Harlow, Jul 2017
Enigma is a detective game, set in the Bletchley codebreaking centre where you have to identify a traitor from five possible suspects. I was expecting a World War Two setting, but it uses more modern technology so is present day or recent past. The game was in fact originally located in Bletchley and run by a different company, but fortunately found a second home with The Panic Room after the original version shut down. I believe it’s been adapted somewhat, but the different genesis shows through: it’s a different style of game to the others from this company.
Playing it immediately after a couple of low-light games, the bright lighting of the initial area was refreshing. The decoration is a step down in other ways, but given the setting an office-like appearance is suitable. In contrast with other Panic Room games, Enigma makes heavy use of written information, and much of the first half of the game consists of first ransacking the room for anything and everything useful, with lots of locked drawers to find keys for, and then piecing the results together.
The structure here is very clear. There is a set of clues for how to identify the correct suspect, which are uncovered one at a time as you progress; and then a variety of pieces of information about the suspects that allow you to determine whether an individual matches one of those criteria or not. While the clues themselves are provided as out-and-out instructions, all the information pieces are very naturalistic (with a couple of exceptions), the sort of information you could plausibly discover while searching through an office area. This style of logical elimination puzzle appears in games now and again, and I thought the design of this one was particularly solid: there are multiple facts to discover about each suspect, some of which rule them out and some which don’t, so teams can’t use the simple existence of a fact as a shortcut way to eliminate someone.
Having progressed far enough, the team can select the suspect they believe is the traitor. Getting this wrong was described as an instant fail condition, which is a bit of a red flag for me – an instant fail puzzle can be a good way to raise the stakes for the climax of a game, but here there’s at least a quarter of the content still to come afterwards. However, I suspect that few teams actually fail here, with the ones that do being those who are running out of time anyhow and who decide to guess before they’ve worked out the answer; and it wasn’t clear if a wrong answer ends the game or just counts it as a ‘fail’ while allowing the team to play on.
Identifying the traitor is by no means the end of the game. Given the setting and the theme you’d expect there to be some codebreaking needed, and if so you won’t be disappointed. While it’s noticeably more based on written clues than other Panic Room games, there’s plenty of use of technology, including video sequences that go a very long way to making the narrative an integral part of the game not just an excuse for a set of puzzles. A pair of related end-game puzzles were I thought a step-down in sophistication, but for the most part it’s very cohesive, and where there are departures from the theme it’s in ways that make the game more fun and entertaining.