Wolf Escape Games: Hallows Hill | Review

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Wolf Escape Games: Hallows Hill Review | Can you solve all of the puzzles and unlock the dark secrets of Hallows Hill? Gather your team and play at home or over video chat!

Date Played: May 2022
Time Taken: 63 minutes
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Sometimes I play digital play-at-home escape rooms and I finish them thinking “wow, why wasn’t this made into an actual video game?!”. That’s not to say video games are anything ‘better’ or something designers should strive to create. Far from it. It’s just every single thing about Hallows Hill looked and played like a video game I’d expect to find on PC or on console. When they describe their game as “cinematic”, they’re not wrong…

From the beautiful 3D sets, to the point-and-click style of adventure with stylish cutscenes between it, to the music, the high fidelity, and general high budget feel of Hallows Hill, I was super impressed. In fact, it’s a wonder that Wolf Escape Games has completely flown under the radar as much as it has. We’d heard of it, because we make it our mission to hear about and play as many escape rooms as we possibly can. But by and large since the game launched in 2021 it hasn’t got the attention I think it deserved. So, lets go onto why!

 

 

About Hallows Hill

If you like ghost stories, you’ll love Hallows Hill. With a slight “choose your own adventure” twist, you find yourself plunged into an eerie mystery set in the old Hallows Hill household after, in our case, a patient under our care went missing. We chose this option, so I’m not sure if everyone will have the same reason to have to go and explore the old and clearly haunted house, but for whichever reason, you find yourself standing on the creaky porch of a dilapidated building. Your goal: Get in and get out quickly!

Throughout the way we were anchored to another character by a slick text-message interface. Harriet took the role of gentle GM, an automated series of messages that provides guidance and eggs you on through scarier moments. There were plenty of those, and plenty more where I was like “damn this job isn’t worth it lets just leave guys and find a new job”, but nope, on we ventured through the creaky house.

The further and further you go, the more restless the spirits become. Before long a mystery begins to unravel before your eyes over a series of ‘chapters’. A ghost story, a tale of children from decades ago, and a mysterious fire. But to achieve our goals (in our case, recover our patient), we had to push on.

*shudder*

 

 

Follow the Leader

The game has an unusual setup in that the leader must share their screen and other players can play along second-hand. We’re not the biggest fans of this style of gameplay as it always leaves one person feeling like they’re doing everything and everyone else more like passive observers. Without the freedom to click around yourself, it’s difficult to be as fully engaged with the person hosting. This time round, I was the ‘host’.

Mostly, it worked well. The technology was fairly seamless and anything I discovered on my screen would immediately populate into my team mates “backpacks” to take a closer look at. Occasionally there’d be a puzzle or two which only I could do. For example, a jigsaw. At these moments my team mates either watched me rapidly solving on screen, or moved on with a different puzzle. In another moment, a sound puzzle could only be controlled by me and the sound-sharing didn’t work as well as it might have done meaning it was a lot harder to solve than it might have been. But really those two things were just details in an otherwise smooth and logical puzzling experience.

One thing Hallows Hill did do really well was interweave the story into the puzzles. I love it when I see good Game Design done well like this! The solutions to puzzles told us about the characters and the ghostly happenings occurring in the building. It wasn’t the kind of game you could ignore the story in. The story was fundamental to the experience and handled very well.

 

Cinematic Level Graphic Design

Another thing Hallows Hill did really well was that ‘cinematic feel’. I literally cannot emphasise this enough, this game was absolutely beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful non-video game digital game I’ve ever played, and heck I’ve played a lot. The team really outdid themselves on the beautiful set design, atmospheric effects, music and cut-scenes. From the start to the finish I felt utterly immersed and seriously impressed.

 

For this reason we’ve decided to award Hallows Hill the Diamond Badge. This badge is awarded to games that were visually stunning and it’s a no brainer. *chefs kiss* for gorgeous set design. If this were a video game company and you told me it was a triple-A studio, I’d not be surprised in the slightest.

 

 

The Verdict

We had a lot of fun playing Hallows Hill and the best part? We finished 18th on the global leader board. Yay! I’ll take that with pride! We used one hint on a puzzle that indeed seems to stump most people judging by reading other reviews. It was a classic sound puzzle, and I’ll take the hit on that one – I’m just not that great with sound puzzles.

Now it is technically a scary game. Think spooky ghosts and eerie moments of tension. But even if you’re no good with frights, I’d still encourage you to try Hallows Hill out. There are no jump scares and it’s well worth it for the visuals and graphic fidelity alone. From fun puzzles to an immersive atmosphere, Wolf Escape Games have totally outdone themselves and I’m now eagerly awaiting to see if they’ll create any more games.

 

Hallows Hill can be booked by heading to Wolf Escape Games’ website here.

Oxenfree | Review

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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.

Behind the Frame | Review

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

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

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

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

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

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

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

Puzzles in Paintings

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

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

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

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

Studio Ghibli, Eat Your Heart Out

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

Ratings

Overboard! | Review

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Overboard! Review | Overboard! is a whodunnit where you’re the one whodunnit. You have just eight hours to cover the evidence, mislead the witnesses, frame another suspect and escape … if you can!

Developer: inkle
Console Played On: Switch
Number Of Players: 1
Touchscreen Compatible: Yes

Do you like murder mysteries? Check ✅

Do you find pre-war dramatic irony; amusing? Check ✅

Do the tactics of dirt-flinging journalists excite you? Check ✅

Well if so, this whodunnit game might be for you.

(Overboard! is not to be confused with the 1997 PS1 Adventure game of the same name :D)

The Clock Is Ticking

July, 1935. Wealthy Malcolm Villensey’s fortune has been wiped out overnight. He and his starlet wife, Veronica, have escaped aboard the SS Hook for a new life in America—but Mrs. Villensey has other plans. And one little push is all it takes.

As Veronica, the game begins swiftly, by throwing you straight into the action. You push your husband off the SS Hook at night. You return to your cabin and wake up at 8am the next morning realising it wasn’t a dream. You have 8 hours before you arrive at New York to cover your tracks and convince the rest of the personnel on the ship that you are innocent.

No Crime Is Perfect

Finally! A game has come along where you play not as the detective of the whodunnit, but instead as the perpetrator. The core game loop involves either making decisions on either actions to take or choosing what is the best thing to say to whichever person you encounter depending on the time and where you are on the ship. There is a plethora of variables because of this, which creates a game that can be enjoyed in short-sharp bursts. You can complete the core game loop for the first time, in as quickly as 5 minutes; however the beauty lies in trying and trying again, looking for patterns to obtain a better or different ending that provides even more information for even further gameplay.

No One Is Innocent

Speaking of which, there are multiple scenarios that fall into 5 different ending types; 2 unsuccessful and 3 successful. But even if you find the most successful ending (which on its own, involves a large amount of research and playing finesse), that doesn’t necessarily mean your Overboard! journey ends there. The other characters on boat might have sordid secrets of their own that they are trying to hide(!), providing even more incentive to continue playing.

It all adds up in creating a robust package that has much, much more life to it; than initially meets the eye. The stellar script writing and character design creates a strong element of immersion and further invests the player into playing the core game loop multiple times. Many a time I was open-mouthed when I found a secret of an NPC that was juicy and scandalous.

The controls are at the base, a single action button and directional to choose where you go or what you say. It’s all it needs and it’s superb. There is touchscreen compatibility too for the Switch version, for further accessibility.

Jumping Overboard Isn’t Enough

Overboard! is priced at £11.39 on both Switch and Steam. For this I’d estimate somewhere around 20-50 plays, each clocking in between 5 and 30 minutes. Therefore, this could keep you occupied for anywhere between 2 and 10+ hours. It’s a large variance I appreciate, especially when you also consider the completionism factor, should you wish to see every scenario…or not. The game is easy to play, easy to put down, then pick back up. It also sucks you in super quickly, therefore I could very easily see many people ending up on the further end of my estimate spectrum. With all of this in mind, I’d argue that this price point is very good value for money.

For The Seasoned Starlet Or The Up-And-Coming Artist?

I can easily recommend this game to almost anyone of all playing experiences. It’s simple enough to get started with for beginner and even non-puzzler/escape room enthusiast types (the green text signposting after a first playthrough attempt, is a welcome feature), and enough underneath the surface to keep the seasoned escaper coming back for more.

Two warnings; firstly, this does have adult themes therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under 18. Secondly, whilst the learning curve is balanced and accessible from the off, to be wholly successful in Overboard!; requires a lot of attention, multiple trials and most importantly time management. Thankfully, the ability to rewind a scene or start again from the beginning if a mistake is made during a run, proves all the more how accessible Overboard! is.

Rating

In the present day, where there’s an abundance of choice, when it comes to what to play; alongside a finite amount of time and money to take a risk on a purchase, Overboard! provides a low risk option that pulls you straight in and pays dividends, the more and more it’s played. I highly recommend it for its fantastic script writing, accessibility, striking, era-appropriate visuals and innovative mechanics on an old, tired theme that is in timely need of a change. Because of all of its merits, I am hereby awarding this whodunnit the Best In Genre badge.

Buy it and enjoy the ride.

Down the Rabbit Hole | Review

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Down the Rabbit hole Review | Down the Rabbit Hole is a VR adventure set in Wonderland prior to Alice’s arrival. You will guide a girl who is looking for her lost pet by solving puzzles, uncovering secrets and making choices about the story along the way.

Developer: Cortopia Studios
Date Played: October 2021
Console: Oculus Quest
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 3 hours

My first encounter with Down the Rabbit Hole was, amusingly, in VRChat. VRChat is a land of absolute madness and debauchery where pretty much anyone can don their headset and be transported to an amazing land with folks from anywhere in the world. Actually, I’ve played some good escape games and made some friends there.

But one of the coolest ‘worlds’ I’ve been to in VRChat was a promotional space modelled off the intro sequence to Down the Rabbit Hole. It was so intriguing that I wasted almost no time purchasing my own copy of Down the Rabbit Hole the next time I spotted an Oculus sale.

I actually had almost no intention of reviewing the game for The Escape Roomer- you see, I didn’t even realise it was a puzzle game. But somehow the incredible, rich worlds filled with mystery just felt so right for the escape room audience. I was captivated from the very first moment to the very last, and binged the whole thing in just one day!

Oh yes, there are puzzles a-plenty!

Welcome to Wonderland…

Down the Rabbit Hole is a prequel to the story of Alice in Wonderland we all know and love. The theme is a staple of escape rooms all over the world (like this one, or this one, yep and this one, or even this one), but somehow Down the Rabbit Hole manages to make it different with the introduction of a new girl – not Alice! She descends into the rabbit hole and meets a host of wonderful (and familiar) characters before going up against the Queen of Hearts herself.

As a story, it’s fairly predictable. It’s probably quite hard to do anything other than loosely follow the source material, and that’s okay. But one big change the studio did make was casting an American voice actress for the classic British character. For some reason, this did bother me… A lot. If the game is a prequel, then this should be set in the very early 1800s and in Britain. Needlessly Disney-ified? Perhaps. But let’s move on…

Our main character falls down the rabbit hole whilst chasing her pet, but is soon joined by a ‘4 and a Half’ card who is shunned by his society. You see, the Queen of Hearts is a supremacist who believes only the whole cards are real cards. Whilst your main focus is to find your pet, by the time you descend to the very bottom of the rabbit hole you’re too embroiled in the world just to leave it as is it. Who else will help the half-cards?! Or find the missing letters?! Or help prepare for the Queen’s tea party?!

In a final note on the story, the game ends quite abruptly. There is some element of multiple choice, but largely the endings are bittersweet. You might save the day but you can’t save everyone, and even if you can are you willing to turn your back on the ‘real world’?

I’m wondering if the open-endedness of the story may lend itself to a possible sequel on the table? Well, a girl can hope!

Things are Getting Curiouser and Curiouser

So I’ve established that the story telling is okay. But let’s talk about what really makes this game shine: Environment and Puzzles!

This game is breath-taking.

No, seriously. A little louder for those in the back. This game isn’t just a pretty game it’s an absolute work of art and simply existing in this world for a few hours with your VR headset on is a privilege.

Players have two viewpoints. On the one hand, you are the camera in the middle of the rabbit hole looking at the story play out in these tiny, brightly coloured rooms lit up all around you. Using roots to pull yourself further down or pull yourself up, you can follow the story as it goes round and round in a feeling like you are the person tumbling down the hole. Look up and you’ll see the moon and the stars far above you, and look down and you’ll see the darkness stretching out forever.

On the other hand if you need to take a closer look you can switch to the perspective of the main character as she runs around each room. Especially useful for getting up close to treasure chests and opening small locks.

Frankly, I’ve never played anything quite like it, and it’s a perfect example of what wouldn’t be possible in real life but is flawless in VR. Game developers – take note! This is how a good VR game is presented!

“Six Impossible Things”

In terms of puzzles, they’re fairly straightforward making this a widely accessible game for puzzle enthusiasts of all skill level. For one, there’s a meta puzzle running throughout the whole game where a number of invitations to the royal party have gone missing. You need to collect them all. But then within each level is a number of mini-puzzles to tackle and solve before you can move on.

One of my favourite puzzle sequences was a world in which you could be flipped upside down from your partner and swap between the right-way-up and the wrong-way-up characters as you worked together to find a way through. It was a little like the classic Ibb and Obb, but made all the more brilliant for the giant teacups floating around.

Other puzzles involved painting hedges different colours, concocting a potion to make yourself shrink after accidentally trapping yourself inside a house, and may more involved finding 4 digit (or symbol) codes around the world.

The Verdict

I really enjoyed Down the Rabbit Hole – it’s not often I get to binge a VR game without the pressure of reviewing it (some irony that I did review it in the end!), and it was a lot of fun to relax into this world. The world and the immersivity in this is incomparable. Sure, I didn’t gel with the characters much – but the world itself is it’s own character and I love that.

After a discount, this game came in at about £10 which is the same as a couple of cups of coffee. Instead I got to experience one of the most impressive VR world’s ‘ve ever seen. Definitely worth it.

I’ve chosen to award this game a Diamond badge for being visually impressive, though it’s also easy to argue that this game deserves a Best in Genre badge for being a brilliant Alice in Wonderland game.

To try out Down the Rabbit hole for yourself, head to downtherabbitholegame.com

Ratings

Hermitage: Strange Case Files | Review

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Hermitage: Strange Case Files Review | This gripping paranormal horror adventure revolves around Hermitage, the sinister bookstore that attracts most unusual customers – all of whom seem to be involved in mysterious cases bordering on the paranormal.

Developer: Arrowitz
Console Played On: PC
Time Taken: 20+ Hours
Difficulty: Medium
Number Of Players: 1

Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a really unusual game to review here on The Escape Roomer, and for this review we have to put on our “detective” hat rather than “escape room hat”. Of course, there’s a big argument to say that they’re both very transferrable skills. But Hermitage: Strange Case Files, although an interesting game, is definitely more suitable for an audience who enjoy length murder mystery novels.

In the words of my co-writer Russ, who normally reviews video games:

Do you like lengthy detective novels?

Do you prefer to deduce than solve puzzles?

Are you interested in the paranormal?

If so, then this game might be for you.

Welcome to the Hermitage Book Shop

The story centres around the Hermitage Book Shop, it’s owner who never leaves, and the curious customers who visit. Broken up into several chapters, each chapter offers a new case to investigate. Along the way you acquire more books that hint at the occult, Lovecraftian world beyond the book shop’s front door…. Absolutely magical!

The elephant in the room is that this game is well over 30 hours if you want to complete the whole thing. It’s not a puzzle game sprint, it’s a narrative marathon.Thankfully the game helps you out by highlighting the most important parts – the clues – in red which you can add to your notebook. But even with this, buckle in because you’re in for a long game!

Inbetween the dialogue, we get to the juicier part of the game: the investigation! Whether looking online for clues, communicating with characters via your phone or, you guessed it, checking in the books – this game is all about solving a series of mysterious cases. As the game unfolds we also learn more about the manager, and the owner of the shop.

There is also an element of choose-your-own-adventure to this story. Occasionally different dialogue options will be presented that change the way the case, or even the whole game pans out, which is an interesting addition too. Choose badly and you’ll get a bad ending, but save regularly and you can always go back and replay segments if you wish to try again.

The Artwork

Story aside, my favourite thing about Hermitage Case Files was without a doubt the moody artwork and atmosphere. For a visual novel, this game is *chef’s kiss* The art style is similar to an anime film, or manga book, yet it still evokes a beautiful feeling of noir dark academia. There’s something really wonderful about working in a dusty old book shop filled with otherworldly books and each new character that joined the story expanded the rich world even further. There was something a little Studio Ghibli about the game that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I loved it.

The Verdict

Overall, it’s a really hard game to judge. In conclusion, I did personally enjoy this game but we (since a few of The Escape Roomer team played parts of Hermitage: Strange Case Files) struggle to recommend this to your average escape room audience. Like a lengthy detective novel, this game will last a long time and take players through thousands of lines of dialogue before the end credits roll. If that’s something you enjoy, then give it a go! But if you’re expecting more puzzle solving, then this game might not be for you.

Hermitage: Strange Case Files can be played on Steam, PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, iOS, Android.

Ratings

Manifold Garden | Review

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Manifold Garden Review | Rediscover gravity and explore an Escher-esque world of impossible architecture. Witness infinity in first-person and master its rules to solve physics-defying puzzles. Cultivate a garden to open new paths forward, where an eternal expanse awaits. 

Developer: William Chyr Studio 
Console Played On: Steam 
Number Of Players: 

Do you like optical illusions? Check ✅

Would you like to manipulate gravity? Check ✅

Do the thought of digital trees, pique your interest? Check ✅

Well if so, this puzzle game might just be for you. 

Rediscover Gravity 

What is Manifold Garden about? It involves a nameless, voiceless first-person character attempting to cultivate a visually-inspiring garden through the power of mastering puzzles that defy and manipulate gravity. If like me however, you didn’t look at any blurbs and dove straight into the game; I wouldn’t criticise you for not being able to answer that question. 

The game straight-up, throws you into the fray with only some on-screen control pointers to assist you. Looking around, the first thing that comes to mind, is the art direction is simply wonderful. Heavily inspired by the artist M.C.Escher, it’s an absolute feast for the eyes and brain.    

Witness Infinity

The music is minimalistic yet fits the tone perfectly. It is a well-balanced blend of calmness and tension; which reflects the overarching ebb and flow of the gameplay progression.  

Whilst, the theming and visuals work together hand-in-hand, I was not all that immersed; I very much felt like I was in an art gallery, looking at pieces from the outside. I never imagined myself inside the environment. This is highly likely because there is ultimately no story or characters to bring the player into becoming fully immersed. I was constantly nodding my head at and buying into what I saw, but I was always conscious that it was me doing so. 

Explore Impossible Geometry

The controls work splendidly. On steam, players have full choice between using a keyboard and mouse combination or using their gaming pad of choice. The full customisations of button mapping and sensitivity controls are present to suit all player types. No complaints in this department whatsoever. 

Cultivate A Garden 

The puzzles are incredibly clever, especially when gravity is a primary factor in the mechanics. That aside, it needs to be said that Manifold Garden has only one major core game loop; you manipulate gravity to solve puzzles and progress further. The depth of the core game loop ie: the variance and freshness is certainly there, however many escape room fans might tire of the repetition.  

There is no explicit hints system, however the game does have one tool from the beginning that is a constant hint in itself; the dot/cross-hair in the middle of your screen changes colour based on certain aspects! It took me longer than I care to admit to realise this (at first, I was all “ooooh pretty colour change!”), but it is an integral part towards gameplay success. This alone however, is not always enough to prevent players from getting well and truly lost. Despite this, there are plenty of sectioned walkthroughs online, to navigate from any potential spoilers. 

An External Expanse Awaits 

The price point, is around the £16 mark for all consoles. Manifold Garden will keep players busy for around 5-10 hours based on a single playthrough. There is some opportunity for replay; less so for the puzzles, but more to revisit the stunning visuals. 

As always, because it is an indie games company, I feel the amount of content presented, justifies the price tag.   

For The Growing Seed Or The Established Tree? 

Fair warning; this game requires a fair amount of lateral thinking. The learning curve however, is well implemented; the difficulty increases on a fair and well-realised gradient over the course of the gameplay lifespan. 

I got caught by my wife on one or two occasions exclaiming “ooooooooooooooooh!” whilst wearing headphones, as I managed to solve certain puzzles presented that were particularly tricky. There are many opportunities here for headspace payoff and reward.  

Ratings

Apparently, this game took 7 years to develop. Now here, it is an aesthetic feast for the eyes. Aside from that, as long as you have the patience for it, there is a solid collection of puzzle set pieces that will be greatly enjoyed. If you are looking for a game with painstaking and breath-taking artistic direction, then look no further than Manifold Garden. 

If you want to purchase Manifold Garden on your platform of choice, head to their website here.