Hidden City: Moriarty’s Game | Review

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Moriarty’s Game Review | Professor James Moriarty invites you to celebrate the finest minds in London by solving his mysterious challenge, which he has personally prepared. Succeed, and he promises to make you an offer you can’t refuse…

Rating: Fun – but for the best experience, wait until lockdown is over
Completion Time: 3 hours
Date Played: April 2021 ~ April 2022
Party Size: 4
Location: Baker Street, Marylebone, Mayfair

So, I’m probably one of the few people in London who doesn’t generally recommend Hidden City. The company has a very dedicated following of puzzle enthusiasts and most people will recommend them as creators of the very best outdoor walking trails in London. For me, my un-enthusiasm boils down to one very important detail – I played most of Hidden City’s game during the global pandemic.

As I’ll repeat from my other review of The Enchanted Mirror, I had fond memories of playing Hidden City games that involved indoor locations BEFORE the pandemic. These walking games often take you into famous landmarks to discover cool and unusual facts, and pubs and cafes to whisper secret codewords to the staff and receive packs of information. At the end of each Hidden City game players often receive an edible prize. SERIOUSLY AWESOME!

…Except, that during lockdown their trails remained live and bookable, but all of the exciting bells and whistles that make Hidden City so special were removed. For obvious reasons… It was a global pandemic. But without those bells and whistles it became hard to justify the high price on the market. The cost per player was £19, reduced from £25 during the lockdown, which took away the sting a little bit. But, regardless, they’re still on the more expensive side of the London puzzle trail market, and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend them during the lockdown. Another shame, given the only thing us enthusiasts could do during the lockdown was walk around outside…

All this is to say that after writing a review for The Enchanted Mirror (lockdown version), I decided not to make the same mistake twice. Since I knew in my heart that a mid-lockdown version of the game wasn’t representative, I went ahead and booked Moriarty’s Game TWICE. First in May 2021, and then again in April 2022. It’s simply not fair for me to judge a game at a time when the business hosting the game was struggling the most. Companies still need to make money, and I’m glad that selling their treasure trails, even if they were a reduced version of them, meant that they could survive the pandemic and reopen the original, brilliant experience. But I wanted to mention all this as I have a slightly unique view of the game, and I’m reminded of this quote:

“If you can’t handle me Moriarty’s Game at it’s worse, you don’t deserve me Moriarty’s Game at my best”

So, without further adieu, let’s talk about Moriarty’s Game…

 

About Moriarty’s Game

Moriarty’s Game: The Professor’s Invitation is an outdoor walking trail that sets off from Marylebone and takes around 3 hours to complete. 2 hours if you’re super fast, and up to 4 if you’re not in a rush and want to take in the sights. Beginning outside The Marylebone on Marylebone High Street, the adventure takes teams across London, past amazing sights and down curious little alleyways in an effort to prove yourself worthy to Sherlock’s Nemesis himself, James Moriarty.

To help you out, you have a direct line of contact via text message during the game. I don’t want to give too many spoilers since this game offers several multiple choice elements, but I will say that at any time you’re either talking to Moriarty, Watson, Sherlock, or the Metropolitan Police. That is, depending on whose side in the game you take. This contact is mostly cryptic puzzles for you to solve taking you on a walk. Occasionally your correspondent will send you into a local business:

“Time for you and your team to send the stealthiest of you into the location…”

At each location we would often be handed a physical pack with physical items covered in puzzles to be solved. In our first lockdown playthrough, all of the locations were shut so no packs – all QR codes! In the second, just one of these locations was shut, but a handy QR code sent us a digital version of the physical pack which helped us along our way. We also found ourselves phoning mysterious numbers and speaking or listening to recordings from various characters from the story. All in all, thoroughly immersive. Occasional nods of “make sure you weren’t followed” added an extra dimension of “oh my god those people look suspicious” and hurrying through the shadows.

 

 

One thing I did notice about playing it twice and by noticing some other teams passing alongside us, their noses buried in their phones, is that there isn’t just one route to the game. Notably, a few key places and indoor locations must be visited in order to progress, but the roads that take you between those can (and probably will) be completely different from the next team. Different clues, different sights, and different riddles. This surprised me, but also delighted me – it meant that playing it twice felt refreshing, and I can easily see how great this would be to play in competition with another team.

At one point during the game, the second time we played I mean, something really cool happened. We were wandering around a street and one of us spotted something curious poking out of a hedgerow. It was a business card… Sherlock Holmes’ business card. No, seriously. Whilst I’m now quite sure this was co-incidence, since this was not an item we found at any point on our experience (I believe the place that we would have picked it up was shut, and so instead we had another puzzle to solve) it still added a whole new level of immersion that… No joke… Blew our minds! Props to whoever accidentally, or on purpose left that business card tucked into a hedgerow because it was very cool indeed.

In terms of the route, I don’t want to give too many spoilers so I’ll just speak in very general terms – we started near Marylebone in a lovely location next to a farmer’s market. The route took us around Mayfair and up towards Oxford Street and Regent’s Street, finally ending somewhere near Fitzrovia. In short, it’s a very ‘fancy’ area of London and not one I’d normally hang out in but it was great to explore it with fresh eyes.

 

Team The Escape Roomer stopping for a cheeky drink

 

Is Hidden City Wheelchair Accessible or Dog Friendly?

One of the biggest considerations when playing an outdoor walking game is accessibility. For this, I’m going to mention two things – wheelchair, and dog friendly, since these are two questions we get asked a lot.

On the first point, our particular route was not particularly wheelchair friendly. We encountered plenty of steps, but perhaps if you get in contact with the team they may be able to advise.

On the topic of dog friendly, being able to bring your four-legged friends is one of the biggest pulls about opting to play an outdoor walking trip over say, a physical escape room. Most physical escape rooms in London will not allow dogs in side – so visitors to the city, plan accordingly!

(As a total side note, if any fellow enthusiasts are visiting the city and need someone to shower their dog in cuddles for an hour whilst they’re in an escape room… I’m your girl!)

When we played, we had a dog with us. I wouldn’t say the experience was or wasn’t dog friendly in either way. There are plenty of locations where you are encouraged to take a seat. At some of the places, we took the dossier with us and went along our way, but I don’t think they would have turned us away if we had taken a seat. The final location insists that you take a seat and this place is dog friendly – they even brought out a little bowl of water for our thirsty four legged friend, which was a nice touch!

So is it dog friendly? Yeah, kinda! Wheelchair friendly? Not particularly.

 

 

The Verdict

The first time I played Moriarty’s Game, I didn’t enjoy it. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it was very expensive, all of the fun things were shut, and our game actually broke towards the end – our texts started going into a loop and the game randomly sent us to the start. We weren’t able to get in touch with anyone from support until days later. Oof, not good.

However, everyone has their bad day. Sometimes that bad day turns into a bad year when the world plunges into lockdown. So, I chose not to review the game at the time, as it wasn’t representative of what people’s actual experience would be.

It seems like waiting for the pandemic to end was well worth the wait, because the experience we got when we were able to book the game a second time was almost flawless. A beautiful sunny day, perfectly working tech, and getting to meet lovely people in fantastic places. We left the experience with a big ol’ grin on our faces and already made plans to book another.

So the verdict? I really, really enjoyed the game. I really recommend it. Despite everything, I am a fan of the company.

Yes, yes, it is still a really expensive game. Easily the most expensive in the market and about the same cost as an escape room ticket. But for that price you’re getting easily over 3 hours worth of fun and you’re getting some lovely keepsakes and pretty fun prize at the end too!

 

 

Moriarty’s Game can be booked by heading to Hidden City’s website here.

Escape Rooms: Pharaoh’s Chamber | Review

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Pharaoh’s Chamber Review | You have successfully passed through all 12 of the black hell gates and are deep in the heart of Egypt’s oldest pyramid in Pharaoh Khufu’s Chamber. Legend has it this Chamber is cursed and all who remain in it longer than 60 minutes will have their souls removed from their bodies and be destined to guard the Pharaoh’s tomb and his treasure for all eternity. You are the 100th raider of this tomb; the 99 that have come before you are believed to have perished in the chamber though no bodies have ever been found. You have 1 hour to find his treasure and light all the flames of the gods in order to escape; otherwise you will, as those before you, be forced to remain at the Pharaoh’s side forever. Are you Ready to Escape?

Date Played: April 2022
Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: 50 Minutes
Difficulty: Easy

I’ve heard stories (usually told nostalgically over drinks) of escape room players talking about racing through an easy room then getting stuck on the very last puzzle, watching the clock tick tick tick until the deadline and not escaping and woah- I never thought it would happen to us. Until Pharaoh’s Chamber. Except, we did actually manage to escape. But equally we did manage to complete 99% of the room in record time, and spend the rest of the experience trying to figure out what on Earth we’d missed.

But hey, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about Pharaoh’s Chamber in more detail…

 

Welcome to Escape Rooms

Last Christmas I was super lucky to nab myself a voucher to play at Escape Rooms in the charity auction. Actually, I surprised myself – just a short walk from where I live and I’d never even heard of ‘Escape Rooms’ least of all played there, so I was pretty excited to book my team in! Whats more, we had dinner reserved around the corner at one of my favourite spots (Kin + Deum if anyone is looking for a recommendation). In short, the makings of a great evening.

Escape Rooms is tucked away off a side street in London Bridge, just a stone’s throw from the station and the Shard. When we arrived there was another team waiting in the waiting room to be briefed, and since one of our party was running a few minutes late – they went ahead and briefed both teams at the same time. Our Games Master was the enigmatic Craig who delivered both briefings with gusto and flair, before hurrying us down into our room. I would say we did feel a little rushed, there wasn’t as much banter as I’m probably used to, but I can’t blame them – the site seemed quite busy for a Sunday evening!

From here, we were led into the Pharaoh’s Chamber – a large Ancient Egypt themed room with several doors leading off from the spacious main room. Our adventure begins!

 

100th Times a Charm!

Pharaoh’s Chamber follows you, the 100th team of adventurers into Pharaoh Khufu’s Chamber in search of his treasure. When our Games Master first swung open the doors, we were greeted by a comparatively quite sparsely decorated room. But, what struck me most was just how large this escape room was! It has one very spacious central area and a number of doors leading off at all directions. Each door is guarded by an Egyptian God – one of those large statues more at home in a museum – and each has a light above it’s head that will turn on when it’s relevant puzzle is solved.

Quite often in escape rooms it’s hard to know if you’ve solved something or not, but Pharaoh’s Chamber is very literal with it. Light on = Solved. Light off = Keep on.

So, solve all the puzzles, find the treasure, and escape… Simple? Right?

The room that followed was incredibly non-linear. I’m a huge, huge fan of non-linear escape rooms, but this one took the non-linearity to it’s logical conclusion. Each puzzle around the room could be solved separately, and there wasn’t a hierarchy of “beginning puzzles” and a “meta puzzle”, nope – you’d be let out once every single puzzle in the room was completed. When our clock started to count down, we all immediately split up and did just that – started to solve things separately. Meaning that for the average team there’ll probably be puzzles one individual will never encounter and vice versa, as each person gets on with their own things.

One thing I would mention here however is that one of our team was an escape room newbie. For this reason I think perhaps the non-linearity didn’t completely work for our team. She admitted post-game that it was hard to keep track of what each of us was doing. And yeah, I get that. We’d got it in our minds to try to beat the record, and so got stuck right in. But for someone with less escape room experience I can definitely see that it’s hard to know where to begin or indeed, what is happening at any given moment.

 

Crack Khufu’s Codes

In terms of the puzzles, they were fairly satisfyingly easy all round. There was a mix of brilliant little puzzles that fit very well into the environment of ‘Ancient Egypt’ which I enjoyed playing through. Others were a little more tenuous, such as pressing electronic buttons or cipher and letter puzzles. Overall, I felt that the puzzles, though fun, didn’t completely fit in the world. Nothing was uniquely Ancient Egypt – not the decorations nor the puzzles, and instead it felt more like a generic escape room with a theme loosely added. Pros and cons all round.

That is to say that one of the puzzles I encountered was easily one of my favourites – but then, I love a good word puzzle! Haha. In this particular puzzle, as I’m tempted to do in any newspaper-style word puzzle over my morning coffee, I spent reverse engineering it to get the answer. I was absolutely sure I’d solved it correctly but with the wrong method, but later our Games Master explained that nope, I’d done it the most common way. It felt like a big difficulty jump from the others, but it goes to show that there’s something for everyone in this escape room. Also, I got to feel super smart for a hot second. Win win!

The Games Master delivered clues via a walkie-talkie in the room, if we needed a clues we could ask. If he thought we needed a nudge in the right direction, he would suggest one. He did so with remarkable frequency, but we were very careful not to ask for a “Clue”. Teams who ask for clues are not eligible to be on the leader board, but those who get nudges or hints are okay. We’d made up our mind during the briefing to try our best to get on the leader board so we did not ask for any clues.

That said, we didn’t make it onto the leader board as we were tripped up on one tiny detail – an object not correctly placed somewhere that hadn’t triggered the mechanic output. So when we were sure we’d finished the room (in record time), our Games Master chimed in on the walkie talkie that we’d missed something. Cue 25+ minutes of wandering around the room trying to figure out what we’d missed. Boooo, no leader board score for us! In hindsight, we should have taken the clue and gone to dinner earlier.

 

 

The Verdict

Pharaoh’s Chamber first came out in 2014 and I have absolutely no doubt that it was a fantastic room then. In fact, I regularly read other escape room blogger reviews and that seems to be the consensus – when it launched a lot of people gave it an easy 5*s. Wow, when it came out I was still a teenager and at least 5 years from my first escape room… Fast forward 8 years, and the room does feel very dated. Slightly tired, sparsely decorated, and a host team that felt quite rushed and keen to get us through the room and out.

I just wish I’d played it when it first came out, because I would have been absolutely blown away by it! I can tell it’s got charm, and I don’t fault the room or the team in the slightest, I’d just love to see the creators use the space and create something even more exciting with all the learnings the UK escape room industry has had in the past 8 years. It’s a well-loved site, and I’ve no doubt it can be a top enthusiast spot with a little more TLC.

Since I didn’t pay full price for this, and managed to support a good charitable cause in buying the voucher, I’m not mad in the slightest. It was a great time for a fraction of the full price and we will definitely return again to try out the rest of their rooms. Maybe next time we’ll earn our place on that coveted leader board!

 

Pharaoh’s Chamber can be booked at Escape Rooms in London Bridge by heading to this website here.

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.

Escape Reality Edinburgh: Machina | Review

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Machina Review | A team of high-tech scientists and programmers have assembled to perform ground breaking experiments in developing the first instance of true artificial intelligence known to man. You have just been accepted onto the team of scientists and have arrived at their headquarters. After a few days you realise that scientists are suddenly leaving and that these robots are showing scarily human-like emotions. You decide that you need to leave as quickly as possible as something peculiar is happening, but all of the doors have been locked trapping you and the rest of the team inside. Can you all escape before you reluctantly become a part of the experiment?

 

Date Played: 20th March 2022
Time Taken: 48 Minutes 39 Seconds
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: Mathematics Enthusiasts

 

Located at the start of the Union Canal in Edinburgh, the location of Escape Reality Edinburgh is perfect for a sunny Sunday. We took a calming stroll along the water, preparing ourselves for one of the more difficult rooms on offer, Machina.

Once we arrived, we were greeted by hands down the most enthusiastic Games Master I’ve ever met, DJ. His passion for escape rooms shone through, and we were impressed by his storytelling and brief explanation of the rules for our group of more experienced escape room players.

The room was very dark, and we were provided with two torches. The darkness did slow us down at points as we waited for a torch to be free, but it was a successful in increasing the sense of time sensitivity in the room as we yelled for light. The room has recently received a lick of paint with some new features added, so it felt up to date and well maintained.

 

Wake up!

I’m not sure whether our walk was too relaxing, because we were very slow off the mark to begin with. We tried to solve the first combination locks as a team, which was likely our downfall as the design of the room has changed recently to allow players to separate and solve multiple puzzles at once rather than a previous linear approach. This is a great move, and as soon as we split up, the padlocks started opening and we found our groove.

This isn’t to say we weren’t initially frustrated, and in sheer desperation we accidently took apart a prop which we thought we had justification for but it turns out we became the dreaded escape room vandals who left a trail of destruction in their path. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been superglued together by now…

 

 

Do you know any mathematicians?

A lot of the puzzles require calculations, so make sure you’ve got someone who loves numbers on your team! Our phones were locked away, so calculators were sadly not an option. I’m awful with dates, so I found some of the puzzles extremely difficult but I was able to excel at the sequence spotting elements of the room. The experience has been upgraded to include a laptop, so there’s some password hacking to do as well as essential information to discover allowing you to progress.

As well as padlocks, there were puzzles which required keypads and also some more physical tasks to complete to find solutions. Some of these triggered some exciting reveals, which is always one of my escape room highlights.

 

Need a hint?

The hint system at Escape Reality is one of my favourites.  You are given an iPad which you use as your timer, but you can also scan various QR codes throughout the room to receive a hint. We used one hint, after which you are locked out of using another for 10 minutes. This feels like a really fair way of getting a nudge in the right direction without receiving time penalties, and you also have the option of pressing a button to summon your games master if required.

 

 

The Verdict

The games at Escape Reality are always guaranteed to be great quality, and I’m so pleased that customer feedback has been taken on board to improve Machina. A non-linear approach is great for teams who prefer to separate, and some upgraded features succeed in increasing the immersion of the room. I didn’t quite experience my beloved frantic attempt at solving the final puzzle as it was a lot easier than most of the previous solutions, so it was all over quite fast – but all in all this is a great room, perfect for teams who have a bit of experience and know what to expect.

Machina can be booked at Escape Reality Edinburgh on their website here.

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.

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.

Locked In Games: Rags to Riches | Review

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Rags to Riches Escape Room Review | The two coins clinked together in your pocket as you stumble down the cold pavement. Yesterday, you were sleeping on the cobbles of Museum Gardens, icy winds smashing against your face. Today, you’ve been told you’re the heir to a huge inheritance, left to you by an old lady across the road. This may sound like a rags to riches fairytale, but before the celebrations begin you must prove yourself worthy. There’s just one catch. The court has authorised the demolition of the property. You have an hour to find the riches before the house and your dreams are reduced to rubble.

Date Played: 20th December 2021
Time Taken: 59 minutes
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Tricky!

Previously, I’d said that my favourite escape room in York was Operation H.E.R.O. at Can You Escape York… And then on our very last day of the York trip, right before our train was due to leave for London, we booked one more room. Rags to Riches at Locked In Games. Can it be that this might be our new favourite escape room in York? Why yes, it might just be!

About Locked In Games

Tucked away opposite Lendal Tower and the Yorkshire Museum Gardens is Locked In Games – the York branch of the popular Leeds escape room. Initially, despite our party staying in accommodation on the same street, we hadn’t noticed the escape room company there. Then, when deciding which rooms to play in York we’d overlooked it again when we couldn’t find any enthusiast reviews. Big mistakes!

It was only after we’d found a couple of Geocaches in the area that we noticed the company and thought “Hey, they’ve got availability – let’s give it a go!” My only regret? Leaving it to the last day of the holiday and not booking more of their rooms!

We booked in for the next available slot and were greeted by the enthusiastic Games Master Chester, who led us past the other businesses in the building (a few lawyer firms) and down the stairs into the lobby of Locked In Games. Chester explained that there was one prop that had been recently broken in the Rags to Riches room, for which he apologised profusely and went above and beyond to make the game work seamlessly without this prop. In hindsight, we may not even have noticed it, but since everything else in the room worked flawlessly and was in great condition, it was good to be given the heads up.

“I know I’d go from rags to riches…”

The story behind Rags to Riches follows Tony Bennett confessing his love- haha, just kidding!

The actual story of Rags to Riches follows you and your quest to claim your inheritance. With just a few pennies in your pocket, you suddenly get excellent news – you’ve been left a fortune and it’s hidden in this old woman’s creaky apartment. The problem is, the apartment is scheduled to be demolished in 60 minutes, taking the inheritance with it!

In our team of 3, we ventured into the room on the look out for anything our kind benefactor may have left us. What we found were a lot of cryptic puzzles. Good job we’re the right team for puzzle solving, eh?

Rags to Riches (c) Locked In Games York

Granny’s Crumbling Apartment

One of our favourite things about Rags to Riches was the decor. It’s your classic “old lady’s house”, but completely fallen to disrepair and a layer of dust on anything. I’m not sure exactly when this particular granny passed away, but it was a while ago and it feels like it in the best possible way.

It’s easy to argue that ‘crumbling and slightly dilapidated’ is a very easy theme for an escape room interior designer to create, but I just really like the effect when it’s done well. Rags to Riches reminded me of how much I enjoyed (yes, enjoyed!) finding dust in Leicester-based room, Operation Magnus. To add to the effect, the walls had been painted with peeling wallpaper, vintage furniture, depressingly beige carpet, antique looking china, and a very cool (and hefty) wall safe.

At the start of our escape room, our Games Master informed us that you can choose to be locked in, or not locked in, as you please. In the event of a fire, all the locks automatically unlock. Conveniently, this room is also located right next to the fire exit. So we opted to be officially ‘locked in’ – very exciting! But in this case, even the lock felt authentic. It’s one of the very same locks my own granny has on her door. Extra points for that.

Where’d She Hide It, Then?!

In terms of puzzles, the game was themed really well. Every puzzle was contained within some object that you’d reasonably believe could be found in an old lady’s apartment. With some added high tech here and there.

As mentioned, in our playthrough one of the props was broken – so instead of physically interacting with it, we solved it from afar and called our the answer to our Games Master who then triggered the result. It was one of those happy moments when one of our team made an educated guess – one we might not even have put into the prop, and received the satisfying “that’s correct” relay call to proceed.

Besides this puzzle, the game was a solidly challenging romp across the various rooms within the old lady’s apartment. We encountered a range of puzzles including plenty of search-and-find, a few padlocks, a really fun puzzle involving a board game, and a couple of listening puzzles too.

Being a room on the slightly harder side- or perhaps we simply hadn’t drunk enough coffee yet- we were offered a fair few clues. This was for the best, as we managed to escape with a thrilling 40 seconds left on the clock.

Oh my god I’m not smart enough to solve this in 60 seconds!” I called out, before my brother half my age solved it in just 20!

The Verdict

Any escape room with a picture perfect finish with less than a minute left goes down in my personal hall of fame. It’s only happened around four times, but it just shows that it’s a perfectly paced escape room… For me, anyway! No two players are the same.

Of our team of semi-enthusiasts (with between 5 – 100 escape rooms between us), we all agreed on one thing – that we had a fantastic time. Plenty of puzzles we’d never encountered before, and lots of very cool props used in interesting ways. Add in some bonus points for how much we enjoyed the theme and the decor, and it’s a winning formula. Rags to Riches is definitely a hidden gem escape room in York. Not a lot of enthusiasts have played it (or even heard of it), but it goes right up to the top of my “you must play when you’re in town” suggestion list.

Rags to Riches can be booked at Locked In Games York on their website here.

Ratings

Scarlet Envelope: Screaming Venice Art Heist

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Screaming Venice Art Heist Review | THE SCREAM, Munch’s famous painting & the art’s most haunting face, goes AWOL right before the opening of a posh Art Biennale in Venice. Art lovers are confused: anyone knows that such a well-known piece is impossible to resell! Was it taken for ransom? Or to cover up a larger story? Oh, they have NO idea…

Completion Time: 1hr 30
Date Played: 23rd January 2022
Party Size: 2 (+1)
Difficulty: Hard

If this is the face you make when trying to solve the latest Scarlet Envelope game, Screaming Venice Art Heist… Then you’re not alone!

Just kidding! Yes, this chapter in the subscription is hard, but it’s not insurmountably hard. A couple of hours and a few clues later Bianca and I cracked the codes and tracked down the missing Munch painting. All in a days work for a sunny Sunday morning over a cup of tea.

But lets get into it. What is Screaming Venice Art Heist and how did the pair of us really do with the game?

The Scream is… Missing!

The story of the latest chapter in Scarlet Envelope’s brilliant puzzle subscription follows the infamous painting known as The Scream. Just moments before the gallery’s big millennium opening, The Scream goes missing. Think Netflix’s This is a Robbery, only rather than the police there’s just you to solve the case. Eek! No pressure?!

Everything you need to solve the case is contained within one scarlet coloured envelope. Unlike previous Scarlet Envelope games, like Breakfast for a Serial Killer, we found the envelope comparatively quite light. There are some leaflets for the museum, some small slips of paper, and a bookmark. But essentially that is it.

I feel like in a real art heist case I’d probably need more to go on, but the trail of clues left behind by the master thief sure enough was there. If only we knew how to look.

Screaming at Puzzles

In terms of puzzles and difficulty, as I’ve mentioned we found this game quite tricky. Before we sat down to play, we had a chat about their other games in the series and how long they typically took – I suppose planning out our day and how many games we’d be able to power through together. But whatever we guessed this game would take – double it! We spent well over an hour and a half puzzling through Screaming Venice Art Heist and even enjoyed a break for lunch.

Where in other games the materials are spread out to provide lots of smaller puzzles, Screaming Venice Art Heist was centred around one big linear meta puzzle. The goal was simple: Find letters, convert to colours, convert that to numbers, pop the numbers on the website and Bob’s your uncle.

The linear nature of the game meant that we had to work together closely on each puzzle, but more heads weren’t necessarily better as we still managed to trip up several times. Whilst it took a while to garner the information from each step, we were equally never quite sure what to do with that information to make the jump to the next step.

There was one puzzle we felt didn’t quite work in some cultural contexts. I don’t know if it’s a Europe vs North America distinction (although the creators are themselves European), but to solve one particular step we didn’t have the same cultural point of reference on which to rely. It also wasn’t something we could Google. As to avoid spoilers, we won’t detail the puzzle, but rest assured we needed another hint at that step.

Thankfully, Scarlet Envelope always have a fantastic clue system. There’s always a mini-puzzle to solve to gain access to the hints (which even if I don’t need hints I enjoy solving as a bonus), and once you’re on the clues page it’s carefully laid out as to avoid spoilers. In this game, we became very familiar with the hints in order to keep us on track.

The Story Stole the Show!

Puzzles aside, one of the things I did love about this game was the story. I mean, I’m a sucker for an art heist and Scarlet Envelope pulled theirs’ off flawlessly! The mystery! The intrigue! The TWISTS! Ugh, yes please!

Scarlet Envelope also has a meta puzzle running through all of their envelopes which is fantastically fun to watch unfold. The bonus puzzle in Screaming Venice Art Heist that gave us our answer for the multi-chapter meta was a particularly fun one that had us thinking outside the box. It’s also probably my favourite so far and I’m officially very excited to complete the series and crack that meta!

Finally, one thing Scarlet Envelope does well and again, particularly well in this chapter is the quality of material and integration with some digital elements with the physical envelope in front of you. Think videos, sound files, actors playing out scenes and more. You know you’re getting something great with Scarlet Envelope when each new chapter arrives.

The Verdict

It’s true, we did find Screaming Venice Art Heist particularly hard. It’s easily the trickiest in the series so far and for that reason it’s probably not my favourite. There were a few uncomfortable logic leaps, and we made a few easy mistakes early on that dragged out the puzzle solving well past lunch time (Note to Self: Don’t puzzle on an empty stomach!)

But Scarlet Envelope has to be viewed as a whole and not as each individual envelope. It’s impossible that every single game in a series will resonate with every player. So all in all, I’m still in love with the company! The previous game (Wild Mansion of Mr. Ferri) is one of my all time favourites, and the envelope we played immediately after (Tale of a Golden Dragon) was absolutely flawless. No seriously, it was so damn good! I’m excited just thinking about it.

You can subscribe to Scarlet Envelope by heading to their website here.