Nottingham, May 2017
Howitz, as you might not guess from the name, is a game set in an abandoned, haunted toy shop. A past tragedy has left it cursed with supernatural forces which are reluctant to let you leave unscathed.
This game is gleefully, gloriously macabre, and left me a little worried for the mental state of its designers. It is most memorable for its atmosphere and sneaky surprises, but there’s a more than acceptable escape game under the covers as well.
Of all the games I’ve played, I don’t remember any where the unseen operator has such an important role. Most games with hidden electronic mechanics pride themselves on having everything auto-working without need for operator intervention, but here my (possibly inaccurate!) impression was that there is a whole array of effects and surprises which are triggered at the operator’s discretion. And instead of that being a weakness, it allows them to occur at precisely the moments when they’ll be most effective.
One of the game’s showpiece sequences is for only one of the team. Also, there’s a big enough space to wander around in, and some of the surprises tend to happen for players who are a little way apart from the others. That means that different people may come out of this room having played as a single team but having had rather different experiences.
The grisly toy shop theme carries through the decorations and into some of the puzzles. Few of these involve heavy intellectual lifting, favouring instead searching, a bit of physical skill, and plenty of lateral thinking. The design quality is consistently excellent though, with no particular flaws that I noticed and a couple of brilliantly original ideas.
We escaped almost too quickly – the effects seemed to be building over time, so I’d have liked to see what it’s like for a team escaping in the last few seconds.
This game will likely make you jump, or even scream if you’re of a nervous disposition, but the style is not frightening so much as dark and twisted, in an over the top way that sometimes left an incongruous grin plastered to my face. As an escape game it’s good, and as an experience it’s excellent.
Afterwards the operator told us that, according to a visiting medium, there genuinely was a historical murder in the room that now hosts the game. If you believe in ghosts, I encourage you to think of that while playing… 😉
There are some rooms that succeed by sophistication and cleverness, and some that succeed by theme – this does both to an extent. Set up as the shop of a toymaker turned psycho prankster, there is strong tongue in cheek humour with creepy toys, some traditional spooky homages and the occasional impressive surprise.
The room is search heavy and the puzzles are fairly unoriginal; it does look like a basement rather than a toy shop. However the spooky theme meant that overall it was a fun room for any fan of that theme.