things Dwell makes you feel as if you’re exploring a living, breathing place where real people might live. That sensation alone is enough to distinguish the game from more confined experiences.
The story and the props – you have only a lantern and a map to guide your way – provide the extra bit of context that completes the illusion. In Where Dark Things Dwell, someone has cast an evil spell on the village and is attempting to complete a ritual that will summon a dark power and unleash it upon the Earth. You need to find the counter spell that will break the curse and free the people of Black Creek. It’s not the most original concept, but it suits the locale and it’s more than enough to fuel your imagination given the boost it gets from the village itself. There’s something undeniably spooky about seeing a witch’s red lantern floating ominously in the distance, which also serves as effective foreshadowing because you can see the terrors that await you later in the night.
The result is an excellent Escape Game that doubles as a fun experiment in site-specific theatre. Despite the horror trappings, Where Dark Things Dwell is more evocative than frightening, while the game itself is designed with an eye towards accessibility and audience engagement. Though the village is large enough to accommodate 60 players, those players are divided into teams of six. All of the key puzzles are split into three distinct components, allowing each team to divide its attention in a way that feels productive and satisfying for everyone involved. The 90 minutes went quickly (the game adds an extra half hour to the usual Escape Game runtime), but our team never felt rushed, and it is possible to break the curse within the time limit.
Where Dark Things Dwell ultimately makes the most of its historic setting. It’s a welcome evolution of the Escape Room genre that introduces an uncommon degree of replayability (each team sees a fraction of the total buildings) while also delivering a thrilling night of entertainment. Setting is an extraordinarily powerful narrative tool, and Secret City Adventures has realized that potential through its partnership with the Black Creek Pioneer Village.
Where Dark Things Dwell opens to the public on July 28 and will run through November at the Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto. Be sure to enter our contest to win tickets for the show on August 20!