The Altas Mystery (VR) | Review

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The Atlas Mystery Review | Explore the haunted halls of the infamous Atlas Theater, a 1940’s era movie palace that played host to a shocking Hollywood tragedy. Solve intricate puzzles, discover startling artifacts, and evade sinister forces to uncover the twisted truth behind the theater’s dark history.

Developer: Top Right Corner
Date Played: April 2022
Console: Oculus Quest 2
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 3 hours

The Atlas Mystery… Just, wow!

This is one of those games that I’ve been aware of for a long time. As frequent readers might know, I’m a game developer in my day job so I spend time on (read as: doom-scroll) “game dev twitter” a lot. Given the overlap with “escape room twitter” it wasn’t long before I spotted The Atlas Mystery. Let’s just say it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Virtual reality, 1940s noire, an old abandoned movie theatre, a grisly murder… And ghosts?! Ugh, a thousand times yes please!

 

 

The Atlas Mystery is a classic escape room game in every sense of the word. Whereas other ‘escape room VR games’ do things in virtual reality that simply would not be possible in real life, The Atlas Mystery takes another approach: it pushes the players to do exactly things they would do in real life, but in a virtual setting. Funnily enough, this style of gameplay was oddly refreshing. I found myself pushed to gently twisting dials with a shaky hand, holding up film negatives to the light, unplugging and rewiring complex panels, and even using a handheld shovel to scoop freshly popped popcorn into a cup. Yes, really!

 

Alone in the Atlas Theatre…

I’ve played many real life escape rooms that don’t even come close to the spooky atmosphere that The Atlas Mystery creates. It’s a vast space, and no matter how much you squint there are certain dark corners that remain eerily shrouded in shadow. In particular, near the start of the game I found myself standing behind a counter faded with a completely dark, unknown space beyond the barrier. Having replayed the game a few times now, I’m sure there’s nothing out there in the dark – but there’s no other feeling quite like it standing there, convinced shadows of bad omens are just inches away if only you reach your fingertips out into the dark.

*shudders*

In particular, I loved being about to run around such a huge space uninhibited. Okay, okay, spooky shadows aside, this video game truly felt like you had an enormous space to play around with. A whole lobby area, plenty of side rooms, a lift taking you to other floors with winding corridors, and film rooms a-plenty. The best part? None of this space felt dead in any way whatsoever. Even the long stretches of corridor felt well placed to build up nerves to a state of heightened tension. Then, at the end, each new room was packed with exciting puzzles and objects to interact with.

 

 

Is that a gun?!

One of the absolute best reasons to play The Atlas Mystery however has a clue in it’s name.

Yes, that’s right… The ATLAS!

No, no, I’m kidding. The MYSTERY.

This game has a really well-thought out storyline in it that, whilst I glazed over at the start, I found myself retracing my steps to pick up every little scrap of paper I found to piece together the story in my head. It’s an eerie sort of murder mystery, and I won’t go into spoilers, but I will say it’s well worth the read. There’s been a terrible and grisly Hollywood tragedy, will you be able to figure it out?

 

 

Crack the Codes, Unlock the Doors

In terms of difficulty, I personally found The Atlas Mystery definitely to be on the hard side. I believe a well-seasoned escapist may solve this in around an hour, but I took well over 3 hours over a couple of days. I found the game so difficult in fact there were a few moments I thought I might put the headset down and call it quits. But no sooner than I’d wake up the next morning, I’d already find myself itching to return to those eerie, empty halls of the film theatre in search of a clue I may have missed.

Some of that ‘difficulty’ comes down to the controls however, which is an issue hard to overcome in virtual reality. On more than one occasion I’d have the correct tool but be unable to ‘place’ it carefully enough that the result would trigger. A good example of this are the keys, and there’s a fair few keys in this game. Encountering these hiccups, I’d assume I’d got the puzzle incorrect, and move on trying many more things before returning to try again. With many interactable objects in this game there’s a certain “sweet spot” to touching them that I found very easy to miss. Despite that, I congratulate the development team on their originality in this space. VR is not an easy medium to create a game in (take it from me, I’ve worked on plenty!) and their commitment to making each object feel real within your hand is fantastic.

Besides, once you get the hang of the little movement quirks in the game, it’s easy enough to pick up.

As a final note on control and movement, since you can move around either by teleportation or with the joystick, I’d probably also put this at the “medium” risk of motion sickness. Remember – teleportation is often a lot more comfortable for new VR users, so if you plan on spending a long time in The Atlas Mystery, it’s best use the teleportation function!

 

The Verdict

For a while, I wasn’t sure where The Atlas Mystery’s dice would fall for this review. It was a slow burning game that took a while to get me hooked on it, but once it did I kept coming back for more. The puzzles were challenging, but immensely satisfying once you finally figure them out and by the end of the game… Could it be… I actually wanted more?! A lot more! More floors, more environments, more story, and most of all more puzzles.

I would say it’s not a perfect game. But I think the developers still did an exemplary job creating a fun and lengthy escape room that felt full of- well, life is the wrong word, but full of unease. I enjoyed spending time in The Atlas Mystery and I definitely think it would appeal to the average escape room enthusiast. With a lack of really good VR escape room games out there, The Atlas Mystery will fit well into the existing catalogue and will be sure to be a cult favourite among enthusiasts.

 

 

The Atlas Mystery can be played on Oculus, and Steam VR. To chose your platform, head to their website here.

M9 Games: Vereda | Review

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Vereda Review | Vereda is a 3d escape room puzzle adventure. Play as a secret agent assigned a mission to recover a secret dossier set in an unusual town. Explore areas and take in your surroundings. Use all of your puzzle solving skills to make your way through the town and recover the missing dossier. As a secret undercover agent used to adventure and mystery you are tasked with your latest mission to infiltrate a town guarding a top secret dossier. What the dossier contains is not known, your sole focus is just to find and recover it. What you are not prepared for is the lengths the dossier has been protected. It’s down to you to use all your experience to solve the puzzles and contraptions that block your way.

Developer: M9 Games
Date Played: 1st April 2022
Console: Steam
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 49 minutes

April first?! Wait, that’s April Fools! In an effort to hide myself from all of the April Fools’ jokes floating around, I booted up my PC and sat down to play a brand new escape room game from indie game developer M9 Games: Vereda. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d seen a few reviews doing the rounds in the escape room community, so was excited to try out the game for myself at last.

Vereda takes a single player on a short (probably less than an hour) escape room puzzle adventure. You play a secret agent and your one goal is to recover a mysterious dossier. That mysterious dossier is locked behind doors and doors worth of increasingly curious puzzles. Pushing mysterious switches to make giant pillars in a back alley move, and rearranging cards on tables to unlock doors… It’s, interesting! Certainly a game to get the cogs moving.

 

 

Meet the Developer, Chris at M9 Games

The most important thing to know about Vereda is that it is a passion project of solo game developer Chris, who got in touch with us at The Escape Roomer with an invitation to try the game. Since the lockdown, Chris has turned his hand to creating video games full time – from early point and click and 2D exploration games, Vereda is M9 Games’ first fully 3D escape room adventure for PC and (we hope soon) console. Presently, it can be downloaded on Steam (where I played) or on mobile devices. For the full and most up to date list, check the website here.

Okay, okay so enough background. How was it? Vereda was… Decent! I don’t think it will be winning any awards, but as a game developer myself I admire the drive and creativity that has gone into pulling this fun experience together, and I hope it’s the first of many Chris and his studio creates. Take it from me, making a video game is REALLY HARD. It’s hard enough when you have a whole studio made up of narrative designers, puzzle/level designers (oh hey that’s my job), 3D and 2D artists, programmers, and so on. So when I heard that Chris was doing this all by himself, I had nothing but a huge amount of respect.

 

 

Enter Vereda, a Noir World of Secret Agents…

In terms of visuals, I love the whole back-alley, dark and dirty, vintage vibe of video games like L.A. Noire, Overboard, or Inspector Waffles. For me, Vereda had that feel and it was very exciting to move through the unique spaces in search of puzzles and… A way out!

After a cinematic sequence where a mysterious grey car drives through deserted street after deserted street, players spawn into a locked room with a few desks and scraps of paper on the desks. There are drawers to be unlocked, documents to read, and a big door tantalisingly waiting for me to find a key for it! Ooooh boy, I love a mysterious setup.

The assets were largely store-bought, but it would be grossly unfair of me to call it an asset flip. No, everything that was put into the game was put in with purpose and felt right at home. I would have preferred to see original art, of course. The setting was ripe for something a little more unique, but the developer did well with the resources he had available to himself. The game came together visually consistently and definitely managed to create a dingy atmosphere of a seedy criminal underworld.

 

 

 

Secret Agents, and Puzzles!

In terms of puzzles, there’s a lot of discourse in the escape room world about mimesis and diegesis which I won’t go into here, so instead I’ll regurgitate the words of Errol Elumir,

A puzzle is diegetic if it fits the theme and reality of its game universe. A puzzle is mimetic if its existence and its solution reflect the reality of its game universe.

 

There were many types of puzzles in Vereda, and largely they seemed to follow a trajectory of diegetic at the start, fizzling out towards neither mimetic nor diegetic at the end. But that’s not to say they weren’t fun!

At the start of the game I began looking for tools like screwdrivers, or missing buttons in order to fix panels to unlock gates. Exciting! Towards the middle of the game, there were some riddles and colour puzzles and a very unique puzzle involving levers and giant pillars in the middle of an alleyway. Which is… Well, I suspend my disbelief.

As the game came to it’s climax, I encountered puzzles that I’d call neither diegetic nor mimetic, such as piecing together jigsaw puzzles to get puzzles that look like a pigpen cipher, to mysterious tarot cards being placed on an electrical panel, to an infuriatingly tricky picture slider puzzle, and something about phases of the moon.

 

 

Okay, okay I don’t want to sound harsh – because the puzzles were fun! But this is all to say I enjoyed the first half of the game a lot more, but as the game progressed the puzzles felt slightly more detached from the context of the game and felt like they were in there to provide unique things to solve. But in truth, I would have been happy to keep looking for broken panel buttons, or deciphering mysterious graffiti, because those made sense in the world. There’s no hard and fast rule about what puzzles a video game should have in them and of course, loads of fantastic games have puzzles in them that have no relation to the environment at all. But for me there was a slight disconnect between the puzzles and the environment that the creator had so carefully set up.

In terms of difficulty, Vereda comes in on the easier side. It’s a short and sweet game that is possible to complete in around 20 minutes if you’re feeling speedy. 40 minutes if you play through comfortably with a glass of wine in your hand *glances down at hand*

This puts it at about the same length of time a real life escape room takes, but this is a tiny, tiny fraction of the price. And since it’s a video game that is out on mobile or PC, you can play it in your pyjamas. Win win.

 

The Verdict

For all of the reasons above, I’ve given it a 3 stars out of 5. For the average escape room enthusiast, that might be a little generous, but I thought it was a really promising game with some ‘noire’ vibes. Vereda had all the makings of being something special, and for a solo game dev project I am seriously impressed. Sure, it felt a little rough around the edges and felt slightly short on a few points but nobody comes into any industry fully formed. If Chris and M9 Games continues to create puzzle games with the same enthusiasm in the future then I have absolutely no doubt that the company will do well. The world needs more escape room games.

My lasting thought is that after playing the game I would honestly love to see this designer build a physical escape room. Vereda in video game format was a decent indie escape room game. Vereda in a real life warehouse? Take my money now!

If you want to purchase Vereda for yourself or keep up with M9 Games, you can check out their website here.

Cryptocards | Review

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Cryptocards Review | CryptoCard is a unique postcard that hides 5 challenging puzzles. In fact, part of the challenge is figuring out what the riddle is, what parts of it are hidden, and how it should be solved. But why break your head? You send the postcard to someone else! What’s the catch? They do not know who sent them the postcard.

Date Played: December 2021
Time Taken: 30 Minutes
Difficulty: Hard

Cryptocards is a fun little ‘puzzles on a postcard‘ concept by an Israeli creator that I was very excited to receive through my letterbox one day, out of the blue, from a mysterious friend. As such, it’s definitely ‘lesser known’ over here in the UK and as far as I’m aware doesn’t ship to the UK as standard. But if you happen to receive one and you’re not concerned about the fact that the writing on the postcard is in Hebrew (Google Translate’s camera function is my best friend here), then it’s a uniquely fun little game that is well worth checking out!

 

 

About Cryptocards

For such a lightweight puzzle experience, Cryptocards is challengingly good fun! At present, there is just one design available and it’s printed on a single double sided postcard. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s just a regular postcard… Albeit one with a very fun design. It’s mostly black and white with a ‘hand printed’, grunge look and feel to it. But on second look you start to notice some very interesting shapes and patterns stick out. Aha! It’s a puzzle to be solved.

The method of ‘solving’ this puzzle, and revealing who actually sent you the card is quite simple. It’s a method we’ve seen before but no less effective:

  • Each of the five mini puzzles hidden on the postcard has an icon and the solution is a string of two or three numbers
  • Once you’ve found all of the numbers, you can write them out in order
  • This will then take your player to a web page where they can read a secret message you’ve left for them

Over here in the UK we have slightly similar game concepts, such as Puzzle Post and Enigmagram, but nothing quite so small as a postcard.

In terms of difficulty – I won’t beat around the bush, I found Cryptocards comfortably quite difficult! There was a good mix of different puzzles, but one good thing was that no puzzle relied on the use of words. This means that beside your intro message from the creators in the centre of the card, I was still able to play being unable to understand a word of Hebrew. Seriously, my Hebrew was so bad I played most of the game upside down, not knowing which way round the alphabet looked.

There are 5 puzzles in total and each of these is in theory short and sweet. One of them took me mere seconds to figure out how to solve it, but the others required a little more mental gymnastics. None of them was objectively difficult, but it took longer than usual for a satisfying click. So, in short about the right level!

 

 

The Verdict

I’ve kept this review short and sweet because the game itself is a short and sweet one. At around £13 for a postcard, it is a little on the expensive side – they don’t currently ship to the UK but I imagine that’d be an extra cost too. However if you have friends in Israel or the surrounding region, I’d highly recommend checking Cryptocards out.

There’s something really, really fun about receiving a mysterious letter from an unknown correspondent, and Cryptocards nails that mysteriousness. I’m quietly hoping they produce more puzzle games on postcards, and hoping even more that they roll out English and other language versions in the future and are able to reach a global audience one day!

For now, I’m just happy that I received my own little postcard on a snowy December’s day and got to spend half an hour over lunch puzzling my way through 5 tricky puzzles. Good fun!

 

All photos (c) Cryptocards. 
Cryptocards can be purchased from their website here. Note, the website is entirely in Hebrew.

VRCave: Space Station Tiberia | Review

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Space Station Tiberia Review | Become a member of the Space Station Tiberia crew and to save the planet from a unavoidable catastrophe in this free-roaming VR Escape room! Enjoy the unprecedented level of immersion: walk around the room (up to 4 people) and use your logic and teamwork to succeed. Don’t expect this to be an easy task. The clock is ticking and the challenge you’re about to face is very real.

Date Played: November 2021
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 35 minutes
Difficulty: Hard!

Space Station Tiberia is free-roam virtual escape room that is available at a number of locations across the UK (and the world!). We originally played it at DNA VR, a fantastic little VR arcade located in the new build near Battersea Power Station. You can read more about this venue in our guide here. In this review, I want to reflect both the general experience of this game (that’s likely identical wherever you play it), and our specific visit to DNA VR.

Image (c) DNA VR

About DNA VR

DNA VR is one of London’s first VR arcades and is home to a whole host of arcade games, including one of the most impressive escape room suites we’ve seen in the UK! including a range of original, free-roam titles.

On a quiet Monday evening in November, we visited their brand new site in the beautiful riverside arches at Battersea Power Station to find out what all the hype is about. We were greeted by Games Master Chris our enigmatic host for the hour. As the previous group was just finishing off their session, it gave us a chance to explore the venue and find out all about the exciting games they have on offer.

As well as all of the Ubisoft escape room games, you can play a number of other free-roam and fixed position VR experiences, including this one.

About Space Station Tiberia

Space Station Tiberia is an exciting, fast-pace virtual reality ‘escape room’ that places you, a team of astronauts on a space station, in the unenviable position of stopping a meteor from crashing into Earth and destroying the planet. You have just 35 minutes, but the only problem is your Meteor Defense Platform is broken – no pressure, hey!

Throughout this experience you have two goals:

  1. Fix the space station!
  2. Stop the asteroid

The game begins inside a very clean and clinical space station. A lot more high tech and comfortable than the ISS – so we must be living in the near future! After an initial ship-fixing first 20 minutes, you spend your last 10 outside the ship in a very cool outro sequence fighting off asteroids.

The best thing about Space Station Tiberia is that it is free roam. normally in VR escape rooms you’re fixed in one spot. Sure, you can sometimes teleport location but largely the puzzles come to you. In this game, you could move freely throughout the room in any direction. We had to crouch down, stretch up, and peer around corners to succeed in this room. oh- and of course we bumped into each other quite a fair few times! Haha!

But let me tell you, it is hard! Though unfortunately, not in a good way where we walked out satisfied that we’d solved a lot of puzzles. It was obtusely difficult. For starters, outside information was required which is a big no-no in escape rooms. I was lucky to be playing with someone who knew the answer, but otherwise we may have needed to skip that puzzle. Secondly, it made use of VR in an unconventional way. Small spoiler incoming – one of the puzzles required you to balance objects on top of each other to reach a high up place, a nearly impossible feat in virtual reality and didn’t really quite us to ‘solve’ anything either.

That said, if we look at the experience less like an escape room and more like a general VR game, then it makes a little more sense and becomes more enjoyable. It’s a fairly solid first-generation (if such a thing exists in the VR world) escape room that challenges small teams to perform quite manual puzzles around a space ship. There are more than a few action-centric scenes of shooting asteroids and lifting and throwing things around, but mostly it’s enjoyable to be in a sci-fi environment unlike anything else you can play ‘in real life’.

After Space Station Tiberia…

We finished the ‘escape room’ with a little extra time on the clock and were invited by our games master Chris to play another, much shorter experience: The Hospital of Horrors

“Not sure I like this”, my player two uttered from the other side of the room as we descended a rickety old lift into a pitch black basement. As the lights came on we realised we were surrounded by spiders…

Overall we both loved Hospital of Horrors a lot more than Space Station Tiberia. It’s a truly creepy experience that really pushes what is possible in VR and one we’d definitely recommend everyone try. So not quite an escape room but if you’re looking for something unique in VR then this is where it’s at!

Player beware, you’re in for a scare!

The Verdict

We had a great time at DNA VR, it’s a great venue and our host was fantastic. Did we love Space Station Tiberia? Honestly, not particularly, but I do like the genre of escape room in VR and I really, really liked that this one was free roam. It gives the player a chance to do some very cool actions and solve puzzles that simply wouldn’t be possible in real life. But hey, there are better experiences to try out in VR (some of those also available at DNA VR!) if you want to do something very special.

If you want to book an experience at DNA VR, head to their website here.

iDventure: The Fire in Adlerstein | Review

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Adlerstein Review | A citizen was killed in an arson attack in the city of Adlerstein. Isn’t it a strange coincidence? You, inspector, have to find out who the culprit is by detecting files and alibis.

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 23rd October 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

“Let’s play a board game, here are two choices” I say to my escape room un-enthusiastic partner on a Saturday morning. Surprisingly, rather than picking another ancient civilisation building romp, they selected Adlerstein as something a little different. It’s not quite an escape room in a box, but it’s not quite a board game either.

The packaging – a box that fits neatly on my board game shelf – is deceptive. What you actually receive within this box is a detailed paper case file. The game also doesn’t come with any instructions, except for a single letter entitled “Dear Detectives“.

No turns, no dice, your goal is to simply ‘solve the case’ in the fastest time possible.

Good luck!

Find the Culprit, Crack the Case

Your introduction to the case begins when you receive a letter from a local journalist. Interested in the case, we had gathering evidence when suddenly he got arrested – I mean, he was spotted at the scene of the crime and took an unhealthy interest in the fire! Protesting his innocence, he sends you all the evidence he’s collected in the hopes you’ll solve the case for him.

From here it’s a classic whodunnit… A number of suspects with motives, unpicking their actions and figuring out who reasonably could have been at the scene of the crime at the correct time with the right motive to have commited the crime.

To help you out, you’ve got a box packed with a large quantity of stuff to sort through, which was a lot of fun. One made up location, but plenty of impressively realistic pieces of evidence, ranging from Google Maps, license plate searches, stills from CCTV, high quality photographs, written notes. We can’t fault how exciting and realistic it felt to receive a box filled with such objects.

By the end of the hour as we were approaching the climax, we’d completely covered two tables in a ‘detectives board’ style of flat lay, spreading all the relevant information out and drawing lines and connections between characters and events. If you enjoy completely immersing yourself in fictional worlds as you unravel a complex case, then this game is for you! For sure, there are better games out there that do the same thing, but it certainly scratched that armchair detective itch.

Photo (c) iDVenture

There’s a Killer Among Us…

Putting our ‘escape room’ hat on for a moment, it’s hard to judge Adlerstein on puzzles because there weren’t many puzzles to solve in the game – with one exception in the form of a classic cipher puzzle. But this cipher didn’t fit well in the universe, and whats more it was long, cumbersome, and not fun to solve. We ended up skipping the cipher by checking the hints as not to disrupt the flow of the gameplay.

Otherwise all the puzzles players will encounter are pure social deduction puzzles. “If this, then that” or “If he said this, and she said something else, who is lying?” type of thing. Which are fun in their own right, but are less common in the escape room world.

You solve the case by filling out a grid – find everyone’s motive, their alibi, and so on. Whatever the gaps int he grid are is where you’ll find your killer.

So how did we do? We played Adlerstein once through without filling the grid and instead just holding the information in our heads. We reached the ending and short of an educated guess – couldn’t crack the case. So we started from the top and went through methodically, filling the grid, and making sure that each piece of information couldn’t be guessed. And then… We couldn’t crack the case either. I’m quite sure we guessed every single wrong answer before getting to the correct one, and even then we were like “huh? how?” A little but anti-climactic and a lot of frustrating, but we were glad for the resolution at the end.

No, the best thing about playing Adlerstein wasn’t solving puzzles – or even cracking the case. It was reading through a pretty cool story and feeling like you too were at the heart of it. People (fictional, sure) are depending on you to crack the case. It’s not your regular board game, it’s something quite different and that’s exciting!

Photo (c) iDventure

The Verdict

The Fire in Adlerstein is a classic whodunnit with plenty of twists and turns in the detailed story. Our tip to anyone using this post to help solve the game is to read and re-read everything for even the smallest details. The game comes in at between 1 – 3 hours, but can easily be reset and regifted. We made a lot of effort not to ruin any of the materials, and passed it along to the next person at The Escape Roomer to see if they could solve any faster!

The creators want you to feel like a real detective, but they’ll make you work for that solution – good luck!

Adlerstein can be purchased from iDventure’s website here.

itstravelti.me: Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant | Review

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Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant | itstravelti.me is a free puzzle, it’s like the online equivalent of a multi-part escape room. But with time travel. Navigate through 6th Century China, Egyptian zork-style tombs and the ’90s to help the time traveller, Agent 14, complete their mission and return to safety. The puzzle is split into three parts, each part will take roughly 30 minutes – 3 hours. There’s no time limit, take as long as you want to solve it, you can take a break and return where you left off at any time.

Completion Time: ~1hr30
Date Played: February 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Hard

There’s something incredibly exciting about seeing a listing on Craigsli- I mean, Daveslist for a Time Traveller’s apprentice. Just like in the 2012 film starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson, I too was answering a mysterious call from the internet to embark up on an adventure like no other. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but that is definitely the coolest thing ever.

So when we received a mysterious email from one of the creators of Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant, we were very excited indeed! Al, Ash, Tasha and myself got together on one of our weekly puzzle-solving Sunday nights and all agreed to open the introductory link at the same time to get started.

Safety not Guaranteed…

Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant is a web-based ARG (alternate reality game). Not much is known about it, except that’s it free and it begins right here. As an ARG, it isn’t any sense of the word ‘traditional’. By that, I’m comparing it to other escape room type games usually hosted on Telescape where you’re pointing around the room and clicking on objects to interact with them. Instead, you navigate through a series of web pages.

To guide you along the way is ‘The Time Traveller’ / Agent 14 who is caught in various eras throughout history including 6th Century China, ancient Egypt and the ’90s. Thanks to modern technology, they’re able to communicate directly with you via a handy one-way chatbot.

Because of the ARG nature, it’s not the most suitable game for playing with friends via video chat – which is exactly what we did. It’s definitely more suited to solo play, or playing with people in the same room. But if you do choose to play with friends online, you can always share your screen or read the text-heavy segments out loud.

In terms of technology, Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant was really unique. A lot of ARGs are on the basic side, but the creators have pulled out all the stops to make something unique and fun to play. At each time it felt immersive, almost like we were really talking to some pour soul at the other end of the interface. Plus, no surprise to say we loved the 90s aesthetic. Ahh… The internet of my childhood! *wipes tear from eye*

The team has done a lot with just a little text and created a digital world I really wanted to explore more and dig deeper into. I am impressed!

Part One – 6th Century China

The game begins in 6th century China with a mysterious puzzle about the zodiac years. Your goal is simple – figure out when the heck your Time Travelling companion is stuck! We whizzed through this puzzle using a clue or two and plenty of Google and before long we were on a roll. Onwards and upwards to Part Two!

Part Two – Ancient Egypt

The second part of Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant was maybe one of my favourite puzzle levels in any digital game for a long time. But heck, it was difficult! Players are presented with a text-based input to communicate with the Time Traveller who is in a maze. You’ll need to draw the maze as you instruct your companion to progress because the maze gets more complex the further in you go.

Along the way we encountered different chambers, different mini puzzles, and some delightful roleplay elements. I like a good maze as much as the next person, but it turns out I enjoy directing someone else through a maze even more so! Especially when the maze is full… Of cats!

One of the fun things about playing this game with other players is we all ended up in different parts of the maze. “Wait, where the heck are you? how do I get there?!” we called to each other back and forth as each of us exclaimed they’d found something different. Here working together really helped. The maze was not quite as daunting when we divided and conquered it.

Part Three – We Have No Idea!

Wait, what?

That’s right – we couldn’t actually progress to the third section of the game. The puzzle ‘gating’ the third section of the game we found insurmountably difficult between the four of us. It’s a common type of puzzle (no spoilers here) that two of our party were comfortable solving, but the ramp up in difficulty combined with the fact it was already quite late on the Sunday evening when we arrived at it meant we gave up after ~20 or so minutes and put the game to one side.

This particular puzzle is probably uniquely and logically solvable, but again not well suited to playing with a group of four players over video call since it’s very much a solo-puzzle. I later went back and did have a second attempt in my own time after printing the puzzle out and pouring over it over breakfast a few days later. But I came up against the same issue, not being able to pass beyond this point. I don’t consider myself particularly bad at solving this kind of puzzle but this particular iteration just didn’t click for me.

But I don’t just a game for my own personal shortcomings. So I couldn’t solve one puzzle – that’s on me. Up until this point we had a great time playing.

The Verdict

Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant is a really unique ARG experience quite unlike anything else I’ve played in a very long time! It had it’s delightful moments – and an equal number of moments where we were banging our collective heads against the desk. But hey, a balance in a game like this is good, right?

In our particular playthrough, it was a little bit disappointing not to be able to fully finish the game but as I say, that may be an issue with us and not with the game – I’ll let other players judge! But for that reason it’s hard to comment on the complete story line. What we saw was a lot of fun, but how did it end? Argh! I want to know! *shakes fist at the sky*

Do we recommend it? Well, it’s not quite an escape room, no, but it’s incredibly unique and well worth a try… Especially as at the time of writing it’s completely free. Yep, you read that right. For a game that is at least 2 hours worth of puzzling goodness, you can’t go wrong. Give it a go! See if you can succeed where we failed!

Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant can be played for free by heading to this link here.

Royal Museums Greenwich: The Cursed Collector | Review

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The Cursed Collector Review | Someone is trying to break into The Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre. Is it a thief, and if so, what are they trying to steal? As an undercover investigator you will help the curators find out what is going on and take action … and fast!

An anonymous tip has revealed that a person already known to the Museum is the potential perpetrator. We need to convince Security that the threat is real!

Completion Time: 21:49
Date Played: 17th February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easy

Personally, I love it when museums enter the ‘escape room’ space. Museums are packed with history, fascinating stories and curious collections ripe for converting into an immersive mystery just like this one. I actually hope that more museums will do it in the future – it’s just such a fantastic way to get the general public to engage in a meaningful way with the past and I love that!

The Cursed Collector is the latest in museum-escape room collaboration. It’s also a funny story, because my partner (occasional player 2 in my reviews and UK museums professional) heard about this game’s launch long before I did. We bounce around ideas for museum themed escape rooms from time to time, but one day he turned to me and asked “Hey, have you played the Royal Museums Greenwich one yet?”

Wait what? A brand new digital escape room experience that I’d never heard of?! Well, that had to be fixed at once! And so, pulling together a fantastic team of Al, Ash and Georgie, we booked ourselves in right away.

About The Cursed Collector Escape Room

The Cursed Collector is a timed digital escape room experience. You’re given a specific time slot and a Zoom link to join 5 minutes before. At your allocated time, you all hop onto the call and are greeted by your host, then in no time at all the adventure begins.

The whole game then takes place over a series of websites which one member of the team is encouraged to share their screen so that all players can play along. The narrative weaves seamlessly between fictional websites, for shady security firms and secret societies and real websites including the Royal Museums Greenwich actual collections! Various pages have audio files, and password protected sections which must be unlocked to progress.

The game centres around a fictional story inspired by those collections, but it does a great job of forcing you to interact with the real exhibits which you can then go and see in person. What a fun blurring of story and truth together! We worked together and dug through layers of maritime history in search of lost treasure. Why? To break a curse, of course!

The whole thing should take an average team around 60 minutes to complete. We were on particularly good form and took just 20 minutes, but equally I’m not sure enthusiasts are the target audience of the game so we may be outliers there.

Introducing, Our Museum Guide!

In our case, the host (in our case named Victoria) was one of my favourite things about the whole experience. Bearing in mind it’s just a museum (and not say, an escape room company with games masters who have trained for years), our host was full of enthusiasm from the first moment to the last. Due to the nature of the gameplay, we interacted with her only during the intro briefing and the outro, as for most of the game she took a very hands off role. A good thing, I suppose, as we didn’t require any hints! But even at the last moment it felt like she cared a lot about our experience, asking all the right questions about what worked and what didn’t work and what feedback we had. A lovely touch to feel listened to!

I do feel that for an experience like this it is unusual to have a host. Since the whole thing was digital and fairly self-contained, we easily could have played without an intro or outro video (say, just a pre-recorded video and a web-page with hints if we needed them). I mainly mention it because there are only 2 slots offered per evening, but the whole game could easily be a “play anytime” game if players were allowed to start and finish at their own pace without needing to book into a slot. The more players who get to experience this game, the better, right? But hey, that’s just my two pence on the matter! I appreciated getting to meet our lovely host, but the presence of any host was not necessary for the gameplay.

Cracking Codes and Hacking into the System

In terms of puzzles, whilst they may have been on the easier side, it certainly was fun to whiz through the internet hacking into various login pages and security systems to access information. For the best experience, whilst one person will be sharing their screen – other players should open up the same URLs and have a dig around at their own pace. You never know what you may find.

Some of my favourite moments included ‘hacking’ into a real email address’s inbox, and finding many cool pages on the internet that you’re never quite sure are real or fictional.

There’s a lot of ‘guessing the password for this page’ with a few clues pointing on various web pages. Though these people seriously need to up their security! Haha!

If you enjoy more deductive, mimetic puzzles like that, then it’ll be right up your street.

The Verdict

I’ll be honest, it’s really hard to grade this escape game as we traditionally do for each review. Subjectively, not my favourite escape room experience. But would I recommend it? Sure!

I think it comes down to the technology. Playing The Cursed Collector reminded me a lot of playing the very earliest games in the Isklander series – that is before they revamped them all into a trilogy. What I mean by that is that it reminded me of the kinds of games that game out in early 2020. Isklander won a lot of awards when it first came out because nobody had seen anything quite like it. If they launched now… Meh.

So what I’m trying to saying a roundabout way is that the style and ambition of The Cursed Collector already feels dated, which is a slight shame given the wealth of resource material a museum like The Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre has. They could have done a lot more with it.

But here’s the thing, why on Earth would I expect a museum who has never made an escape room before to compete with the established escape rooms that have spent the last 2-3 years fine tuning and honing the digital escape room craft? I wouldn’t. Museums do not have a lot of money, made even worse by the drastic cuts faced in the UK as a result of the pandemic. People aren’t visiting museums as much anymore, and museums need to do whatever they can to secure more income and bring more excited people through their doors – especially young people!

So am I thrilled that RMG created this escape room? Heck yeah!

Should you play it and support them? Absolutely.

I hope that this is just the first of many immersive experiences the team go on to create and I hope they inspire other museums across the UK to follow suite and create their own games.

The TLDR; Verdict

The Cursed Collector is fairly engaging and has a great host who guides you through the RMG Collections in search of missing items in order to break a curse. Sure, it’s not the most impressive escape room, feels a little dated compared to other digital escape rooms you can play today, and it definitely won’t challenge enthusiasts, but it’s important to support museums if you can. We’d recommend this for families and kids** who cannot visit the collections in person but want a fun and educational way to engage with the RMG. For the best experience, why not play first, then go visit those very same objects you were working with in the game!

** please note, the website recommends it for ages 14+. We think this game would be fine for players much younger, but do get in touch with them directly to discuss!

The Cursed Collector can be booked by heading to Royal Museums Greenwich’s page here.

The Cari Mysteries: Grandfather’s Fortune | Review

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The Cari Mysteries: Grandfather’s Fortune | Review | A young family comes to the Netherlands from the Dutch East Indies in the 1950s. One day, one of the grandchildren receives her grandmother’s diary. For years, the story has been going around that Grandpa brought a fortune back from the Indies and that Grandma’s diary was supposed to be the treasure map. The diary is incomplete. The fortune has now been a legend in the family for over 50 years. No one has ever been able to find it. Discover and experience this true story and help find Grandfather’s Fortune.

Completion Time: 70 minutes
Date Played: 30th January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Gezelligheid kent geen tijd!

Or, to those of us who aren’t Ash (the French & Dutch graduate) – time flies when you’re having fun! Our classic online escape team of us, Mairi and Tasha sat down together on a chilly January evening to see whether we could help search an old Dutch farm house, to find the family’s hidden fortune. Turns out, it was hidden in far more than a locked box, it was hidden in time itself.

So, put on your time-travelling glasses, and let’s get exploring.

A beautiful family farmhouse – so much to see!

This game begins with a wonderfully sweet introductory video, bringing you up to date with the family’s history and the mystery of their grandfather’s hidden treasure. It is a very nostalgic game, as players are reviled with tales of old family traditions and introduced to the various members of the family and their individual stories.

The first space you get to explore is the looming front door. It’s very easy to look around, and the exploration in the game feels very nature. The software itself helps to plant you in the game, as you can see the seemingly never-ending fields stretch out way in the distance from the farm house, it feels like you are really there! Ash was absolutely loving this, and wishing that she had played the game in Dutch, returning to her days living in the Netherlands as a student.

Are these…magic glasses?!

Once we managed to make it inside, we were taken into the first ‘space’ of the game: the house’s attic. Here, we found out what really makes this game special: the magic glasses! Players can click a button to put them on, and they are taken back in time! You can look around the room with a whole new perspective, new puzzles appear, people appear, the overlay of the present and the past is brilliant! It works pretty seamlessly too, so it doesn’t feel dis-jointed or laggy, which was a big relief.

We worked together to solve the puzzles, which were actually quite challenging. You have a diary which accompanies you throughout the day, acting as a handy guide/map. It’s a clever way of having a sort of ‘options menu’ without breaking the immersion – and works very well in the digital escape room format.

The treasure! Eindelijk!

This was a really fun, wholesome game. We had a great time exploring the many rooms on offer within the farmhouse, flitting between the past and the present to combine items to make our way to the family’s hidden treasure. There were a hefty amount of puzzles, and we did get a bit stuck a few times! We definitely have a new favourite kind of puzzle, one we’ve actually never seen before (which is unusual given we are now nearing our 200th game) – kudos to the Cari Mysteries!

This game lends itself well to being played online. It’s been designed with care, and with love. We would highly recommend this for a cosy Sunday evening with friends. It might be a nice one to play with family if you are all apart, it certainly made us feel quite nostalgic!

Grandfather’s fortune can be played by going to the Cari Mysteries website here.

Behind the Frame | Review

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Behind the Frame Review | Guide brush strokes and solve a variety of puzzles to help an aspiring artist complete her masterpiece amid her brusque neighbor’s gaze and his pesky cat. As her painting starts to take shape, uncover an emotional tale of chance and artistry revealed behind unrelated yet familiar moments.

Developer: Silver Lining Studio
Date Played: December 2021
Console: PC
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 1 hour

From the moment I first heard the phrase “escape room puzzles in a Studio Ghibli-esque world” I was sold. A game like this deserved my full attention, so I patiently waited until Christmas 2021 when I’d have more time to spare before downloading it. The cosy evening of the 23rd of December was the perfect time. A time when the wind and rain howled outside, for me to make a big mug of tea and dive behind the frame into a peaceful and wholesome world.

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

The story centres around you, an aspiring young artist living in a small studio apartment who dreams of of exhibiting her work in New York. Opposite, an elderly painter living with a tabby cat is occasionally glimpsed in a series of dream-like animated sequences. Each day you rise, make eggs on toast, pour a cup of coffee, and work on your painting. To your dismay, each time you power on your laptop you find your application to go to New York has been deleted, and your painting seems further from completion than ever before.

Your goal is to solve enough puzzles to discover more colours to finish your painting in time for the exhibition. But oddly, the details around you never change. The calendar on the wall displays the same date. But, as you play through this short game you quickly discover there’s a greater story unravelling around you in the stillness of art. Your life flits in and out of reverie and darker secrets bubble to the surface.

Who is the old man who lives opposite? More to the point, who are you?

Puzzles in Paintings

Behind the Frame is a puzzle game – and a point and click escape room at that – but it’s also a very narrative, emotionally heavy story. With each new chapter you learn a part of the whole story, but each time it feels like you’re scrambling to recover memories of the bigger picture.

In the escape room world really good storytelling is often missing from physical rooms and puzzle games. With just an hour’s time limit, it’s hard to write detailed narratives. The developers of Behind the Frame on the other hand have started with the story first, and then woven the puzzles throughout the game to support and advance the narrative – and it shows! It’s an incredibly moving story told through satisfying art-based puzzles.

In terms of puzzles, the setting dictates a lot of what can and cannot be done, and most puzzles centre around memory. Players will be shown a detail, and will later need to recreate it in their artwork to progress. In other sequences, players will encounter something in their environment and will need to recreate it on a wooden block puzzle they find in their home. In both cases, the game requires you to pay attention and use your artistic skill to solve the mystery.

At other times, you’ll discover hidden objects around your room and sketch or assemble them like jigsaws in your handy notebook. At no point during this game did I feel any of the puzzles were particularly challenging – but that’s part of the beauty. Behind the Frame is best played in one sitting, and each puzzle will take seconds to solve as not to disrupt the flow of the story.

Studio Ghibli, Eat Your Heart Out

…Haha, I’m kidding. Nothing can surpass a Ghibli film. But Behind the Frame comes close.

There’s a good reason this video game keeps being compared to the infamous Japanese film producer, despite the two having nothing to do with each other. Behind the Frame uses a combination of animated sequences and point and click gameplay. both of which feel lovingly hand drawn and perfectly in place with the style we see in many vintage anime films of the Studio Ghibli era.

What’s more, the story is heartbreaking and full of a sense of loss for a time we aren’t sure we ever knew. Players are encouraged to find the joy in every day life through the peaceful sound of coffee cups clinking and brushstrokes on paper. I am at once immediately at home playing Behind the Frame.

The Verdict

Behind the Frame is a magical puzzle game like nothing else I’ve ever played. It’s a marriage of my two favourite video game genres: escape room and wholesome, and this is a game I’ll be returning to over and over whenever I need a break from reality.

The game is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices – however I’d recommend playing it on PC or Nintendo Switch to get the most out of your artistic journey.

The only issue? it’s far too short. At six chapters long, the game is playable within 30 to 60 minutes. I went back and played it twice in order to collect 100% of the Steam achievements – another unchallenging pursuit – and still felt I needed a little more. More paintings, more stories from the girl’s life, more of everything. I need more of the magical whimsy Behind the Frame sprinkled into my life on a cold December evening.

To play Behind the Frame, head to the developer’s website and choose your platform here.

Ratings

AIM Escape: Patient Zero 2150 | Review

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Patient Zero 2150 Review | Armageddon beckons. The world’s superpowers are no more. Renegade factions vie for domination. Rogue scientists have breached all moral boundaries creating pathogens that create non-humans. Nerve agents so nightmarish that they corrupt physically and mentally, turning those exposed into the living dead – zombies. In the subterranean depths of their secret facility, the pathogen has escaped. It must be contained or all humankind, as we know it, will cease to exist. Your mission – contain the bio-threat, secure the facility and escape uninfected. Can you hold your breath for 60 minutes? This high tech terror will test the smartest players.

Date Played: 21st January 2022
Time Taken: 60 minutes (plus 15 seconds)
Number of Players: 2
Difficulty: Hard

In a picture-perfect exit, we escaped with the countdown timer ringing in our ears. Well- okay, not quite. We technically overran by 15 seconds. But we tried our best, and saved the world in the process. What more can you ask for, eh?!

AIM Escape is one of those venues I’ve been dying to try out since I took on Operation Mindfall, hosted by them around London two summers ago. But of course, thanks to the global pandemic, the world had other plans and we kept putting off the visit. That was until an icy cold January Friday evening when we booked the game for two. Patient Zero 2150 – save the world from a deadly virus? Well, that’s close to home, but hey after dealing with you-know-what for two years, we’re experts.

AIM Escape

About Patient Zero 2150

The story of Patient Zero 2150 is a creepy one – but not a million miles from *gestures vaguely at the past few years*. In the not too distant future we, a pair of intrepid scientists are a part of Team Beta and sent in to investigate a mysterious laboratory disaster. We arrive to discover dead bodies, cages ripped open from inside, rooms on fire, and even a whisper of zombies.

You see, this laboratory was investigating deadly pathogens and nerve agents. But clearly, something escaped and went on to kill everyone else in sight. So our job was simple: isolate areas of the lab, and develop and escape with the antidote. Simple.

Oh- but one catch, to avoid catching the virus ourselves we should probably hold our breaths for the full 60 minutes. Or, ya know, we might become zombies ourselves.

Photo (c) AIM Escape

Escape… The Living Dead!

One thing we both absolutely loved about Patient Zero 2150 was the ambience. I mean, this room is so ultra-immersive that for 60 brilliant minutes we forgot where we were. At the start of the escape room there’s a map on the wall showing the vast sprawling laboratory. Sure, you never actually get to visit these places but you do truly believe you’re there. Cut to an age later, we were several rooms ahead and I remember saying “hey behind this wall is the infirmary“. Nope, it wasn’t relevant at all – but AIM Escape really managed to make the world seem bigger than the escape room we were playing in.

We even encountered along the way small windows and doors into other ‘rooms’ and ‘areas’ – not real, of course, but you’d have fooled me!

One of the best ways AIM Escape achieves this effect is by the use of sound. Throughout the whole game we heard noises and walkie talkie chatter that set the scene of the chaos around us. Elsewhere in the laboratory, a war between the living and the dead was raging. Subtle crashes, muted gunfire, creaks and noises lurking behind every door. It was… Perfect! Kudos to the sound engineers – which is another thing I’ve never ever said about an escape room before.

One thing we would mention is that some sections of the game are fairly dimly lit. It makes total sense given the setting. Of course there would be dim lighting in places – it is after all quite a creepy game – but we wanted to mention it as a heads up for prospective bookers. You’re provided with torches throughout the game and there’s also a torch added to the walkie-talkie you have to communicate with your Games Master which comes in handy.

Photo (c) AIM Escape

“I’ve pushed every button in the room, now what?”

In terms of puzzles – I won’t beat around the bush – we found this game HARD. Not impossibly hard, and over a pint afterwards we remarked that none of the puzzles made you feel stupid. But for some reason a lot of it didn’t click and we used many clues. Sometimes those clues were the little nudge we needed before an “ohhh! That’s brilliant!” moment. Other times we still didn’t quite click with what the puzzle was asking us to do and why. But hey, that’s okay! It was a welcome challenge.

At the start of our briefing our fantastic host Mads joked that we could ask for unlimited clues, and that they wouldn’t judge us (ok well maybe a little). At about our 6th clue (some requested, some volunteered), we began to wonder if we might be breaking a record for most clues required in this game.

The website does warn that it’s a hard game. Not only that but it’s the hardest available at AIM Escape. In hindsight booking with just two players – one of whom it was her third escape room ever – maybe wasn’t the best choice. But we were there to have fun, and we did have a lot of fun, twenty thousand clues or not.

With no locks, every puzzle we encountered was technological. Push buttons, do things on screens, to trigger the next step. This meant that when we were particularly stuck on a digital dexterity puzzle, our Games Master could helpfully in-character ‘remotely hack’ it to move us along to the next step. As a player, I felt bad doing this. We should have stuck with it and kept trying – but time was against us!

Photo (c) AIM Escape

A Challenge for the Brave

So difficulty aside, who would we recommend this room for? For starters – not kids! It’s not overtly scary, but there’s a definite sense of looming threat and a couple of minor jump scares, and plenty of fake blood that little players might get upset with. I say that knowing fine well that my own brother, aged 12, probably would have found the whole thing absolutely brilliant. But better safe than sorry.

We also would recommend a team of 3 at the minimum. The mix of rooms jumbles up linear and non-linear moments – meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for players to work on different things at the same time. Our recommendation of 3 comes more in terms of ‘brain power’ however. We escaped – but only just! And our host did give us a lot of much needed help, so I’m calling her our honorary third player.

The Verdict

We had an absolute blast at Patient Zero 2150 and it’s been cemented in my imagination as one of London’s must-play rooms – especially for enthusiasts! It’s a challenge, but a fully rewarding one that transplants you, the players, into the middle of a high-adrenaline thriller zombie film where the fate of the world is literally in your hands. The ambience and atmosphere is second to none (no, seriously, I mean it!), and the staff (despite it being very busy when we booked) went above and beyond to make sure we were well looked after.

Sure, it’s a hard room, but also saving the world from a deadly pathogen was never going to be a walk in the park!

Patient Zero 2150 can be booked by heading to AIM Escape’s website here.