Southampton, May 2017
The briefing: you’ve been brought in by MI6 to investigate a suspected traitor, find out what happened and any incriminating evidence.
From the start it feels like a cold war spy thriller – a seemingly innocent 1950s house all decorated to theme, with more and more being slowly revealed.
The room had almost no technology (keeping on theme), and yet the puzzles were extremely satisfying. I really felt on a journey, discovering hidden objects, decoded symbols, and moving through rooms. It takes skill to create very low tech puzzles that work this well.
This was my personal favourite of their three current rooms; I really felt that I was having to hunt for a spy (meaning the fact the room was quite search heavy really worked).
It also formed an excellent part of their wider “decades” escape rooms. The operators are friendly and enthusiastic and show a love of their rooms (both in the game pre-brief and the debrief) that’s always key to a good experience. Overall well worth a visit.
Despite a welcoming host and a good video briefing, I started this game expecting it to be average at best. First impressions didn’t help much: it’s set in a flat that looks not just authentically old-fashioned but downright dowdy. And I looked around and thought, okay, here are some basic hidden number puzzles, and there some puzzles that might as well be in a puzzle magazine, slapped on the wall without connection to theme or story. I went from that negative initial impression to pretty much completely won over by the end of the game, for two main reasons: puzzles and atmosphere.
As Sam describes, the atmosphere just works. Lots of the puzzles are abstract and don’t relate to the story, but nonetheless as you play a clear picture emerges of the person you’re investigating and the secrets in his past. Lots of games attempt something along these lines, and usually either the plot gets ignored or it’s a bit heavy-handed and predictable. In Hidden Past I found it remarkably successful. The story that emerges is simple enough, sketched by a handful of details but underlined by a few subtle details of the room design in a way that was poignant and a bit melancholy, reminiscent of John Le Carré characters.
And secondly, an escape room lives or dies on the quality of its puzzles, and this has plenty of good puzzle ideas well implemented. This is one of the most low-tech games I’ve seen, and it’s a great demonstration of how tech is not at all necessary to make a highly satisfying game.
I also have to throw in a nod to a particular antique device used for one of the puzzles – for anyone with the right kind of inner geek, it’s a treat to see.