Delusion’s reign as the most sought-after ticket in California’s immersive theatre scene has not been without its tribulations, with the show being absent from the 2015 and 2017 Halloween seasons due to lacking an appropriate venue to house its lofty ambitions. The bad news is that the odd-year curse has struck again and there will be no true successor to 2018’s The Blue Blade this year but perhaps we will no longer have to suffer from a Delusion-free season as they’ve once again teamed up with GreatCo to bring us Alt Delete, a hybrid immersive theater/escape room that bills itself as a mini Delusion with a more budget-friendly ticket price.
The Dragon & Meeple, where this next chapter of the Blue Blade saga, is set, isn’t quite as breathtaking as the decaying Victorian mansion of 2016’s His Crimson Queen or last year’s Nazi bunker/hidden forest/cave system but it does have one thing that those locations did not, something to do after you’re finished with the show. There are hundreds of board games, Gear VR stations, and what looked to be some very animated D&D campaigns. The owner and gamemaster also serves drinks and the food looked pretty tasty, though I critted my saving throw and managed to avoid the greasy siren song of the beer-braised short rib poutine (I hear it in my dreams now).
As showtime arrives, I’m told to approach the bar with a particular codeword and handed a sheet of glyphs before meeting up with my team of fellow underwriters, the Safeguard Society’s team of auditors/cleaners, who have been sent to 1982 to quarantine a data breach surrounding vigilante time traveler, Dr. Evelyn Lowell. After a short incursion into the main game hall, we pass through the time rift, represented by the ticket booth from the 2018 show. Beyond this lies a large storage space decorated much like where you first met Stanfield in that show, with vibrant lighting illuminating a plethora of dusty, discarded electrical parts. Set design has always been a highlight of Delusion and while this show may not have the same scope of previous years, the space where you’ll spend the bulk of your roughly 20 minute experience as you work to secure Evelyn’s data is treated with that same level of attention with a lived-in authenticity and a feeling of sensory overload with eclectic decorations and familiar references.
Mini Delusion is a fair enough assessment for what you get with Alt Delete but a more accurate description might be calling it a Delusion-themed escape room. With the help of Stanfield, who is always a swell guy when he’s not selling you out to the Nazis or trying to kill you, you and your team of 6 decrypt the secrets stored on Evelyn’s computer using a wide array of both classic and novel contraptions. Escape rooms aren’t my area of expertise but from a creativity and theming perspective, it feels very much on the same level as its big-budget counterparts in that industry. Where escape room fans might find themselves underwhelmed with the approach they’ve taken is the difficulty. I’m not sure if failure is an option with Stanfield providing hints whenever your team doesn’t immediately get what’s expected of them and the tasks required to complete your mission often feel more like scavenger hunts than logic puzzles. What you’re intended to do is often immediately apparent, if not the means to do it.
What Alt Delete lacks in serious escape room cred, it makes up for in production and theatricality. Stanfield is played by a number of different actors, as is the show’s single Keeper (a race of menacing cloaked figures that pursued you in The Blue Blade) so they’ll all have a different take on the character but his essential character shines through, a shifty bundle of nervous energy with quickly-shifting allegiances. His portrayal in this show seems to be a conscious push towards comedy which keeps the show energetic and fun at the cost of some of its realism. While Stanfield is the only actual you’ll be interacting with, there’s a use of technology in varying forms that puts you in simulated contact with other characters we’re familiar with and these innovative storytelling elements are handled without any notable hiccups. What I was missing was that while there is a lot of fanservice and callbacks to The Blue Blade, and those who have seen that show will get a lot more out of this one, it never really fleshes out the story or give additional insight into those characters.
Alt Delete is ultimately an impressive production that excels in several areas while struggling with a bit of an identity problem. Escape room fans will likely appreciate it from a theming and conceptual perspective but the lack of any real challenge makes the game aspect less rewarding. For theatre fans, the writing and performances maintain the standard we’ve come to expect from Delusion but from a narrative perspective, it feels a bit inconsequential. At $38 a ticket for a 20-minute experience, there’s enough substance here to recommend Alt Delete to locals who enjoyed the 2018 show and need their Delusion fix. Depending on where you’re coming from it may or may not be worth making the trip for this show exclusively but it would make for a fine addition to a night out along with one of the many other haunts/shows in the area or for another $34 you can get food, drinks, and a board game pass. We all want another fully-fledged entry in the Delusion canon and while this isn’t it, it never claimed to be and the ticket price is reasonable for what it is. How well it will resonate with diehard delusionals is still yet to be seen but regardless I hope they take what they learned here and apply it to their next show as their first attempt at the escape room formula shows promise and could be truly compelling with some additional tweaking.
Tickets are available at bluebladesaga.com