London, Sep 2019
Any review of Access Escape has to start with the most important fact about it: the whole game takes place in complete darkness. Enthusiasts often rail against unnecessary darkness used to make puzzles harder, but this is a completely different beast, where the whole experience is designed from the outset to be played without the benefit of sight. There are a few other such games scattered around, but they’re rare enough that I imagine it’ll be a novelty for most enthusiasts playing it.
‘Dark’ does not mean ‘scary’, at least with Dark Magik. Your mission is to retrieve a set of six dragon eggs (which are conveniently small and unexpectedly squishy) from the lair of an evil wizard. You are not actually required to get all six eggs: if you run out of time, you can exit with a smaller number of eggs for a partial victory.
Broadly, each egg corresponds to one puzzle, with only six puzzles in the whole game. That’s exactly as it should be. At least for those of us who aren’t used to coping without vision, the darkness means everything takes much longer and even walking across the room becomes a challenge. Although the quantity of content could likely be solved in a few minutes in a well-lit room, dealing with the darkness introduces its own considerable set of logistical puzzles, and the result felt like a sensible amount to get through.
While the point of the room is to cope with the darkness, Access Escape have skilfully designed the environment to make that enjoyable rather than frustrating. Most moveable objects are chained to their starting locations. Padding protects you from sharp corners on furniture. Keys come with wristbands so that you don’t drop them and have to spend precious minutes fumbling for them on the floor. All kinds of ways for teams to get stuck for silly reasons – as opposed to stuck on the actual puzzles – have been anticipated and addressed.
Of the six main puzzles, I liked all but one. The exception was a decent concept, but suffered from considerable ambiguity such that the correct solution felt like an arbitrary choice from at least four reasonable answers. Making that more painful was the fact that the puzzle used an auto lockout mechanism for wrong answers.
I did find that when searching by touch, every small feature or unusual texture becomes a potential red herring. That’s not the fault of the game design, which makes it admirably clear which elements are part of the game; the more you trust the designers, the easier it is to avoid getting led astray.
Dark Magik was the first completely dark escape room I’ve played, and it gains a lot on sheer novelty value – almost irrespective of the merits of this specific game, it’s well worth trying as a new and different experience. At the same time, even though it could tighten up on a couple of puzzle elements, I was impressed by the attention paid to making the experience work for players who are used to relying on sight – I could easily believe that other attempts at the same concept could end up much less successful.
Playing in darkness makes such a difference to the gameplay that Dark Magik is almost a different category of escape room, as different to a ‘normal’ game as, say, one played in virtual reality. To what extent you’ll enjoy it will depend as much on how you get on with the underlying concept as on the details of the game itself. I’d give that game a qualified thumbs-up; but add in the novelty factor and it’s a clear recommendation for anyone who finds the idea intriguing.