Posted in Escape Room Durham, Unlock

Escape Room Durham: Mr X

An online treasure hunt

Although not strictly an escape room, Escape Room Durham have created an online treasure hunt to keep us puzzle solvers happy. Whats more, it’s totally free to play and will easily fill an hour of your day while staying at home. So, what’s it all about?

THE STORY

“Agent, our HQ is shut down, and we are all having to work from home!

Despite this, we are still being taunted by Mr X.

We need to track this dangerous individual, firstly we need to find out his Surname.

Can you take on the job? 

He is taunting us with cryptic clues. We think solving these will lead to his name. We’ll be here to help along the way!

THE GAMEPLAY

The important thing to remember here is that this isn’t an escape room, its a series of word puzzles that require you to search using the internet to make progress. What the game does do is make you think. These word puzzles require lateral thinking (and a little knowledge of the world) in order to make your way through the 6 different puzzles. The beauty of this is that it utilises technology really well. I don’t know if I’ve ever had so many aha moments playing a play at home game but I smiled all the way through at the cheeky use of real life and the attention to detail you have to pay in order to make progress. It’s genuinely a very clever game that really shows how creative Escape Room Durham are. I enjoyed it so much, I challenge them to do some more!

Each puzzle comes with a hint which sheds light on the very cryptic puzzles. For those not local to Durham, these come in handy to help zone you into where you may need to look at certain points in the game. If the hint doesn’t help then you can message them on Facebook and they’ll even provide you with extra hints!

DESIGN

It feels a little tough to talk about design. Escape Room Durham have put together a game to help people stay at home during this Coronavirus crisis. It means that the whole game runs through their website. There is some design put in here but only for it to be functional. There isn’t any whistles and bells, but there doesn’t need to be. There is a clear use of different fonts and it’s obvious that they have really thought about how they make it fun and easy to use.

OVERALL

This was a lot of fun. For most people this will be a good hour of entertainment. It’s not the easiest game you will play but it’s also not the hardest. It’s just clever, free fun! We loved it! You can play the game at https://www.escapedurham.co.uk/mr-x

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – Sherlock Holmes: The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Escape game in a box

It’s been one good, one bad from the Heroic Adventures box set from Unlock so far. Our final game is said to be the middle difficulty of the box, a classic Sherlock Holmes murder mystery.

THE STORY

London, 1889

Mr Hall has been killed. The murder weapon: a statuette used to crack his skull. Your team of sleuths will assist Sherlock Holmes in his investigation. You start at the MORGUE, where the investigation’s first pieces of evidence and the body await you.

THE GAMEPLAY

You’d have thought that a Sherlock Holmes game would have been the hardest but Unlock have created one deemed to be medium difficulty. The issue here is that the puzzles may be medium difficulty but the navigation of the puzzles is far from it. We found playing this game was very hard going. There were points where the links were obvious and you could make quick progress, but there were too many times in which you stared at a huge number of cards with no real clue as to where to go next. In fact, there was one point where we were completely stumped and the hints system didn’t give any clues as to where to go next.

The game is not just based around cards but there is a fold out notebook that provides as a kind of game board for the investigation. The is a nice change to the other games Unlock have created but it doesn’t save itself from being a game that overstretches itself way too far. At one point in the game, you end up with a huge amount of cards in front of you and it seems many are redundant by this point but you are never told to discard them. This makes the game increasingly more difficult. There are also some real leaps of logic that go too far and unfortunately make gameplay rather enjoyable for most of the experience. We wished we had been the murder victim by the end as we wouldn’t have to have lived through it!

DESIGN

The game is designed to look like a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery and it fits well within the theme. None of the design leaves any ambiguity when it comes to playing. It works well when you know where you are supposed to be heading. Here, it’s clear the designers brief was to fill out the puzzles with interesting illustrations with only a few of the designs really important for puzzles. It does what it does well, but it doesn’t save the game.

OVERALL

It’s not the best game from Unlock. In fact, it means that two out of three of the Heroic Adventures games are on the poor side. Insert Coins saves the trilogy but not enough for us to recommend the set as a must play. Sherlock Holmes: The Scarlet Thread of Murder has real potential but the only crime being committed her is the quality of the game.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – Insert Coin

Escape game in a box

Having played the hardest of the set, we decided to play the easiest in the hope that it fared batter than the last.

THE STORY

It’s been raining for hours and your phone battery is now flat. This day doesn’t look too good unless… Hey! you know a way to kill boredom: you just have to climb up the ladder to the attic where your grandpa’s dusty old arcade machine is stored.

THE GAMEPLAY

Insert Coin is classed as the easier of the Heroic Adventures box. It seems that the box set of games follow a very similar rule, there is always one that’s more aimed at families and can be completed by a younger audience. This doesn’t make the game less fun. In fact, this is the one, out of all the games we’ve played in the Unlock series we have enjoyed the most. The game is a mixture between an escape game and a retro 80s video game. It flows pretty well and the only times we came a little unstuck, the app gave us a little help. What makes this game stand out from others is its integrated use of AR. Here, the game really comes into its own and really added another dimension to the fun. With this, it meant that we were never quiet sure what was coming next and what new, inventive ways the AR would add to the games. We found that as we played we had smiles on our faces at how inventive it was. It’s almost like Unlock have discovered their second generation game.

DESIGN

The design of this is fantastic. The who game looks like an 8 bit adventure and really pulls on those nostalgic enough to remember them originally. The design takes all the best bits of the games you remember as a kid. There are nods to Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, Mario and so much more as you make your way through the game. It’s like the Wreck Ralph of escape games. The visuals of the game are so important to its theme and here, they hit the nail on the head.

OVERALL

This has to be the best Unlock we’ve played so far. If you are going at it for difficulty then steer clear but if you are playing for out and out fun, this is the one for you. A really pleasurable hour.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – In Pursuit of the White Rabbit

Escape game in a box

We finally delved into a new Unlock box. This time we take a look at the hardest game, In Pursuit of the White Rabbit. A story based on Alice in Wonderland.

THE STORY

This is the unfinished manuscript of an astonishing adventure I have in mind. It is entitled ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Please, help me write an end to it… and help Alice out of the mess I so maliciously got her into…

Lewis Carroll

THE GAMEPLAY

I am all for creators mixing things up and this is what they do with this chapter of the Unlock series. The game mixes the use of the front and back of cards, a story booklet and the app to play the game. It’s billed as hard and therefore the timer starts at 90 minutes instead of the usual 60. The game uses some cool AR technology as part of the puzzles and there are some times where some of the puzzles work really well. The problem is, this is when the fun part of this game stops. The game is hard because half of the time it doesn’t make sense. Some of the leaps of logic are frankly, absurd. We actually got to the end at a limp as some many of the puzzles required such abstract thinking that we actually resorted to finding the solutions booklet. It is beyond the worst of the Unlock games we have played so far. We’ve not experienced any other of their games to be this poor. It left us frustrated by the time we had come to the end.

DESIGN

Designed to be in keeping with the whimsical world of Wonderland, the illustration does its part very well. A number of the puzzles also come within the illustrations and they do work but often are too hidden. Its almost like the designer and illustrator tried to be so clever that it made it almost impossible to complete. Visually great but that’s about it.

OVERALL

By far the worst Unlock game we’ve played. So poor that if it had been the first game we’d have played we may never have played another. It tries to be too clever for its own good and instead ends of collapsing in on itself. We don’t recommend it.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – The Island of Doctor Goorse

Escape game in a box

Billed as the hardest of the three games in the Escape Adventures set. We find ourselves separated on a remote island with no way to communicate.

THE STORY

The day had started off well. After weeks of hesitation, you finally accepted the invitation of Archibald Goorse, the eccentric billionaire, archaeological rarities collector. You’d been flown to his private island, located a few miles from the Bahamas, in an old twin-engine. Unfortunately, the aircraft had been caught in a storm and you only just had time to bail out with a parachute before seeing the plane crash land in the middle of the jungle. After losing consciousness, you wake up on a windswept beach. Fortunately, despite some bruises, you have nothing broken. Instead, your group is now split in two teams. How are you going to join forces to successfully leave this cursed island?

THE GAMEPLAY

Billed as the hardest game in the set, there is good reason. First off, it’s created so that the first half of the game your team split in two and must solve puzzles in order to be brought together. This means it is the first Unlock game we’ve played where you really cannot play it as one person. In fact, playing it solo would really defeat the object of having to work apart to come together. The second reason it comes across as difficult is because it feels like the designer of the game has tried to be deliberately vague in places to make you really think. What this actually does is makes you sit and stare at the cards for some time without really getting to grips with what is going on. In fact, this also means that the whole story is really lost in translation. The game is linear and, as with us, you seem to be able to accidentally jump ahead of yourself and end up missing something vital. It does also mean this game comes across as frustrating. Other harder level games in the series are hard because they make you think. This one make you go “eh?!”.

It seems strange to be writing something negative about an Unlock game but for us this one missed the mark. Some of the puzzles are a little tedious and the end really does make you lose the will to live!

DESIGN

The game looks great but it’s clear the designer has been encouraged to make things a little tricky, particularly with the end. The translation for the instructions doesn’t help granted but it’s a partly down to the illustration that makes it so difficult. We felt it was a little bit about going “back to the drawing board” with this one.

OVERALL

It’s safe to say we didn’t particularly enjoy this one. The gameplay was difficult for the sake of it rather than because it needed it and therefore we lost interest. The concept of being split and unable to communicate with the other half of your team is interesting but not enough to save this game.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – Squeak and Sausage

Escape game in a box

Profesor Noside returns in the Squeak and Sausage adventure. Whereas most of the companies escape games follow a new theme, Noside seems to be their original, reoccurring villain and he’s back up to no good!

THE STORY

Blasted Professor Noside! Once again, your old enemy has stirred up an evil plan, but you have courageously slipped into his headquarters to prevent it. While you wander in the corridors of this old shack, a trap door opens beneath your feet and you fall into a dark and damp dungeon. Your screams will not help you: you’re prisoners of the professor. The world is lost forever… Unless you get out of here and sabotage the plans of Noside. You are our last hope. 

THE GAMEPLAY

This is the second Professor Noside adventure we’ve played. The good news is that the quality and gameplay is still good. If anything, this adventure is a step up from the last. Once again, you must thwart the Professor before your time runs out. It does rely a little more on the traditional hidden numbers than previous games but if you’ve played previous games then you’ll be adept at looking for these anyway. The content is very family friendly and can easily be accessed by everyone. The game flows well. The only sticking point we found was down to our inability to add up correctly rather than anything else. The signposting in the game is pretty well incorporated and the game on the whole make sense. There is one section where a puzzle seems a little pointless but doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. Unlike some of the other Unlock games, this one relies less on the app for its puzzles. Most are done with the cards and the app supports gameplay as usual.

DESIGN

The game design and illustration fits the usual Noside stories. The illustrations also find some fiendish ways to hide numbers and even bring back some retro objects which you will definitely need to explain to your children. The design does well with what it has to play with as a story. On the whole, the story is limited but the illustration brings it to life well.

OVERALL

It’s not our favourite game but is certainly a solid chapter in the Unlock series. The game tries to bring an exciting storyline but it is simple and therefore doesn’t build as much excitement as others. Still, a good game and will provide an hours entertainment for a family.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – The Formula

Escape game in a box

With everyone being encouraged to stay at home as much as they can, we thought it was time to catch up with our reviews of games that can be played from home. Having played a large number of the Unlock games, we thought we would revisit in order to help you decide which ones you might enjoy playing next.

THE STORY

Mission #MK-053

SEP 30 1961 / TOP SECRET

1. Objectives

The Department is concerned by the lack of recent reports from Dr. Hoffmann. This genius chemist is involved in the MK project. In his last report, he claimed that his “truth serum” was close to the required reliability. We want Hoffmann and his formula.

2. Means

The team will be taken to the subway station (CLASSIFIED) and will infiltrate the lab, which opens with the code (CLASSIFIED). You make your way through the maze of New York subway tunnels. In the middle of the tracks, you find a trap door in the ground. It’s open and light shows through it.

THE GAMEPLAY

Unlike most of the other Unlock games we’ve played so far, this one is the most like an escape room. Whereas some of the games have characters within them, this one is about you exploring the environment you’ve found yourselves in. The game flows reasonably well but there is a couple of occasions where the links between what you’ve done and where to go next aren’t always obvious. Using the hints on the app gives you a steer in the right direction and you find your are back on track pretty quickly. More so in this game than others, we found that some of the cards were red herrings. Although they contained the usual design they weren’t needed in the game in the same way. It didn’t hold you up as such but did leave us pondering if we’d made a mistake and somehow bypassed it. On the whole, the game plays well and is a good example of what Unlock can do well. Here, the app not only provides your timer, hints, codes and machines, it also uses audio puzzles as part of the experience.

DESIGN

The game’s illustrations work perfectly will the story line and the way the game plays. The usual hidden numbers are well disguised and provides a bit of a challenge. The design also helps with the games flow. There could have been a couple more sign posting clues in a couple of the cards but on the whole the design works well with the game overall.

OVERALL

It’s probably our favourite unlock game to date. It works really well as an experience but also feels the most like an escape room experience. With the addition of a different type of puzzle beyond the usual, it adds another dimension to the unlock game series.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – The Adventurers of Oz

Escape game in a box

It was on a visit to No Way Out in Rutland that we decided to take the plunge with an Escape Room box from Space Cowboy. We’d seen them before but had steered clear as they were more expensive than others. Our first was their Secret Adventures collection which contained the games A Noside Story, Tombstone Express and The Adventurers of Oz.

THE STORY

Your eyelids are heavy, you briefly fall asleep, when all of a sudden, you are woken by the barking of your dog, Toto. The walls of your house are shaking: no doubt, Dorothy, you are in the eye of a tornado and you fly away, far far away from Kansas!

THE GAMEPLAY

This was our favourite game of the three. Billed as the hardest, it brought some really interesting elements that not only included the cards but also additional props and a map. The game reused some cards in an inventive way and also used the design in order to bring in other puzzle elements. It is certainly the harder of the three in this set but brings a really enjoyable game based around the Wizard of Oz

DESIGN

This is another beautifully designed game and, as with Tombstone Express, uses the design elements to bring the game together. It’s a really well designed game and certainly brought a lot of enjoyment in the hour that we played.

OVERALL

As I’ve already mentioned, this was our favourite of the three. A really well designed game that has some really unique elements compared to other games. Unlock Secret Adventures has something for everyone and would produce several nights of entertainment for any family.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – Tombstone Express

Escape game in a box

It was on a visit to No Way Out in Rutland that we decided to take the plunge with an Escape Room box from Space Cowboy. We’d seen them before but had steered clear as they were more expensive than others. Our first was their Secret Adventures collection which contained the games A Noside Story, Tombstone Express and The Adventurers of Oz.

THE STORY

1890. You are a sheriff and your mission is simple: ensure the train reaches Tombstone in less than an hour, at all costs. A marshal is on board and carries a precious package: a gem that could seal a peace treaty with the Apaches. So, you station yourself on the open wagon that is behind the locomotive, ready to defend the train, no matter what.

THE GAMEPLAY

Tombstone Express was classed as medium difficulty and it was clearly a step up from the Noside Story. This time, the game requires much more lateral thinking and brings in to play multiple cards at the same time. We found this one to be trickier and actually got lost during game play. We started the game again in order to bring us back on track and the second time round proved to be more successful. We felt there was an element of confusion with this one and the signposting and flow was a little lacking compared to others. It was still an enjoyable game but requires more brain matter. The game has a nice addition which requires some physical action. Although not mind blowing in its inventiveness, it’s nice to have something a little different to other games.

DESIGN

The games design brings more intricate details than Noside. It’s very cleverly incorporated much of this into some of the puzzles and gameplay. There has been real consideration with regards to the cohesiveness of the design, story and gameplay.

OVERALL

Although a little misleading at times, it’s another good game from Space Cowboy. It is probably our least favourite of the three but still an enjoyable hour.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****

Posted in Unlock

Unlock! – The Noside Story

Escape game in a box

It was on a visit to No Way Out in Rutland that we decided to take the plunge with an Escape Room box from Space Cowboy. We’d seen them before but had steered clear as they were more expensive than others. Our first was their Secret Adventures collection which contained the games A Noside Story, Tombstone Express and The Adventurers of Oz.

A Noside Story

THE STORY

A thick smoke lingers over the region. Another dirty trick of Noside? Stop him before it’s too late.

THE GAMEPLAY

The game works in a similar way to an escape room in the sense that you must solve a puzzle that will provide answer to move on your game. This is done through a series of cards. A numerical answer allows you to take a card with that number and therefore make more progress. The game also includes a mobile app that work as a timer and clue system as well as some of game’s puzzles.

The Noside Story is classed as the easiest of the three and for the majority of the game there is a clear pathway. There were a couple of occasions where the solution was a little left field and this meant we needed to collect a hint in order to know where to go next. The game is on the easier side and means that it can be played as a family. In fact, having played it as a pair, we played it again with our 6, 7 and 12 year old and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Unlike some of the further games in the Unlock series, this version relies a lot less on the app than other games. It’s a solid game in the series and one that would be a good starter for those that haven’t played it before.

DESIGN

The games cartoon style is very appealing to families. It’s clear font and images means that it’s accessible to younger and older alike. There are a couple of moments in the game’s design that means it can make identifying things a little tricky but the app will give you a hint if you get stuck.

OVERALL

A good solid game that will give beginners a good, solid intro to the series and an enjoyable game for those more experienced.

Theme *****

Design *****

Gameplay *****

Difficulty *****

Overall *****