Eleven Puzzles: Parallel Lab | Review

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Parallel Lab Review | The detectives are following Cryptic Killer’s trail. After escaping Cryptic Killer’s trap, the detectives thoroughly investigated the area where they had been held. Sadly they have found nothing that could move their case closer to catching the killer… Or so they thought.

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium

 

Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

 

Over the past 2 years, we’ve all become quite familiar with digital escape rooms, and I personally have had hit or miss experiences with them. After a few disappointing experiences, I decided to give virtual rooms a miss unless I was playing by myself, which means I didn’t play the first instalment of this series by Eleven Puzzles (that said, you can read what Rebecca and Mairi thought about the first instalment over in our review).

Fortunately for me, Eleven Puzzles reached out and invited us to play their latest digital escape room-style experience in exchange for a review (this review, in fact), and I was definitely intrigued by the premise and drawn in by the art style!

 

A very friendly parrot! | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The Premise

If the name hasn’t quite given it away yet, this virtual room requires at least two players, on separate devices. This is because you will each be exploring a slightly different version of the same room, and communicating to solve various puzzles. As you are independent, you are free to explore without being tied to the other person’s screen which was my main bugbear of other digital games. I loved the free roam aspect, but reliance on communication as there is no way to complete the puzzles otherwise. I assume this would be the same for any number of players and is definitely a huge positive.

 

The Puzzles

“Parallel Lab” is based in a series of rooms as you progress further into the lab and dive deeper into the story. There are 3 or 4 puzzles in each room, and it’s pretty clear where they are. By working together methodically we were able to get through each of them, but the answers aren’t always straightforward. Eleven Puzzles did a great job of presenting unique and interesting puzzles that were at the perfect level of difficulty – no hand-holding, no super obvious puzzles, and no tenuous leaps in logic. However, they’re also very supportive – allowing you to use hints with no penalties, and offering you a number of hints and nudges before revealing the answer – very similar to the increase in hints you’d get in a ‘real’ escape room!

I have to say I really enjoyed the puzzles in this game. Although there were a couple which we struggled with, they also brought a great sense of satisfaction when we’d had that brain wave – most of the time we just weren’t communicating enough! They were all perfectly suited for the room they were in and addressed a number of different skills and techniques.

My only critique of the puzzles was that they felt a little imbalanced at times – I found myself waiting for my teammate to complete something tricky on their side, but were unable to do anything on my side in the meantime. Later on, this was reversed – I was working on something a little more in-depth, and my teammate had to wait.

 

One of the rooms | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The playability

Technology-wise this ran extremely smoothly and easily. The game is played in a browser, so we hopped on a Skype call and logged in fairly quickly. The initial instructions were brief but informative, and ultimately the technology provided no barrier to playing. My only qualm with the setup is that I would have loved to see some of the puzzles my partner did!

 

The Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I went in with fairly low expectations but was absolutely blown away. The interactivity and independence are a real positive, and the puzzles themselves were just as good as any physical room. I’m not sure how well this would work for a larger team, as you may end up talking over each other, but certainly paying £15 for 2 players is more than worth it.

 

Parallel Lab can be purchased by heading to Eleven Games’ website here.

Urban Missions: Bomb Disposal Lambeth | Review

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Bomb Disposal Lambeth Review | The Agency has got wind of a possible plot to detonate an explosive in central London. They have identified some suspects and need your help to interrogate them, find the criminal mastermind behind the plot and dismantle the bomb.

Completion Time: 1hr 30
Date Played: 16th April 2022
Party Size: 4 + a dog!
Location: Lambeth, Parliament
Difficulty: Easy

At this point I’ve done so many outdoor puzzle games in London, yet I still love them to bits. Most of us here at The Escape Roomer each have a particular sector in the puzzle game world they specialise in and for me, I cannot get enough of anything that gets me in my walking shoes and exploring quaint and curious alleyways around London. I mention it as this point I feel like I can quickly recognise a good outdoor puzzle game when I see one! For me, Urban Missions hooked me from the very first clue in the game, and I knew this was something special.

 

You have 45 minutes to defuse the bomb…

Eek! No pressure!

Bomb Disposal: Lambeth starts at the iconic Leake Street Arches – a place where artists from all over the UK come to celebrate street art, eat fantastic food, and take part in indie immersive festivals. This is the perfect place to start an exciting puzzle hunt like this, and a place I was equally surprised to learn my co-players (my parents, brother, and our family dog, Shovell) had never visited before. But we had no time to stop off and take in the sights, as we had a bomb threat to track down and (hopefully) defuse!

Once you meet at the start location, each of us had to text a number to join our team. From there, each member of the team received updates and texts as the game progressed meaning we were all on the same page at the same time. To begin with, the puzzles started slightly more deductive. Actually, the very first puzzle was one of my favourites I’ve ever experienced in an outdoor walking tour, as we were encouraged to retrace the steps of several suspects in order to identify any inconsistencies. Afterwards, the route took on slightly more of a traditional take, giving a series of cryptic clues that we had to follow to each new location. At each location, we had details to look for and hidden codes to decipher, as well as a number of video and audio segments to keep the story on track.

As a team, we all remarked that we found the game to be slightly on the easier side. That said, we still did rack up a fair few penalties at the end for incorrect answers and almost ran out of time. So I suppose, not that easy! The puzzles themselves weren’t too tricky – it’s the type of thing where you receive a clue and it doesn’t quite make sense until you turn a corner and easily spot what it’s referring to. We didn’t get lost at any time and didn’t trip up. That is until the final segment of the game. At the end, there’s a dramatic timer counting down and each incorrect answer knocks more time off it. This time it became less about the location and more about finding numerical codes, which was very exciting. Here the difficulty also ramped up, resulting in a fair few incorrect answers from us as that ever-present clock ticked down.

 

A Modern Whodunnit

In terms of the story, Bomb Disposal Lambeth was fun and full of tension. There is a bomber on the loose hell bent on destroying a particular London landmark and it’s up to you – the eyes and the ears on the ground – to track down the individual and stop them before they can hit the trigger button! The story is told via the texts, but most importantly through a series of video and audio messages, which was a nice touch. There are at least two characters to encounter and it was always fun to see a new video message pop through from one or the other.

It was a simple story, for sure, but why improve up on “there’s a bomb and you’ve gotta stop it”. It’s tried and tested and leaves nothing to the imagination, allowing us to take in the sights and enjoy ourselves with the puzzle rather than thinking about a complex plot.

 

 

Lambeth, Houses of Parliament… And Beyond!

Conveniently the start location for this game is very centrally located, just a stone’s throw from Waterloo and the River Thames. It’s also fully accessible for wheelchair or buggy users, as we never once encountered any steps. Similarly, since all locations are outdoors and even includes a few walks through green spaces, we found the trip to be dog friendly too. All important considerations when picking a walking trail in London!

One thing I would say when playing this game however is to use discretion. No, seriously. If you’re like our team- loud and enthusiastic- you’ll be walking around watching the video content and listening to the audio content on full volume. The theme of the game is defusing a bomb. Well, in Central London saying the word “bomb” out loud is a big no no and we got a lot of looks from police, especially when the route took us near Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. I’d recommend using a code word, like Ice Cream… Quick everyone, we’ve got to get to the ice cream before it melts. Works just as well especially on a sunny day, and you’ll get a lot fewer funny looks.

If you choose to meet for food before you start, I’d recommend wandering down Lower Marsh street for some food. In particular, Balance Cafe is a fantastic spot for salads, cakes, and absolutely gorgeous coffee. Vaulty Towers is another brilliant spot for a drink or a bite to eat, as you can hang out in the treehouse. Though Note: Hidden City’s Cheshire Cat also takes players to this location, so you’ll bump into more than a few other teams on the mobile phones playing a different game. If you prefer to eat afterward, the route ends near the Houses of Parliament. I know this area less, but I would say that there are some lovely sunny parks round there – so perhaps packing a picnic to share on Big Ben’s lawn in front of the river is the way to go. Apparently players can stop the game at any time and take a break, but we weren’t aware and didn’t utilise this feature.

 

 

The Verdict

Overall, we enjoyed the game a lot! In particular, I loved how the route took us through some parts of London I’d never, ever been to before, and pushed me to notice details about my surroundings that I’d normally pass by without a second’s glance. It’s reasonably priced for London, and even better when you consider you’re going to get up to 2 hours worth of fun, wandering around this gorgeous city solving puzzles out of it. We played on a very sunny bank holiday weekend, clocked in a comfortable 12,000 steps, and at the end of the day after enjoying an ice cold drink and a slice of cake, I remarked that it has easily been one of the nicest days of 2022 so far.

If you’re looking for a reliably good outdoor puzzle trail, Urban Missions is a great choice. It might not be the most challenging for hardcore enthusiasts, but I guarantee there isn’t anything quite like it, nor on that particular route. Just don’t say anything about a bomb too loudly next to the local police, and you’ll be golden.

 

If you’d like to book Bomb Disposal: Lambeth for yourself, head to Urban Mission’s website here to get started.

Webscapade: Welcome to Argenia | Review

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You receive a strange letter from your Uncle Rory asking for your help. But what starts out as a simple task for a quick payday suddenly turns into a mission filled with danger and intrigue. Can you foil the plot and save the day before it’s too late? Will you be the hero that Argenia longs for? Can this be yet another rhetorical question?

Rating: Immersive!
Completion Time: 01:13:41
Date Played: 17th July 2021
Party Size: 4
Recommended For: Experienced teams who want a realistic immersive adventure

It all started with an email that probably should have gone into my spam folder- I’m kidding! Unless…

“I’m your Uncle Rory, son of your grandma’s cousin… I met an Argenian prince-“

If it weren’t part of a digital escape room experience, I definitely wouldn’t have believed it. But there we were, all logged in to play Welcome to Argenia, and our team of 4 players were super excited to receive such an email. Argenian princes… Scandal in a far off land… A long lost uncle? Exciting!

The Country of Argenia

Welcome to Argenia is Webscapade’s first play at home adventure in what looks to be a very interesting series. It is set in the fictional country of Argenia- and yes, about halfway through we were so convinced by the game we had to question whether Argenia was in fact a real place. But Argenia is not a particularly happy place – there’s a storm brewing. With Argenian Independence Day just around the corner the masses are mobilising for another revolution, this time against the royal family!

As an International Relations (w/ a Major in Law) graduate, I’m not sure how I feel about trying to put down a revolution, but since my uncle is in danger we can put morals to one side and hop to the rescue.

The first port of call is finding the prince.

An Alternate Reality adventure through the web

What follows is a fun game of cat-and-mouse through the internet as Webscapade have set up a digital trail of breadcrumbs for players to follow that’ll take them onto Facebook, into the admin of hotel websites, and into some very shady parts of the Argenian dark web.

Personally I love this style of alternate reality game. It’s always fun to see fact and fiction blend into one as you scour Google wondering what is real and what isn’t. Webscapade do this really well and, with a feature I appreciated a lot, they even let you know which browser tabs you can close at the end of each puzzle. As a chronic 50-tabs-open person, I appreciate this in a puzzle game!

37 Incorrect Guesses!

In terms of game difficulty, I’d rate this on the hard side. As a team of 4 we used a couple of clues and made 37 incorrect guesses (oops!). Clues and wrong guesses were fairly exclusively concentrated on one puzzle in the game however, and even then largely due to us going off on an incorrect tangent and using something we wouldn’t need until later in the game.

It’s very possible that the reason I felt this on the hard side though is because each puzzle was quite unique. Genuinely! We encountered a lot of puzzles I’d never seen before in a play at home escape room game. Some excellent logical deduction, some searching and finding, and some very curious grid shifting puzzles which will probably haunt my nightmares for a few more weeks.

But that said, even the puzzles we did ‘breeze’ through felt like a good challenge. I think if I’d played this alone I’d have given up early – so a word of warning this game is definitely best played in a team! Not just that more heads are better than one, but Welcome to Argenia is just quite a fun game you’d want to share with friends!

The Verdict

For a brand new company launching a game quite late into lockdown (as many countries are starting to reopen) is a bold move, but Webscapade have pulled it off with an incredibly immersive and genuinely exciting alternate reality! Needless to say, they’ve nailed it and Welcome to Argenia is a brilliant game packed with intrigue. It definitely goes into my category of ‘hidden gems’ and if you’re looking for an immersive 1-2 hour long experience to play any time with friends, you’ll not be disappointed with this!

Welcome to Argenia can be booked for $25 per team over on Webscapade’s website here.

Swamp Motel: Mermaid’s Tongue | Review

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Your help is needed to track down an ancient lost artefact. Thrown into a murky underworld, you’ll have to hack into CCTV, outbid a high-end art dealer, and decipher messages from beyond the grave. Every click will immerse you deeper in the mystery. What is the Mermaid’s Tongue? And who are the dark forces who will stop at nothing to beat you to it? Let the hunt begin…

Rating: Fun
Completion Time: 1hr 3 minutes
Date Played: 27th March 2021
Party Size: 3
Recommended For: Fans of ARG, general audience.

For this second (or third, as we played The Kindling Hour first and Plymouth Point second) instalment of Swamp Motel, we were thrown into the murky underworld of lost artefacts, art trade, and murder, to figure out exactly what the Mermaid’s Tongue is and recover it before it’s too late.

The only small problem? Because we’d played the Kindling Hour first, we kinda already knew what the Mermaid’s Tongue was, and where it was. Double oops! But it did help us solve the puzzles faster, so there’s a silver lining!

Some Notes on Tech

So first up, we had quite bad tech issues throughout this game. Although our invisible host was super helpful trying to fix it, it did add quite a few minutes onto our completion time. Unlike Plymouth Point which is played in Zoom, this one is played in-browser, so more like The Kindling Hour. Swamp Motel have built their own browser system complete with video and audio but for some reason it didn’t work for us. Voices dipped in an our, screen share audio sounded robotic, and there were a lot of echoes on our voice.

HOWEVER, take this with a pinch of salt, because I’ve read countless more reviews that haven’t mentioned any tech issues at all and we didn’t experience any problems with the third instalment, so it could have been a one off.

So with this, onto the actual review!

The Story

You join the game as part of an online art class – oh yes, I’ve done plenty of these in lockdown! The instructor gives us an intro, the model arrives, and we get started drawing- or do we? One of the previous patrons of the art class is missing and hacking into her art class login is where this story begins.

The shadowy London Stone Consortium is looking for an item called the Mermaid’s Tongue but it’s location is hidden between three people who only have part of the puzzle. But those people are dropping like flies so it’s a race to finish line to figure out what the three pieces of the puzzle are and where the fabled item is hidden today.

The Game

Again, the Swamp Motel series isn’t exactly an escape room experience. No, it’s was more of a thriller/adventure ARG (alternate reality game) whose stage is the internet. As such, players won’t expect to find many puzzles in the game. There are one or two, for example a quick telegraph puzzle and one or two riddles hiding locations within their words – but nothing you can’t Google, making it super accessible to the non-escape room audience.

What Swamp Motel do really well is immersive theatre, so if you want to feel immersed in this vast world, not sure who you can trust, and with an itching feeling like you’re being watched- then it’s a good one for you! Our tech issues meant the game didn’t completely flow as well as it might have done, but there are still some real wow moments throughout the game.

I particularly enjoyed having to use my mobile phone – not only to dial out numbers but also as a medium for being contacted by unknown numbers and players in the game. Another delightful aspect of the game was when we needed to use CCTV, but the less I say on that the less spoilers I’ll give away!

Overall

We played as a team of 3 from different locations and I think this would be the perfect number to play an experience like this! It’s an exciting game with some really impressive storytelling to boot. Of course, our tech issues were a major shame, but I wouldn’t hold it against the game because nobody can control the variable of internet / microphone / general computer problems – it just meant our personal experience wasn’t as awesome as it might have otherwise been.

Screenshot by Shiny Life

Mermaid’s Tongue can be booked for £55 per team on their website here.

Agent Venture: B.A.D. Side of the Moon | Review

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This is it, the grand finale. Confront Bozo on his Moon base, and foil his evil plans once and for all. The fate of the Earth is in your hands.

Rating: Exciting!
Completion Time: 58:20
Date Played: 10th April 2021
Party Size: 4
Recommended For: A well balanced (in skills) team of 4-5 players!

We’re back, Secret Agents! The dream team is reunited for the grand finale in the Agent Venture online series. After playing the previous Cyborg Island way back when in October 2020, we finally made time to journey to the moon! Just in time by the looks of it, the evil supervillain Bozo has been hiding out all this time just waiting for an intrepid team of secret agents to take him down.

This time round we were joined by our fantastically funny host, Agent Grace who really brought the experience together! So how did we do? Let’s get into it:

The Story

In a dramatic exit from Cyborg Island, Bozo escapes our clutches and goes to hide out… On the moon? That’s right, there’s a super evil base up there and an even eviler mega laser beam primed and ready to destroy the world. Or at least, I think that was the story. It’s important not the sweat the details, we were mainly here to arrest him.

I think at each chapter the plot gets a little more bizarre. We went from a regular, run of the mill heist, to an island that turns out to be a secret cyborg factory to, well, the moon. Kinda like your classic platformer video game from the early ’00s, you’ve gotta have a moon level, right?!

The Experience

You and your team play the ‘eyes in the sky’ guiding a secret agent on the ground (or rather, in space). Each of you will have a specific role:

  • The Hacker – responsible for ‘hacking’ doors open and obstacles in people’s way by solving series of quick fire puzzles on their screen.
  • The Researcher – they’re given the most information and must quickly sort through a lot of red herrings to figure out what information is needed for each level
  • The Navigator – this person is your maps guy, they see the base in all it’s detail and have the main responsibility for guiding Agent Venture around their environment
  • The Communicator – this person’s job is to lie and blag their way through social situations, armed with emails and phone records, they can phone ahead and spin a tale that grants entry
  • The Co-Ordinator – this person oversees everything!

In this game I took on the role of The Researcher. I like reading and I suck at a lot of other things, like making phone calls, reading directions or maths puzzles. So it worked out well!

All play at home Agent Venture games are played in Zoom, but unlike a lot of ‘remote avatar’ games you aren’t controlling an avatar per-se, in fact it’s all done via audio description, like an incredibly intricate and awesome TTRPG. This means there’s a huge element of choose-your-own-adventure and what’s more there’s a good amount of subjectivity with both the environment, and the puzzles that involve interacting with the host. I enjoyed this a lot though! No correct way of doing things, only YOUR way which will be completely unique from every other group who has played the game.

In this particular game, there’s two distinct parts. The first part you’re doing a series of ‘long’ puzzles to help disable alarm systems and make the end game easier. The second part is where the pressure ramps up by 5,000% – the more you solved earlier the easier this bit will be.

We’d solved about 4 puzzles before the end game, giving us at least 50% left to solve, but it worked! With some speedy collaboration and everyone working as fast as they could – we did it!! We made it out in time.

I rated the first in the series one of my all time favourite games, I didn’t do the same for #2 – likely down to the fact we didn’t escape in time. But I really felt like B.A.D. Side of the moon was the most polished of the three games and that’s why it’s back up to 5* in my books. Oh, escaping in time did help!

The Puzzles

Overall the puzzles rely a lot on collaboration. There’s no one puzzle that just one person can solve, unless of course you count the mini-puzzles the hacker takes care of. What I mean is, you’ll have one part of the information, another player will have another part, and so on. Some puzzles involve ALL team members, whereas the large majority involve only two.

The good thing is, you can choose which puzzles to do and they’re labelled in advance with which role will have to play the biggest part.

As the Researcher, the puzzles I encountered largely revolved around ‘search and find’ e.g. get a large amount of text, split over a few documents, and sift through to find the relevant part, often fragmented. One puzzle in particular that was one of the puzzles labelled as Researcher-heavy, stumped me a little. But then again it involved ratios and maths and a lot of text. But, you’re encouraged to share your screen when stuck so that everyone can weigh in.

Overall

Good fun, honestly! Of the three, I think The Heist was still my favourite, but I’d put this down to the format being super novel and us acing it as a team. It’s absolutely true the games have improved over time, so the series is best experienced in it’s totality and I’m super glad we all made it to the end (and saved the day!).

Agent Venture, before lockdown started, did real life immersive experiences and I’m hoping that some day post-lockdown they’ll bring those back. If the online experiences are anything to go by, I reckon they’re one to watch!

Agent Venture can be purchased for £12+ per player on Agent Venture’s website.

Swamp Motel: Plymouth Point | Review

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Ivy has gone missing. The residents of Plymouth Point are concerned. Gather your team, and get your ticket to join the Residents Watch emergency meeting.

Rating: Dramatic!
Completion Time: 43 minutes
Date Played: 27th March 2021
Party Size: 3
Recommended For: Folks who enjoy ARGs

If you’ve been following my progress with the Swamp Motel series, you’ll know that whilst this is the first game in the series, it’s the second one I’m playing! Yep, we (shout out to Shiny Life and Me) kinda-accidentally booked ourselves in for The Kindling Hour two weekends ago and whilst it worked fine as a standalone experience, the series makes a lot more sense now I’ve played Plymouth Point. Oops!

As such, you’ll probably hear a lot of comparisons between this game and The Kindling Hour. Confusing, but it makes sense in my head!

So to start, unlike The Kindling Hour, Plymouth Point is set in Zoom. It makes sense, in a kind of proto-Handforth Parish Council Meeting, you join your neighbourhood’s local watch. The Plymouth Point Residents Watch, where the chair raises concern for a missing girl: Ivy. Up until now, Ivy had been diligently checking in with her every day then suddenly *poof* vanished. You’re set the task of finding out what happened to her.

From here, it’s very self driven. You aren’t actually given a lot of direction (unless you need it of course – there is someone on hand for hints). Your goal is simply to ‘find out what happened’. Just keep digging, just keep digging *la la la*. If you were going to look for an actual missing person, where would you start? Her Facebook page of course! Who do they talk to, where do they live, where might they have gone? Second place to look – their email account. And, with a cheeky password ‘hint’ on her Facebook, the game is afoot.

From a typical missing person case to a large and unfurling conspiracy centred around the London Stone Consortium – a shadowy organisation tasked with protecting the mystical London Stone. It seems as if Ivy has somehow become trapped within it’s web, and that’s where the real thriller unfolds. But, that’s not all! It also dips fairly interestingly into history. I now know a lot of local history of this small town in England and more about witchfinders than I ever knew possible! Woah, pretty neat!

There aren’t puzzles per se. The whole game is much more of an ARG (alternate reality game) that takes place on the internet. Your stage is Youtube, Facebook, email clients, password protected pages and more. In fact, the only time we really needed a hint was when we mis-Googled, rather than been unable to solve a specific puzzle.

The game recommends that one person share their screen and everyone follow along either on screen or by clicking through the various steps of the game in the background on their own devices. We played as a team of 3 and this was a pretty optimal number to make sure everyone had something to do, I think any more and it would be a case of a lot of folks watching along.

We did have some minor technical hiccups – not as many as the Mermaid’s Tongue (I’ll add a link here once I write that review!), but nothing that was game breaking. At some points in the story the actors and characters drop in and out of your Zoom call – but I’ll chalk up any difficulties to the *gestures vaguely* new digital world we find ourselves in, post-pandemic.

Overall, a fun and exciting experience with just enough of a dash of drama to keep us all excited from start to finish. If you’ve ever wanted to take centre stage in a digital mystery, this will be right up your street. But be careful… Somebody’s watching you!

Plymouth Point can be booked for £55 per team on Plymouth Point’s website.

SCRAP: Escape from the Two Base Stations | Review

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The two of you have infiltrated a secret organization’s communication base stations, one located in the North Pole and the other in the South Pole. Your mission is to stop the completion of a terrifying weapon being developed at these base stations. Using a smartphone to communicate with each other, the both of you finally make it to the deepest level of the facility…

Rating: Really Different!
Completion Time: ~1hr 15m
Date Played: 24th March 2021
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: People who want puzzles… But not how you normally know them!

How to describe Escape from the Two Base Stations? SO DIFFICULT… And yet SO FUNNY!

Just like The Demon Fortress and The Strange Village, SCRAP have taken the concept of an escape room and completely turned it on it’s head: defying all expectations and delighting me along the way. Whereas the other two I celebrated for their excellent plots, this one’s “special magic” is in the puzzle design!

The Story

You and your other player, whoever you choose that to be, are stuck at opposite sides of the world! One at the North Pole and one at the South Pole (oh hey, that’s me). As such, you’re meant to play this from two different locations- but more on that later.

There’s a terrible weapon being created that threatens the whole world and of course the two keys to stop it are as far away from each other as they could possibly be. But, just when you grab hold of the manuals, an “Intruder Alert” siren sounds and you’re locked in. Oops!

The Experience

In this whole game you have 50% of what you need to succeed. Your partner has the other half and they’re a long long way away, so you’re going to have to work together as best you can to crack the case! I took on this with my partner, and regular Player 2 on this blog but, as we live together, we had to go into separate rooms and close the door. That works too, just as long as we weren’t tempted to open the door or shout through the wall.

Each ’round’ starts with a short script to read back and forth – we went massively off script, hurling cheeky insults at one another at every opportunity. From there, you’ve got a couple of collaborative puzzles to solve and then clues to where to go next. For example, within your pack are a number of other envelopes with small images on them and big letters saying not to open until prompted. But- that’s not all, you also have a helpful chatbot guiding you through the experience and telling you what to do and when which is- helpful! Especially helpful considering you’ll get no answers from the hints page. Only hints!

The Puzzles

So here’s the really juicy bit! Escape from the Two Base Stations essentially takes the idea of the party game ‘charades’ and turns it into a packed puzzle game. What I mean is, at different points in the game whilst communicating with your Player 2, you’ll either lose access to:

  • Your video feed, meaning you can’t see one another
  • Your audio feed, meaning you can’t talk to one another
  • Your keyboard, meaning you can’t type to one another

The real panic starts when you lose access to more than one of those at the same time. Or *gasp* all three! Yep, the final puzzle will have you screaming (into the void, as your partner won’t hear you) as you lose access to almost everything. Reckon you can communicate information by using ONE SINGLE CHARACTER? Yeah, no. It’s not easy.

But by and large the puzzles are really light hearted and funny! As an example, one player will have something on their screen they need to describe to the other player. Through your descriptions, or hand gestures, you’ve got to figure out what on Earth the other person is trying to say! It only gets funnier from here. We found ourselves standing up and jumping around on camera trying to act out animals without being able to talk. In another mission, I enthusiastically sent “ES ES ES” 24 times in the chat box to which my partner said next time our mics were allowed to be turned on “If you type ES one more time I swear to God..”

Overall, just SO FUNNY. For this reason I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even though this game is recommended for 2 players (1 in each location), I think you could go further and do it with 4, or even 6 (2/3 in each location) for added hilarity. I only wish I’d caught some of the madness on camera.

It makes sense the game would be so funny though, one of the directors is comedian duo Savanna’s Shigeo Takahashi. He, and the whole team, really capture the absurdity of malfunctioning technology and how hard it is to communicate. So if you’ve ever played charades, you’re probably going to love this. It’s like that but with more puzzles.

The English language version of Escape from the Two Base Stations can be purchased for $37 USD on Amazon.

Ratings

Swamp Motel: The Kindling Hour

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Beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing. You and your team must use all your skill and guile to evade capture, infiltrate the dark heart of a powerful organisation, and bring it down from the inside. But who is the anonymous source trying to recruit you? How can you identify the true enemy? Who can you trust?

Rating: Dramatic!
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 13th March 2021
Party Size: 4
Recommended For: 16+ people who enjoy ARGs

Okay we might just be the first team to accidentally book the ‘conclusion’ game first. That’s right, The Kindling Hour is the final game in a three part trilogy. Whilst the website says each game is a standalone experience, there’s definitely a narrative flow between the three… Oops! Brb, off to play Plymouth Point and The Mermaid’s Tongue!

There’s a lot of hype around the whole Plymouth Point series, but I’ll only be commenting on my experience with The Kindling Hour for now. That said, for all that hype I expected a little more- whether in length, or content, or exactly “what” more, I’m not sure. But it did seem a little quick and a dash confusing… But let’s get into it!

The Story

The Kindling Hour is your typical “super shady organisation taking over the world” game, in which there’s a mole deep within the structure that you’ve got to help. In an unusual ‘Arthurian Legend’ twist, the aim of this game is to take the sword (which I believe is the central plot of Mermaid’s Tongue – again, this connection was a little lost on us) and put it back into the stone from whence it came.

The game parkour jumps between “ancient legend” and “modern spy stuff” but plays out on the stage that is the ‘real world’. By this I mean you have to go onto the internet to look stuff up – you’ll be scouring Reddit, Instagram, old blog posts, and even real life museum websites. Want to crack someone’s login? You’ll have to hunt down what their ‘memorable information’ is and to do so the whole internet is your oyster.

The Tech

The one really, really cool thing about The Kindling Hour I’d love to mention is the technology. The whole game took place within a web browser, including both our own video communication with each other and interaction with actors. I say ‘interaction’, it’s actually very cleverly pre-recorded footage designed to feel like a live experience. Character drop in and out of your video call seamlessly and despite one technological hiccup, the whole experience feels pretty slick.

In particular, there’s a part in the game where you’re hooked up to CCTV tracking a character live around a location. Whilst of course this is pre-recorded, it was just such a nice addition to heighten the tension of the game! Will they make it in time? Are they being followed? *eek*

It’s encouraged that one user share their screen for everyone to see and yes, I’d agree with that for sure. As most of the ‘puzzles’ take place on the internet it’s very easy to get lost quickly. For example, a link might be offered by an in-game character, but that link contains several more links that different players can fall down rabbit holes into before they figure out the correct route.

The Game

Overall, we did enjoy it a lot! Definitely not as scary as it’s advertised. Perhaps it’s because we played at 3pm on a really sunny day, or perhaps I’m just hardened. The trailer shows people screaming and there was one “Oh my god what” moment, but overall more dramatic than scary!

I loved the parts where we were able to hack into things and see behind the scenes, and there’s excellent pacing throughout the game to keep the adrenaline high. Countdowns and time sensitive moments combined with having to make phone calls, text mysterious numbers, and rifle through secret email exchanges. As such, it’s also not your typical escape room. You’re not escaping, and the game is built on narrative rather than puzzles. So consider this when booking!

It’s pretty good value for money considering how high the production value is, and especially with a large enough team to split the cost! One of our 4 team members has decided not to return for Part 1 and 2 which means we’ll be paying slightly more per head next time, but really worth it compared to a lot of other experiences out there.

The Kindling Hour can be booked for £65 per team on The Kindling Hour’s website here.

Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise | Review

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Your mission (should you choose to accept) is to infiltrate enemy spy Ruby La Rouge’s secret hideaway and put a stop to her evil plans! You play as Agent A in this stylish secret agent world full of retro futuristic contraptions, hidden gizmos, gadgets and clever logic based puzzles. But do be warned… Ruby La Rouge is no spy to be taken lightly! Explore a labyrinth of perplexing puzzles in this quirky game of cat and mouse that’ll have you wondering whether you’re the cat… or the mouse!!

Time Played: 4 hours
Console: Computer / Nintendo Switch
Recommended For: Undercover Secret Agents

Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise could not be highly recommended enough by friends in the escape room world! After seeing no less than 4 threads on my social media talking about how much fun this point and click adventure is, then spotting it on sale over Christmas – I had to indulge!

Considering the sale price was under £5 (reduced from £15 on Steam), it’s worth every penny and more. You get at least 4 hours worth of gameplay, beautiful graphics, excellent puzzles and solid comedy to boot. Even at full price, it’s a very accessible and enjoyable game that deserves all the awards it has one (and it has won quite a few, let me tell you!).

As the title suggests, you play the role of Agent A of the C- I mean, MIA. Your arch nemesis, the dastardly super-criminal Ruby La Rouge has devised a series of traps and obstacles to slow you down as she makes (yet another) escape from your clutches. Starting with… Locking you inside her home! Let me begin by saying, no building in the entire history of architecture is as fortified as this mountaintop apartment and no security system as complex. But why not, the evil organisation HAVOC are a cut above the rest in the criminal underworld.

Your role is essentially to find and capture Ruby La Rouge. She won’t make it easy for you, no way.

Over the 5 chapters of Agent A, you’ll find yourself playing cat and mouse with Ruby across various interior and exterior locations around the secret lair. The keys (mind you, they aren’t always ‘keys’) to cracking open new doors or safes are scattered and each hidden behind even more intricate layers of security. Buttons will transform rooms from relaxed living spaces into high tech command centres. Plant pots and vases will hide secrets when interacted with in the correct way. Don’t get me started on the pets either. If I have to run up and down stairs feeding any more fish to that bird I’ll scream… But I diverge!

Agent A is overall so much fun. For sure, in a lot of the point-and-click genre there is a bit of back and forth. Agent A is no different – you’ll have access to the whole house at all times and sometimes you’ll find yourself clicking back and forth between rooms looking for things you missed. But any temporary frustration is outweighed by the joy of puzzles.

I congratulate any game which features puzzles I’ve not seen before, and Agent A is packed with them. There’s nothing too difficult mind, which is why I’m sure I whizzed through this game in 4 hours (so a little under an hour per chapter). Most of the puzzles require you to find an item and then use that item in a logical way. For example, a magnet might be useful to access a metal item you can’t reach behind glass, a crowbar to shift a heavy object and so on. Scattered throughout the game are what I’ll describe as “mini-games” too: puzzles where you have to move, slide, or otherwise interact with a puzzle in an exciting way! A lot of these are hacking based (hey! It’s a secret agent game, what do you expect), but some really fun mechanics that make it an overall stand out experience.

The final thing worth mentioning, and full stars to the artists on this game, is how beautiful it looks and feels. In particular, each location in the game has such a gorgeous colour scheme and lighting effect. If Ruby thinks being locked in this house is a punishment, she’s got it wrong. It’s such a pleasant virtual world to be in, I think I’ll just stay!

Overall, a joy to play and I can’t recommend it enough for a fantastic intro to how wonderful the world of videogame escape rooms can be. Agents, good luck!

Agent A can be played on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox or Mobile Devices. You can find more on their website here.

Mad Genius Escapes: The Truth About Edith

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You may recognize Edith Humphreys, your sweet neighbor with 24 cats. You may have even helped her out, snooped around her apartment. But there’s something about Edith that doesn’t quite add up… she looks way younger than she is, she says she was born in 1902 but that she’s 97 years young… and she lives at a business called Mad Genius Escapes?! What is going on here…

Rating: Absurd!
Completion Time: 53:39
Date Played: 2nd January 2021
Party Size: 4
Recommended For: 4 Players, Cat Fans

The Truth About Edith is one of those games which I’ve heard so much about in 2020. It not only won an award at TERPECA, but also won at other reviewer-awards such as the Golden Lock and The Bullseye Awards. So when one of my real life escape room teams suggested a digital game, I jumped at suggesting this one.

Having now played it I’m not entirely sure it lives up to all the hype (just my opinion haha!) however we did enjoy it A LOT, and for that I’m very glad to have finally got round to booking it.

It’s got cats (lots of them!), strange old ladies, and a sinister undercurrent of ‘what is this secret shadowy organisation and are they going to take over the world?’. But the real stand out about The Truth About Edith is how you play. It’s actually quite unlike any other play at home escape room I’ve ever experienced and, as such, I really struggled to put it in a ‘category’ for this review. Is it a Zoom / avatar game? Is it a digital online game? Heck it might even be considered a video/audio escape room.

You start out in a mysterious Zoom call where a hurried secret agent tells you your code names and that he needs you to find out all you can about Edith Humphreys. Without much instruction, you must then take to the internet and research in an online treasure hunt across multiple websites. Within those websites are multiplayer activities – which is where your code name comes in, giving everyone something to do at the same time. For example when looking at CCTV footage, one player may be able to pause and play, whilst the other can only rewind and fast forward, while another can zoom in and so on.

At some points in the game we weren’t entirely sure what to do, but there is a helpful Games Master on hand if you get too stuck. At one point in the game there is also an interactive video element, which was a nice touch to feel connected with the Mad Genius Escapes team. Our Edith was funny, helpful and a joy to talk to with lots of laughter all around.

We finished with a respectable 06:21 left on the clock, which is about average compared to other teams. However, the current record stands at 25:00 minutes left on the clock – why not book this game and see if you can beat it?

The Truth About Edith can be purchased for $100 USD (~£73) for a team of 4 on Mad Genius Escape’s website.