City Mazes: Operation Spaced X

Oxford, Feb 2017

Rated 2 out of 5
You start this game in an empty white room, with no visible puzzles or clues. This is the second game I’ve played that used this idea, which I believe is ‘inspired’ by a famous room in Budapest, and of the two I’ve done this is the more successful implementation – but since the other was the single worst game I’ve played, that’s not much of a bar to clear.
The operator pointed us to the starting point, and added that we needed to find and open a series of four-digit locks to progress. This was definitely more information than we wanted, though I suppose they’ve had issues with beginner groups struggling to get going and possibly pulling things open by force in frustration.
I liked the artwork in this room, when it emerged. It has a calm elegance that fits with the minimalist theme and the atmospheric music. This aspect of the room is well-designed and successful. It was however undermined when a different team in the adjacent Pandora’s Escape room reached the second half of that game and music started to blare through the wall.
The flaws here were with puzzles that were both ambiguous and gave no feedback, such that everything has to be correct to trigger the next item; and since for an inventive team there may be dozens of plausible ways to interpret a set of clues, that turns into trial-and-error hell. We were uncertain whether some elements were intentional or poor construction, so I suppose that part of it was our fault for having overly low expectations of the venue, although in defence see any of my other City Mazes reviews. Worse was that identical keypads for similar looking puzzles needed codes of different lengths. I’d consider that a bad flaw even leaving aside the operator’s initial explicit instruction that we were looking for four-digit codes.
We took two clues to get through this section. The hint system involves pressing a button to call for the operator to come into the room and give help, which of course destroys immersion.
Once we got through to the second half, again there was a complete switch of theme. Here we had pulsing coloured lights, and, as in their Pandora room, there was a colour-based puzzle… Here it was only a brief speed-bump working out which panel was supposed to be which colour, and this section was an enjoyable puzzle nonetheless. Still, it was a large room which contains exactly one puzzle, bringing the total number of puzzles in the whole game to six.
The game is well summed up by an observation of Lewis’s, which I’ll shameless steal: everything except the final puzzle would have worked with very little alteration as a book of puzzle pictures, instead of as a physical room. It would be a pretty short book, too. 2 / 5
Spaced X is not a space game. I suppose you could interpret spaced to mean gently tripping. It’s not really that either. The music in this room was much better than Pandora’s Rave Escape, and vaguely calming. That was helpful because the puzzles in this game wound us up over and over again.
This game has panels on a wall, which open when you successfully solve one (or more) of the other puzzles, and enter a code in a keypad. By itself, that would be a nice mechanism – although I’d have appreciated some variation for the actual solutions.
(Something other than numbers entered into a keypad would be nice – but it was becoming clear that the designers had obviously bought a job-lot of these and were determined to use them for everything!)
There are details on the puzzles which are definitely not significant, but in just about any other room would have been key to solving the whole thing. There are other details that we wrote off as being painted over from an older game. Sadly, it seems the designers just like to draw extra twiddly bits and dots all over their puzzles. We lost a significant amount of time trying to incorporate these into our solutions – and because in several places you get no feedback until you’ve solved several puzzles at the same time, we had no way of knowing if we were on the right track or not.
We found ourselves systematically trying Every Damn Combination of possible answers until we hit the right one (and even doing that we needed a couple of clues to help us rule out options and cut down the search space for the right answer).
The second room of Spaced X was not a bad puzzle and fun to play! It was completely isolated from the others, and had a neat element to it. We got to move around and once we’d worked out what to do we made quick progress. This part was over far too quickly and then the game ended.
Better to just do the crossword in a free newspaper. 2 / 5

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