Hackers: The Tomb of the Wandering King | Review

Image

The Tomb of the Wandering King Review | The find of the century has been uncovered in the depths of Yorkshire – The Tomb of The Wandering King, a mysterious figure, lost to history. But the archaeological team have been silent for weeks. You arrive to find a dig site, long abandoned, and the mouth of the Tomb ajar and aglow. Who – or what – is this Wandering King? And what secrets lie beneath the soil?

Date Played: 8th May 2022
Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: ~1 Hour
Difficulty: Medium

Escape rooms and crazy golf... Not something I’d usually pair together, but after seeing how excellently Hackers has accomplished it, a trend I hope to see more of across the country. Add into the mix a well stocked bar and a fantastically enthusiastic bar-tender who was a dab hand at whipping up martinis for us, and you have a brilliant mix, truly putting Billericay on the map as a destination for a thoroughly fun day out.

On one such beautiful sunny Sunday, myself, Karen, Nick, and Nick’s kid arranged to travel in from our respective corners of ‘The South’ to take on not one but two brand new escape rooms. Not just any old escape room either… Two new creations by Time Run and Spectre and Vox alumnus Nick Moran – what a treat!

For many reasons *gestures vaguely*, this will be a difficult escape room to review, as it’s hard not to reveal too much about the game. But trust me when I say, this is a room you want to go into with absolutely no expectations. Expect the unexpected. Expect “ooohs” and “aaahs“. Expect to have your heart strings tugged at. Expect difficult decisions. Above all, remember that this escape room is all about the journey and not the destination and my God, what a journey.

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

About The Tomb of the Wandering King

The name of this escape room evokes such strong imagery in my mind… Something between PB Shelley’s Ozymandias poem, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In both cases we, as the audience, are asked the question:

Who, or What is the Wandering King?

This escape room challenges players to find out exactly that. In this way, it’s not your classic “you’re locked in a room and you have 60 minutes to escape.” Actually, quite the opposite. We were never verbally given a time limit and, although we took around an hour to complete it, I didn’t get the sensation of time pressure at any moment at all. We were merely there to investigate and to see where the tides of our investigation might take us.

In this way the focus throughout the experience was less on the puzzles (more about those later) and more on the journey of being there and experiencing the story. The puzzles merely served as triggers to advance the story and uncover new rooms as we ventured along. The strangest thing? I didn’t even mind. Within minutes I was 100% there for the story.

That story! The character development! Ugh, give me more!

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

I met a traveller from an antique land

The story begins with you, an intrepid team sent to investigate an archaeological dig that has gone unusually quiet. Your mysterious benefactor has a financial interest in the dig, but doesn’t mind if you (or the archaeologists) study what they’ve found first. So long as the profit goes straight to him.

You arrive in the first room to an abandoned dig site. Initially it looked like something out of a vintage ‘camp forest’, complete with it’s log cabin, radio dials on the walls, and soft wood chip flooring. How… Curious! We were alone, yes, but a series of video and audio recordings left behind by one of the archaeologists kindly provided us expositional material and got us started on the journey. Having that anchor to a character along the journey was very helpful, and she was all parts charismatic, determined and brave.

Our mission was simple – retrace the archaeologist’s steps and uncover what she was digging up. You probably know the drill: a mysterious (and very well decorated) tomb entrance with an ancient and cryptic mechanic to get inside it. But here, unfortunately dear readers, is as far as I can go into describing what happens.

You’ll thank me later for not explaining any further, even though I’m dying to.

But what follows is an hour (or more) of following our fearless archaeologists steps, finally making contact, and doing some things that shake the foundations of what we know about, well, *gestures vaguely* all of this. If I weren’t with company, I’d probably have cried a little at the ending.

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay…

In terms of puzzles, individually they were probably the weakest part of the escape room experience. But even take this with a pinch of salt, the real reason I think you should visit this room isn’t for ‘excellent’ puzzles, it’s for pure atmosphere and story. But since this is The Escape Roomer, we’ve gotta mention them.

In our session, our Games Master kindly let us know that there was one puzzle that wasn’t working correctly so they were going to provide a manual override on it. If we hadn’t been told, I don’t think I would have noticed as it was very easy to bypass, but it was nice of her to let us know.

Of those puzzles that were working, we found this room to be a very high tech room. A lot of screens, buttons, and fancy wiring in the back-end. Not a single lock and key in sight. Okay, well maybe just one. But as a whole this is a high tech room. I’m always a little questioning of very high tech rooms as they tend to be the first to break (our own breakage not withstanding), but since we’re one of the first teams to play it I’m not in a position to judge how they’ll hold up long term.

High tech or not, every single puzzle we encountered worked very well within the environment. Nothing immersion breaking, and some really brilliant moments of mimetic puzzle design that were a delight to play.

There were a few puzzles that were definitely open to interpretation, and there were a few more that were needlessly finnicky. At a point sometimes finnicky puzzles are more about luck than about skill, but we got there in the end after much huffing. There were a few ‘sound’ puzzles which didn’t gel well with us as a team – we’re all completely tone deaf and found these to be more frustrating than anything else. Finally, there were a few puzzles that were quite similar to one another in functionality.

Again, take this with a pinch of salt. If you’re like me and viewed the puzzles more as a mechanic to further the story – then you’ll be fine. But it’s worth mentioning as besides a few standout fun ones, we didn’t enjoy the puzzles as much as we might have done.

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

…Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare…

…And right back to the positives. Starting with the decor. The decor was *dramatic chefs kiss* beautiful.

I genuinely felt like it might be the most pretty and awe inspiring room I’d ever experienced. At least until we stepped into Blood Over Baker Street the next room we had booked at Hackers.

The space was huge and no expense spared to make it look, feel and smell realistic. Every detail perfectly encapsulated the theme of the environment and it was a joy to just physically be there. Can Nick and his team please come round and convert my apartment into a super realistic fantasy world? Please and thank you.

 

Team Escape Roomer!

 

…The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Sometimes on The Escape Roomer, and in life in general, I like to describe escape rooms as like films. Only you play the main character. Thriller, horror, magical? It’s always about you and your quest. 90% of the time it’s an accurate description. But after playing Tomb of the Wandering King with it’s intense level of immersivity I’m going to rethink how liberally I give that description to other escape rooms. Few can hold a candle to the level of storytelling and immersivity in this game. It’s like something else entirely.

If my tone of voice and general gushing weren’t obvious, I cannot recommend Tomb of the Wandering King highly enough. It ticked so many boxes for me personally and I am a big fan. For sure, I think the puzzles brought the overall rating down from a 5 to 4, and if you’re an enthusiast who looks for excellent puzzle design before making a trip then perhaps book yourself into Blood over Baker Street instead. But for me? Tomb of the Wandering King is well worth the trip and goes down in my personal hall of fame.

For this, and many other reasons, I’ve decided to award this escape room the “I Believe” badge, awarded to experiences that had us immersed from start to finish.

In terms of accessibility there were some cramped spaces, low lighting conditions, crawl spaces, objects placed quite high up in various rooms, and sound-based puzzles. For those reasons it’s not the most accessible in the world. That said I’d recommend reaching out to Hackers about your specific accessibility needs if that’s a concern.

In terms of recommendation – we had a young lad (Nick’s son) with us. Whilst I’d love to say it’s a great room for kids, being on the longer and more narrative side it is hard to capture a kid’s attention for that long. It’s also fairly scary with some real moments of threat. So I’ll leave that at individual adults’ discretion, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it for anyone younger than say, 14.

 

The Tomb of the Wandering King can be booked by heading to Hackers’ website here.

Hidden City: Moriarty’s Game | Review

Image

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.

Treasure Trails: Greenwich and the Time Machine | Review

Image

Greenwich and the Time Machine Review | Ahoy, me hearties! We need pirate adventurers for this self-guided treasure hunt around Greenwich. Hunt high and low through the riverside borough of Greenwich and reveal stories of its rich maritime history (including the famous Cutty Sark – the last remaining tea clipper)! There’s green, there’s mean, and there’s a time-travelling machine!

Completion Time: ~2 hours
Date Played: 23rd April 2022
Party Size: 2
Location: Greenwich
Difficulty: Easy

Looking for a family friendly outdoor puzzle trail in London (or even around the UK for that matter), look no further than Treasure Trails!

Once you’ve done a lot of the puzzle trails in London you’ll know a lot of the themes revolve around things like defusing bombs, catching a serial killer, busting international drug syndicates, or finding the antidote to a deadly poison in the waterways – which are all great in their own right, but sometimes you just want to go on a traditional pirate treasure hunt equipped with a map and eyepatch.

Enter: Greenwich and the Time Machine.

 

 

About Treasure Trails UK

Treasure Trails was founded in 2005 and is a company I have personally grown up with. In fact, no family holiday was complete without my mum downloading and printing a treasure trail booklet to the local town or countryside spot we were visiting. Despite the ever-obscure areas, Treasure Trails was reliably there.

But despite my fond memories, they’re not just for kids. On a sunny Saturday morning Georgie and I got together in Greenwich – a location a short boat ride away for the both of us, to take on one of London’s most popular Treasure Trail to find out what it was like playing ‘as a grown up’. And let me tell you, it was still just as brilliant as the first time, many years ago.

In London there are around 62 Treasure Trails available – either as a printed booklet shipped directly to you, or as a PDF download. One of the most popular London trails is Greenwich and the Time Machine. We opted for the print-at-home version and in just a few minutes, off we were!

 

 

Hunting for Pirate Treasure in Greenwich

Our mission began near the Cutty Sark, an old tea clipper moored in Greenwich. We needed to team up with a time travelling expert, Merri Deehan, to go back in time and rescue an historical ring from an evil, time travelling green witch. The ring, banished somewhere in time and space was our only key to ‘saving the world’ – or something like that anyway. The important thing to know was that we were on the search of treasure lost not only spatially, but temporally too. Along our way we’d be accosted by the green witch and her minions, but not to worry. Georgie and I were on the case!

The game requires a printed out piece of paper – or the booklet – and follows 18 clues around Greenwich, each split into “Directions” and “Clue”. At the end of each “Directions” we’d find ourselves at a new location, then had to solve the “Clues” to get a location. This location could be found on a map that was handily included at the back of our booklet. Every location you cross off is a location the treasure is definitely NOT buried at. Leaving you with the true location by the end of the trail. Don’t forget to bring a pen to cross off each location as you go!

 

Merri Deehan… Wait, why does that name sound significant?

Greenwich is famous for a lot of things but above all it’s famous for being the home to the Meridian Line. You know, Greenwich Mean Time, the solar time at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. I’m no historian, so I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining on this one:

As the United Kingdom developed into an advanced maritime nation, British mariners kept at least one chronometer on GMT to calculate their longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which was considered to have longitude zero degrees, by a convention adopted in the International Meridian Conference of 1884. Synchronisation of the chronometer on GMT did not affect shipboard time, which was still solar time. But this practice, combined with mariners from other nations drawing from Nevil Maskelyne’s method of lunar distances based on observations at Greenwich, led to GMT being used worldwide as a standard time independent of location.

Point being, if you’re interested in the history of time, then this is a fantastic place to explore. We spotted a lot of cool clocks and even got to stand on the meridian line itself, how fantastic?!

 

Georgie standing on the Meridian line in Greenwich

 

But beyond the historical significance, Greenwich is a really lovely area of London and one I’m not used to exploring. It was a beautiful sunny way with boats floating lazily up the river, and a fantastic view of London in all directions. The houses we passed were gothic and dramatic, and the food at the various markets and pubs delicious. Treasure Trails or not, visiting Greenwich is a must-do for anyone visiting London, and we can’t think of anything better than to spend your time there solving puzzles.

 

For Kids, or Adults?

The whole thing errs on the side of fairly easy, and definitely won’t challenge an escape room enthusiast – but the real joy to playing a Treasure Trail isn’t being stuck in with difficult puzzles and riddles, it’s being able to take the route in your own pace and see the sights. We particularly loved being able to stop at any cafe we liked along the route and even take a detour into some of the fantastic museums. In fact, if you wanted to you could break this walking trip up into several days. There’s nothing stopping you and that’s nice.

With that in mind, we’d definitely suggest this is a game more targeted towards young people. We both remarked that it would be good for kids aged 6 – 12. A great way to introduce little ones to the wonderful world of puzzling but definitely still fun enough to capture the interests of players up to 12. On the route we spotted several other teams also playing the game and most of those also had young kids with them. Between us we were mid-20s, and we loved it though, so it just goes to show!

 

 

Although to say it’s easy would also be slightly unfair as we did get a little stuck on a few moments. However this was largely on the “Directions” side rather than the “Clues”. We also finished the Treasure Trail with *gasp* two locations un-crossed-out on our treasure map, meaning we couldn’t definitively decide where the treasure was buried. Whoops – we’d missed a clue! But thankfully taking plenty of photos of all the spots got us back on track to the correct answer.

A word of advice to prospective players – the locations tend to be quite close together, so if you go too far down one route and don’t come to a solution, it may be worth doubling back on yourself!

 

The Verdict

Anything by Treasure Trails is pretty much guaranteed to be fun. You know exactly what you’re getting – several ours of exploring a fun location packed with puzzles and little clues that revolve around the local landmarks.

In playing the Greenwich trail, I see why it’s the most popular. Some of the sights it took us around were lovely – brilliant coffee shops, a bustling market, a fantastic view of the city, and even some stops for museums. It was quite literally a perfect day out. We’d never have walked that particular route together if not for the trail and for that I’m super grateful. It’s reliably good fun for kids and adults alike and I’d definitely recommend it.

 

 

The Greenwich Treasure Trail can be purchased as a PDF or booklet by heading to Treasure Trails’ website here.

The Altas Mystery (VR) | Review

Image

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.

Urban Missions: Bomb Disposal Lambeth | Review

Image

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

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

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

 

You have 45 minutes to defuse the bomb…

Eek! No pressure!

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

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

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

 

A Modern Whodunnit

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

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

 

 

Lambeth, Houses of Parliament… And Beyond!

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

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

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

 

 

The Verdict

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

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

 

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

M9 Games: Vereda | Review

Image

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.

Mission Breakout: The Lost Passenger | Review

Image

Mission Breakout: The Lost Passenger Review | Based on the true story of the lost passenger in South Kentish Town tube station in 1924. In 1924, soon after South Kentish Town was closed down, a train stopped at the station by mistake, and a man absentmindedly alighted. The train departed, and Mr Brackett disappeared in the darkness. No one knows if he ever escaped. Are you brave enough to step down into the Ghost tube station and investigate the paranormal activity?

Date Played: 27th March 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 47 Minutes
Difficulty: Easy

My personal escape room Kryptonite that I absolutely melt with joy when I experience in a room is authentic theming and props. An escape room themed around the building it’s set in? Tick! Original equipment and props from the era and time? Double tick! Being allowed to press buttons and pull levers from old timey 1920s railway train control rooms that by all right should probably be in a museum behind a glass window? Triple tick. YES! PRESS ALL THE BUTTONS!

Mission: Breakout is located in South Kentish Town Station. It’s in the classic tiled redbrick style of many stations around London, but unfortunately was closed down in 1924 due to low passenger numbers. The building sat there for a very long time gathering dusts… And ghosts!

 

…And he was never seen again!

We booked in to play The Lost Passenger at Mission: Breakout after a very, very long lockdown. My family are long-time fans of urban, abandoned building exploration. Our idea of a fun weekend out is putting on hard hats and descending into the old abandoned railway stations of London (on guided tours of course, we’re not breaking any laws here!). So one Christmas I knew just the gift to get them – a voucher for us all to play this escape room, set in the old disused train station in Kentish Town.

Unfortunately, that Christmas was Christmas 2020 and it took us almost 2 years until we were actually able to redeem the voucher. Even then, the day before we were all due to play, half our party tested positive with covid. After deliberating, the remaining 2 decided to go ahead with the booking – we lost the other two places on the booking but it was still worth it, if we didn’t play now, we may never have gone!

In The Lost Passenger, you descend into the depths of the station in search of a passenger who alighted from the train when it mistakenly pulled up at the abandoned station. Based on a true story, this passenger seemingly stepped off the train, walked into the darkness of the station and vanished into thin air and was never seen again.

 

The Lost Passenger. Photo (c) Mission: Breakout

 

Mind the Gap

Arriving at Mission: Breakout was exciting. It quite literally, is inside an old train station. I’m not sure what I’d expected, but we couldn’t contain our smiles at the details,

“Wow look this bench is an original Great Western Railway bench OMG!”

and

“Look at the tiling here, it’s from the 1910s!”

Our GM who came to greet us in amongst our cries of exclamation was Elza, who explained that it was of the very first escape rooms she’d run. She did a fantastic job – and even managed to tease us with a few jump scares during the game too. She led us down several corridors through the dim lights and past curious features of the abandoned railway station, until we arrived at the escape room. From here, we were shown into the lift that was to take us into the bowels of the train station from whence we may never return.

So, a full disclaimer, this room can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. We didn’t know it going in but apparently you can ask for a certain level of scariness and the host can dial it up or tone it down accordingly. Since we didn’t ask, I imagine we got an ‘average’ level of scariness. I scream easily, and my screams probably terrified my co-escaper more than the original jump scares did, but it was all light hearted fun. The kind of ‘doors closing behind you’ and ‘what’s that lurking in the shadow’ scares. No live actors, but a general level of creepiness for sure. If in doubt, just ask them to tone it down and I’m sure they will!

 

Can you read a train map?

In terms of difficulty, The Lost Passenger is definitely on the easier side. This makes it a good room for smaller groups, kids, or people who are mostly there because they love abandoned train stations. For once, I am in the last group. Although, despite it being ‘easier’, it’s still a vastly big escape room space with no fewer than 6 separate rooms, and many of those containing stairs and cool passageways. So it certainly won’t be a quick room to escape from.

One thing to flag (and it’s important to mention for accessibility reasons), is that some parts of this escape room are in the dark. Very, very dark. Almost pitch black. These rooms involve puzzles where you have to feel around for things and then try to solve them in the dark. In the escape room industry as a whole, there’s a little bugbear among enthusiasts about ‘darkness’ being a puzzle in itself. I can see why it (has to) work in this room, and it fits well with the environment – why wouldn’t you be crawling in the dark?

There are also several moments where players must crawl around on all fours in cramped spaces. Again, this is likely just the way that the original site was built, a lot of the rooms in this are workers shafts and tunnels leading between control rooms – but it’s another consideration.

In terms of puzzles beyond “dark and small spaces”, players can expect to encounter plenty of searching and finding, some jigsaws, finding objects to use in other places, and a few very fun cerebral puzzles involving operating the heavy machinery. Largely, the room is less about using your brain and more about pushing and pulling things. It’s a very physical room, and there’s more than a little trial and error to get particular puzzles working, but we liked it. My favourite thing about this escape room was that it really does use all the original equipment, and there’s something very exciting about pushing buttons and pulling levers on machines from the 1920s to make escape room puzzles work.

 

 

The Verdict

The Lost Passenger was a really fun room and well worth the long wait in lockdown. It won’t challenge enthusiasts, but that’s okay – I think the real reason to book and play this is to experience an exciting an adventure in such an impressive physical location. We loved that it was based on a true story, but what we loved the most was the setting, the theme, the creaky equipment, and the general ghostly vibes as we scrambled around the depths of an abandoned station looking for puzzles to solve. Furthermore, Elza did a great job as our host and made us feel really welcome (and more than a little bit scared).

 

The Lost Passenger can be booked at Mission: Breakout in London by heading to their website here.

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

Image

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.

Oxenfree | Review

Image

Oxenfree Review | Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift. Play as Alex, a bright, rebellious teenager who brings her new stepbrother Jonas to an overnight party on an old military island. The night takes a terrifying turn when you unwittingly open a ghostly gate spawned from the island’s cryptic past. How you deal with these events, your peers, and the ominous creatures you’ve unleashed is up to you. YOU determine every aspect of Alex’s story while exploring Edwards Island, uncovering the base’s dark past, and changing the course of your friends’ lives.

Developer: Night School Studio
Date Played: December 2021
Console: Nintendo Switch
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 4 hours

I’m so glad I managed to squeeze in one last video game in 2021, and I’m especially glad it was this one. Because Oxenfree has swooped in at the very last minute and takes the title of being my favourite game played in this entire year. No joke! After originally launching in 2016, it’s one of those games that has been on my wishlist for years. With the Christmas break comes more time off to finally work through my ‘to-play’ pile, and all I can do now is regret that it took me 5 whole years to pick it up!

But, it seems like I’ve played it just in the nick of time – for Oxenfree II – Lost Signals is due to release some time in 2022. If you’ve ever wanted to play Oxenfree but needed a sign, this is your sign.

“Alle alle auch sind frei”

Contrary to popular belief, Oxenfree is not about Oxen. You’ll free exactly zero Ox in this short, supernatural thriller. The phrase actually comes from a German nursery rhyme, “alle alle auch sind frei” or olly olly oxen free” here in the UK which loosely means “all are free” in both translations.

This sets the scene for the game which is mixed up in supernatural horror of submarine vessels, abandoned military outposts and lots and lots of lost radio wave signals. You play a group of late-teen high schoolers sneaking off to the abandoned Edwards Island, an old military outpost with no phone signal for an annual party.

With phrases like “supernatural thriller”, “terrifying turn” and “ghostly rift” packed into the game’s description, it’s fair to guess that the evening goes horribly, horribly wrong. The main character Alex quickly uncovers a sift in the space time continuum and lets through malevolent voices of the dead (or undead) leak into the radio waves. The five friends must work together, solve puzzles, and escape the island before dawn, but nobody will return quite the same person they left.

What I wasn’t expecting was just how scary Oxenfree actually is. It’s not your classic ‘jump in your seat’ horror game, but the kind of slow paced but horrific ghost story of Victorian parlour novels. It chills to the bone.

Unlock Doors… With Radio Waves?

One of the cool things about playing Oxenfree from an escape room enthusiast point of view, is how we approach the puzzles. The first thing of note was the method of unlocking the numerous locked doors across Edward Island. That is, by radio.

At the start of the game you’re told by one of the other characters that mobile phones don’t work so everything runs off the radio. As such, you’re given a handheld radio that can receive information. Pretty handy, given there are information boards around the island that can be listened to if only you tune into the right frequency. The radio also picks up all sorts of random chatter, distant waves from the mainland, and snippets of conversation that don’t mean much.

Around halfway through the game you discover a very unique use of your handheld radio – opening doors. It seems as if many locks on the island can be triggered by simply turning to the correct frequency. It’s not a puzzle I’ve ever seen before, but it worked so well in Oxenfree. Your handheld radio becomes not only your only lifeline to your friends and the outside work, but also your skeleton key.

But that’s not all, as a player you’ll also need to navigate through time loops, explore a vast map, recall information scattered to the wind, and of course solve the mystery. There’s a huge mystery at the centre of Oxenfree and whilst there’s no real way to “win” the game, you can certainly lose if you end the game and haven’t fully made sense of what just happened.

Like Ships that Pass in the Night

Like the famous phrase “like ships that pass in the night”, your slow meandering through the world of Oxenfree feels like a ship on the ocean. Your radio is your beacon light, but more often than not lures you into the rocks to crash and die than serves as your saviour.

To give too much detail would spoil the story, but it’s important to reiterate that if you race (or should I say pace quickly) through the game at the minimum (4-5 hours) you won’t get to see the real ending. On my first play through I did exactly that. Followed by lots of Googling questions. I then played Oxenfree a second time, and noticed a lot more and took more time in each location to explore the details. There were questions I hadn’t known I needed to ask, and alternate endings that changed the meaning of the game entirely.

If I had one piece of criticism of the game it would be the pace. Your character walks very slowly. After spending 10 minutes walking to the top of a hill, the characters would have a short conversation and I’d have to turn right back around again for the long walk back. But on the other side, the pacing works so well for a narrative driven game like this. Each dialogue choice you make and each path you take in the game to get from A to B has consequences. As the clock slowly creeps from midnight towards dawn, there’s a sense of timelessness as if the night will last forever.

The Verdict

Oxenfree is an incredibly powerful game and an example of fantastic storytelling in video games. From the gorgeous, moody artwork, to the eerie music that you can’t quite get out of your head even once you’ve put your console to sleep. It’s a supernatural mystery game that will stick with me for a long time.

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

Hourglass Escapes: NOVA | Review

Image

Hourglass Escapes NOVA Review | Greetings, crew. Our mission is in great danger. An asteroid storm has disabled our ship–but worse, it damaged the automated drop ship that was delivering the Nova seed. The Nova Seed is needed to terraform Khepri 5, the future home planet of what’s left of humanity! Work together to restore power to your vessel, find the crashed Nova drop ship, and deliver the seed!

Completion Time: 22 minutes
Date Played: 10th February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easy

Hourglass Escapes across the pond in Seattle is one of those companies I will literally never stop recommending. From their consistently high quality digital games, to how much fun we have with our host (usually the owner Seth) each time. Their Evil Dead 2 room was easily one of our highlights of 2021!

So whenever we hear that Hourglass Escape is releasing a new game, you bet we’re first in the virtual queue!

This month the Hourglass Escapes team announced a new ‘play any time’ sci-fi game game: NOVA. In a similar vein to The Navigators and the Call From Beyond, up to 6 players all log on and are immediately transported across the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Our mission, simple! We’re here to rescue the legendary Nova Seed needed to terraform humanity’s new planet. So err, no pressure!

Let’s go where no man has gone before…

Disclaimer, I am a huge sci-fi fan. There’s a reason my username is mairispaceship (that reason being that at the age of 7 I accidentally legally gave myself the middle name “spaceship” but that’s a story for another time). But for this sci-fi loving reason, I’m a big fan of the story of NOVA. It’s probably my favourite thing about the game.

Not a lot of details are given. All we really know is that it’s set in the far future on a spaceship that’s in peril. Cut to sweeping views of your shuttle ship which looks like a cross between The Expanse and Star Trek, and it well and truly affirms your place in the great unknown universe.

Impressive Production Value

I don’t know why on Earth I’m surprised given their track record, but let me just say it again: NOVA had an incredible production value! It was almost like they’d built an entire spaceship from scratch complete with many rooms, hidden passages, and beautiful sweeping views of the cosmos. Walking around- or rather, pointing and clicking in the handy Telescape platform– felt much more like we were playing a multiplayer video game than playing a simple, browser-based escape room.

As a video game designer for my day job – I appreciate that a lot! But it’s also great to see how much love and care the designers have put into the world building. Kudos!

On the topic of ‘Telescape’, the in-browser technology has improved since we last played another point-and-click at Hourglass Escapes. This time our video chat was inbuilt into the system (hooray! No more Facebook or WhatsApp calls in the background!). This ‘Jitsi’ plugin meant that we could see each other and hear each other from within the browser at all times.

One Small Step For Man…

In terms of puzzles, we found NOVA to be quite easy. According to the playtesting, most teams take around 60 minutes to complete, with enthusiast groups coming in around 40.

*pause*

We took 22 minutes!

But I can explain – NOVA is a very non-linear, collaborative game. In each new area you reach there are a number of panels and screens dotted around, each with their own puzzle. With our team of 4 we immediately got into a rhythm of splitting up and solving in parallel. So whereas a room with 4 unique puzzles may easily take 20 minutes (5 minutes each or more), we all solved about one each and raced through each room in no time.

The flip side to that was that we didn’t all experience the same puzzles, which is a downside because the ones I did were a lot of fun and what can I say? I want more!

Each of the puzzles I did encounter all felt very mimetic in the sci-fi universe they’ve created. In short, exactly the kinds of things you would be expected to do on a space ship. Reading radio wave read outs, flicking switches and rewiring the hardware, analysing chemicals, and so on. Nothing challenged us for more than a minute or two and overall – the whole thing felt fun to solve! So no complaints on the difficulty here.

The Verdict

NOVA is another really solid game from Hourglass Escapes and one I’ll definitely be recommending. It’s probably not my favourite game from the company. No, that award goes to Rise of the Mad Pharaoh, but it’s still an all round fun experience with a lot of snazzy graphics and unique puzzles. Those puzzles probably won’t challenge a larger team, but for a beginner room it’s spot on, so definitely one to introduce to your Puggle (puzzle muggle) friends.

NOVA can be purchased and played at any time from Hourglass Escape’s website here.