Online, May 2020
The Moscow escaping scene has quite a reputation, and is dominated by one company above all: Claustrophobia. And while they have branches elsewhere in Europe (though fewer than they once did), a chance to sample one of their home city games was an opportunity to seize. They run a huge number of games, and have adapted quite a number to online play (including many genre variations including some that are a long way from anything I’d count as an escape room), but only a few are available in English. One of the two ‘avatar games’ available is Springfield, a Simpsons homage that’s breezily indifferent to IP ownership in a way that few games in the UK would dare to be.
The website promo pictures will give you an idea of just how well they’ve translated the cartoon environment of the TV show into a physical room. Non-cartoon humans are the element most out of place, but then we had only our avatar’s hands reaching into the camera’s field of vision. That was also our only point of interaction, since this game used only the Zoom video feed, without any inventory system.
Springfield stuck closely to Claustrophobia’s house style: clean, uncluttered environments where most items have a purpose, no padlocks, puzzles that mostly involve putting the right items in the right places or moving things in a specific way to release another compartment. In this case it was also a mostly linear and fairly easy game, though we were held up by a couple of slightly left-field steps.
Where puzzles involved colours, I found that it wasn’t always easy to see what colour an item or light was intended to be through the video connection – fortunately our avatar was careful to always name out loud each colour in turn with anything of the sort. He helped in other ways, though always subtly, via the way he interacted with items or where the camera lingered when we were uncertain. On the whole I welcomed that, as a sensible and reasonable compensation for the limitations of trying to take in the whole room via a single shared camera.
While the way it’s adapted to remote play is fairly basic, I didn’t find that caused much frustration – even though we had a large team, it wasn’t hard to follow what was going on, probably because it was a linear game where most of the items were large and brightly coloured. And the underlying room was great fun, most of all for the familiar cartoon environment but also for several of the reveals and interactions.
The most notable weak point was a translated puzzle that Russian speakers would have been able to read, for which we needed to catch what our avatar was telling us, and which resulted in some confusion. But that was only a brief hitch in an otherwise entertaining, light-hearted game that left me inclined to go back and book in for more with the company.