Dubrovnik, Apr 2017
Respublica Obscura embroils you in a conspiracy set in a period of Dubrovnik’s history where the city was an independent republic under the shadow of the Ottoman Empire, though I was never completely clear whether I was trying to foil the conspiracy or join it. Either way, the game sets you the task of finding a mask, as a conspiratorial symbol, rather than simply trying to escape from the room.
The game appears to be a one-man operation, independently designed and built. If so, the level of technology used is impressive. The only padlocks are entirely suitable to the setting and the room contains a whole lot of nicely authentic props.
All of which is a great start – but with the puzzles themselves, the game doesn’t entirely live up to its promise. The majority of them involve some form of written instructions, and while that’s arguably a stylistic choice that’s in keeping with the story, I personally find it less interesting when the main challenge is understanding and applying a cryptic set of instructions, which result in a rather arbitrary arrangement of items. The aim of a task should ideally be dictated by the nature of the objects involved, or by the narrative of the game.
As a more serious criticism, several of the puzzles had slightly ambiguous solutions, where the clues given could be resolved in multiple different ways, only one of which worked. That wasn’t much of a practical obstacle, since in each case it was quick enough to try the alternative options, but it still makes the puzzles less pleasing and subtly undermines players’ confidence in the room.
Combined with one point where we solved something but didn’t realise anything had happened, the result was a game that has much to recommend it but which nonetheless still felt disjointed to play. And while the standard of the room’s props and decorations is for the most part very high, some of the items custom-made for the game look less impressive – including the final mask that’s the target of the whole game.
While I’ve mostly focused on criticisms of the game, that shouldn’t be taken to mean this is a bad game. The theme is good, it’s built with care and attention to detail, and it’s still an enjoyable game; some relatively small tweaks to remove ambiguities and more clearly signal progress would help a great deal.