Disclosure ‐ Our thanks go out to Team Neetbytes for supplying us with a copy of this game to review
I do not know how I got here, why I am here, or who the hell the other four people are. Everyone looks at each other, searching, not just for an exit, but an answer. What do we do next? Whispers weave their way through the walls. Messages are scrawled on parchment hastily hidden in nooks and crannies. But it is all planned… something is wrong. What is real and what is fake? Who knows? Was that a voice in my head? Am I going mad? How do I escape?
ESCAPE Room: Reality is exactly the type of game that you would expect; you have been trapped in a series of rooms, each of which has a number of different puzzles that you must solve in order to move on. Your first and foremost goal is to escape this maze, your secondary goal is to work out what has been going on. Neither is as easy as it sounds…
As a game that is centred around escape rooms, it is fairly intuitive to expect that this game will be all about solving puzzles. For puzzle rooms there are two main types: there is the search, and there is the solve. ESCAPE Room: Reality does a great job in engaging players with the task of completing both.
Initially, there is little that is given away to the players; there is occasionally something that is left out in the open for you to find without looking, but generally events lead to a directed search. Clues lead to clues, which lead to puzzles, and those puzzles are nothing to be sneezed at. This game rewards you for being observant and critical in your analysis of each situation.
The search part of this game has players poke their nose into the fine details of each room. Sometimes what you are looking for may be more exposed, other times it can be hidden behind a description or general ‘vibe’. When something is hidden, it is always pleasant to see that there is a method and reason for the placement. Stuff is not hidden in meaningless locations; something will either point you there, be an obvious storage spot, or be placed to lead you onto the next level or clue.
Of course, finding an item or clue does not generally mean that it will be open for you to take straight away. The puzzles are vicious. A lot of them are based on number or code based locks, hints to which are found in the room that you are in, or — in trickier cases — the room you WERE in. You will have to be observant, linking together patterns which are found across both code and confines to develop a logical solution. Is there something slightly off about the lights? It might be worth taking a closer look.
While some of the puzzles are real doozies, many of which I needed more than a couple of pointers to help solve, the balance in difficulty is well struck. If you are like me and needed help, there was still enough to challenge you without always having to reach for hints. However, at times I was asking myself how anyone would be able to complete the puzzle unassisted.
Despite being quickly overwhelmed by the puzzles, what gripped me most about this game was the story. I did not expect the tale it wove to be quite as engaging and as fascinating as it was. I finished the game once… and then once more… and then again… and again. The branching story-line really encouraged me to replay different elements of the narrative, not just so discover the alternative endings (which was nice to have), but to learn more about each character, the world and the rooms in which we were trapped.
Each of the different characters that you start with has a different story to tell, a different understanding of why they are there and what they believe this is the purpose of this facility. Each time you finish the game, or discover a different side puzzle, another glimpse of the greater world is teased. I found piecing this together as thrilling and as exciting as the rest of the game; at points my drive to learn more about the world outpaced my desire to leave the world.
The story was well paced, with appropriate puzzles sprinkled throughout. However, as someone who fell in love with the plot, I had to ask myself if enough is done to expose it. The reason why I kept replaying it was to try and learn more about what in the world was going on. And the amount of effort I needed to go to in order to generate that picture was significant. I would have loved to see the story take more of a centre stage presence at certain points in the journey. I will confess that I am not too sure about the best way to do this, although, it could be possible through a sequel or maybe even a prequel.
In the end, we need to remind ourselves that this is an escape room inspired game. With the advent of VR, the escape room genre (from a digital standpoint) is really taking off. The pressure associated with generating a good title that does the genre justice is only getting greater. What makes a good escape room? For me it is: creating puzzles that are not too tricky, but are still satisfying and rewarding to complete; building a world that entices you deeper, encouraging you not just to look for a way out, but to grow more attached to the environment you inhabit; and the incentive, you must have pressure to want to escape.
I think that ESCAPE Room: Reality manages to successfully embrace each of the main elements for me. It’s certainly weaker in some areas than others, for example, I feel that some puzzles ask far too much at times; they are super nasty and I know that I would never have solved a number of them without assistance. The setting is engaging, and the incentive to leave is well managed. I do think that there are areas where ESCAPE Room: Reality could be improved, but I also feel that this might be better explored through a series of games based in the same world. It may also be because I just want to play more.