London, Jan 2017
Kill M.A.D. is a psychological thriller set in a hospital. It is one of those gems of a room where absolutely everything ties in with the story and theme, down to the smallest detail. It is deliberately and unapologetically linear, which usually isn’t something I am too keen on. Here, however, it makes complete sense and I liked how the story unfolds and evolves as you progress through the game.
The room is fully automated and makes great use of technology, all contributing towards the eerie atmosphere throughout. There are some lovely puzzles that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Who needs padlocks anyway?
Without giving too much away, the story builds towards a grand finale where you have to make a decision as a team (ours left us reeling at the reveal). An interesting variation on the ‘standard’ escape room experience.
We needed several hints (the operators asked us how pro-active we wanted them to be before we went in, a nice touch) and only just made it out in the allotted time. Afterwards, we had a thorough de-brief from the game-master on what we could have done better and how everything fits into the narrative.
The operators, Kou and Yan, have poured a lot of thought, creativity and passion into this room to make the story come alive. Thoroughly enjoyable!
The first game from Archimedes Inspiration was Leo’s Path, which stands out for its calm beauty. So I was surprised to see that their second game was set in an asylum. A crumbling, creepy abandoned mental hospital sounds right in line with many a horror-themed escape room and completely at odds with what I expected from AIEscape. So I went in braced for perhaps a dark, dirty room with scare effects and maybe broken furniture or fake cobwebs. That is not at all what Kill M.A.D. turned out to be. It’s so much more interesting and unusual than that.
The striking visuals and flair for design of AIEscape’s previous game are on display here too, as is the unusual structure: an entirely linear game consisting of a sequence of puzzles. These are not normal puzzles, either. Each is a set-piece, a self-contained challenge that forms a conceptual whole while also building another piece of the overall plot. These make extensive use of technology, often in much more sophisticated and unusual ways than the typical ‘place object to open a maglock’ approach.
Some games have a great many small puzzles, others go for fewer but harder. I quite like the former style, because each successful solution of a puzzle gives a small feeling of victory, and much of the pleasure of an escape room is the repetition of that feeling; and so a game where you’re continually solving tends to be more fun to play than one where you spend most of it stuck.
Archimedes Inspiration illustrates the charm of the opposite approach. Each puzzle is substantial and (to varying degrees) complex. It’s not a game designed for you to fly through in a flurry of adrenaline, but to explore and consider. Typical escape room puzzles are really not very complex, and experienced teams are more likely to get stuck by not finding something, or making a wrong assumption, or overthinking something. It’s rare to find a puzzle that slowly yields a piece at a time to investigation, but that was my experience with Kill M.A.D.
Everything also ties back into the story. In the briefing the operators suggested we take care to read the written material we’d find, and watch a video that appears in the game. That was good advice. The game builds up to a meaningful final choice that deserves careful consideration.
I loved their original game while feeling that the flow was a little uneven in a couple of places. Kill M.A.D. has excellent pacing and holds together exactly as it should. And twisted though some of the design is, it’s also quite beautiful. The surreal style is quite unlike any normal escape game, and reminded me of the visuals in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cube or Twin Peaks.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste: it tells an unsettling story that some might dislike, and teams that struggle with the puzzles could get frustrated with the linear structure. But either way it’s a hugely special game that will definitely stay with you.
My original review for this game was 2 words: Mind. Blown.
Kill Mad is a beautiful game, with strong atmospherics, superb room design, clear advancement, and an award-winning short film woven into it. The story unfolds during the game, providing you with insights into the characters involved and leading you to the final puzzle.
The attention to detail in particular struck me. Nothing is wasted, and even numeric codes which might ordinarily be random carry meaning.
I really want to say as little as possible about Kill Mad, as I feel I won’t do it justice by trying to measure it with the usual rules. It’s an excellent game and experience. You should play it. The owners are rightly proud of what they’ve created, and will talk to you afterwards about the story and the game. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn a bit more about the details you might have missed!
Best in category.