Online, Nov 2020
Much like when a new model of iPhone comes out, the latest Agent Venture game is a little more refined than previous iterations but essentially the same product. If like me you were impressed by the originals, that’s entirely a good thing. This time you’re guiding the titular secret agent as he infiltrates the bad guy’s moon base and tries to shut down a super laser. The escalating silliness of the plot is one of the joys of these games, along with the highly talented host, who is a veritable one-man-band of accents and improvisation.
Many play-from-home games cast the players in the role of a remote support team. Of them all, Agent Venture comes closest to really making you feel that role. That is, it’s fast-paced, stressful and frantic. I approach other escape games with a complacent assumption that we’ll beat the game; that feels much less certain here.
There’s a definite progression towards greater structure in these three games. Initially you might quail at the sheer quantity of information provided – most or all of it specific to you, meaning it’s up to you alone to deal with it. But once the structure of the game is explained, it becomes very clear which pieces of information are relevant at what times. As a result, there’s much less danger of feeling overwhelmed than in earlier iterations.
In fact, BAD Side uses a modular structure that reminded me somewhat of the Crystal Maze – a series of mini-challenges, which can be tackled in any order and of which you’re likely to only get to around half. (This makes it even more replayable than the previous Agent Venture games, since you can ensure close to zero overlap between a first playthrough and a second.)
As before, your experience will depend a great deal on your role. The Communicator and Hacker roles in particular really need players who enjoy actor interaction and solving logic puzzles, respectively. Each section is careful to give all players something to do, though some gave more reliance on a particular role, meaning you have leeway to adjust the gameplay to your team’s strengths.
My personal favourite of the three so far was Cyborg Island, but by most objective measures each new episode is an incremental improvement on the previous one, keeping the elements that make it compelling and trimming away ways that players could get overwhelmed or sidelined. The increased structure in this latest game slightly reduces the ‘tabletop roleplay’ feel and increases the ‘puzzle challenge’ side of it, though the experience continues to be a mix of both those elements. With high-pressure co-operative puzzles, information on PDFs and spreadsheets, and a game area that’s mainly imagined, it won’t appeal to all tastes; but if you like the style it should be a sure-fire hit.