With the entertainment industry’s ever-evolving new ways to bring thrills to thrill-seekers worldwide, one of the most recent trends has made its way into the extensive list of offerings at Universal Orlando Resort. Over the years, escape rooms and similarly styled attractions have become more and more popular, and The Great Movie Escape on Universal’s CityWalk is no exception. Described by Universal as “escape adventures,” this attraction merges typical puzzle-based escape room gameplay with high-concept theming, offering two unique and exciting challenges that are sure to provide fans with the high-quality experience that parkgoers have come to expect from Universal’s creative team.
With two games to choose from, each themed to a classic Universal film franchise, The Great Movie Escape transports you into either Doc Brown’s Institute of Future Technologies or the science labs of Jurassic World. Each of these experiences boasts fan service, a unique scoring system, and a myriad of challenging puzzles, and will keep fans of each series on their toes as they pair into teams of up to eight to solve challenges, assist their character guides, and move seamlessly through the story as they work together to save the day.
In Back to the Future: Outatime, you are paired with the nervous but intelligent Nicola Tesla Copernicus Clark – Nico, for short. She is the personal lab assistant of Dr. Emmet Brown and needs your help to straighten out the time stream continuum to save the Institute and the future.
Back to the Future: Outatime is split into eight individual puzzle rooms that guide you through the story of Biff’s newest takeover of the timestream. Armed with the world’s first portable Flux Capacitor prototype, you and your compatriots are tasked with solving environmental puzzles to track Biff’s coordinates through time and space, and ultimately win back control of the future.
Going through Back to the Future: Outatime was a unique experience; despite having gotten only halfway to the maximum score, our team was able to see every room and every story beat with little complication. Each session is fifty-five minutes, leaving you very little time to complete the multiple tiers of puzzles in each room; more than once, I felt as though the amount of time our party was given was not sufficient to work through the puzzles presented to us. As first-time players, you spend the first few rooms figuring out how the experience works rather than working on the puzzles, which leads to chaotic and sometimes frustrating gameplay.
Of course, being an escape-styled attraction, this chaos is to be somewhat expected, and any timed puzzle-based attraction is best experienced multiple times to learn the ins and outs of the game. This is a philosophy that would easily work for any other attraction at Universal Orlando. Were this gameplay philosophy to be applied to Men in Black: Alien Attack or Minion Blast, a dedicated guest could easily learn the nuances of achieving the highest possible score in a particular attraction. In these cases, the only hindrance would be time and patience.
However, in the case of the Great Movie Escape, learning the nuances of the attraction becomes prohibitively expensive fairly quickly, as either game is its own separately ticketed experience, ranging anywhere from $39.99 to $64.99 per ticket per person, depending on the time and date of the session you book. For this reason, learning the nuances of the game and completing puzzles to their fullest extent becomes expensive fast – especially if you’re playing with multiple people in your party.
While these prices are reflective of the current average price-point among escape room attractions in Orlando, the narrative-driven structure of The Great Movie Escape makes each room feel rushed, and while replaying the same game multiple times to achieve a perfect puzzle score is the ideal way to experience an attraction of this nature, it may not be the most realistic. On the other side of this coin, the saving grace of the rushed narrative nature of these puzzle rooms is that you cannot fail.
Should you and your party fail to complete any of the multiple puzzles in a room by the time the attraction has deemed your time to be up in any particular area, the story will continue to progress. More than once, Nico came over the intercom to announce that she had cracked a code and was sending us to our next destination before any of us in the room had had the chance to figure it out ourselves, and while I consider it a positive aspect in that you get to experience the full story even if you cannot keep up with the pace of the rooms, it did feel incredibly frustrating to be cut off at the pass right as we were about to figure out a puzzle.
Compounded with how difficult it can be to understand the instructions due to imbalanced sound effects, the entire experience was found to be rushed and confusing.
That is not to say, however, that I had a bad time. Quite the opposite, I’ve long been singing the praises of The Great Movie Escape, and am eager to replay Back to the Future: Outatime. The Great Movie Escape is easily one of the most seamlessly immersive experiences the theme park industry has produced to date.
In the final room of Back to the Future: Outatime, players find themselves in the interior of the Hill Valley Clock Tower, assisting Marty and Doc during the climactic events of the original Back to the Future. In solving the clock puzzle, I felt the spirit of Doc Brown himself possess me. It was the single most immersive Universal experience I’ve ever had in all the years I’ve been a dedicated parkgoer. For one glorious moment, I was in Back to the Future.
While my misgivings about the structure of the experience very much remain, and The Great Movie Escape definitely has issues that I would like to see fixed either in current or future iterations of the attraction, the narrative storytelling and cooperative gameplay of this attraction were second to none.
I fully intend to replay Back to the Future: Outatime – with its charming characters, engaging story, thrilling puzzles, and immersive gameplay, I look forward to stepping into the Institute of Future Technologies again. For fans of the Universal Attractions long gone, Back to the Future: Outatime felt like a homecoming. No longer were we confined to the state-of-the-art remote-controlled eight-passenger Delorean; instead, we were in control of the adventure, finally able to give the Institute all the love and adoration we’d been holding onto since Doc Brown was forced to sell the land to that mercenary clown.
Despite its shortcomings, I believe The Great Movie Escape to be one of the highest caliber of attractions Universal Studios has to offer, and while this attraction may not be perfect, I do believe it’s worth experiencing. It is, at its core, what Universal does best – experimental entertainment with a focus on immersion and storytelling. While this particular format of attraction may not be the future of theme park experiences, it is without a doubt an incredible experience.