Wolverhampton, Jun 2019
The premise for Sanctum sounded quite a lot like a horror theme, and an original idea for one at that: an empty room in Clockwork Escapes’s building has watched its neighbouring rooms hosting teams of escape room players, growing jealous over the years, and now wants to play too. The minimal lighting of Clockwork’s entrance areas added to the implied menace too, with their array of mysterious objects half hidden in shadow. However, once inside I realised Sanctum is at most gently creepy – if this is a sentient room, the room seemed more interested in enjoying a game with us than finding some victims.
Rather than anything terrifying, the premise seemed to be intended to give an excuse for a game that focuses on pure puzzles, to allow the designer to drop in anything and everything that took his fancy without needing to connect it to a plot. Good narrative in a game is something I look for and enjoy, but I wouldn’t consider it essential; ignoring it in favour of focusing on providing a room packed with interesting puzzles is an entirely valid choice, and Sanctum demonstrates how well it can work.
Despite the minimalistic premise, Sanctum has plenty of atmosphere right from the start. It’s a complex and well-decorated space, far more interesting than a simple square room, striking a good balance where it offers plenty of items to investigate without feeling confusingly cluttered.
Many games use cipher symbols of one sort or another; the ones in Sanctum struck me as confusingly similar to each other, though your mileage may vary. It also features several types of puzzle that I tend to like less, such as jigsaws and counting puzzles, but these were implemented perfectly well and were unobjectionable. In any case those were comfortably overshadowed by a good number of satisfyingly large, chunky puzzles, with one particularly cool device near the end. It felt a lot like Clockwork used Sanctum as an opportunity to build a bunch of their favourite ideas and put them all in the same room, and the result is eclectic and entertaining.
None of Clockwork’s games struck me as easy, and Sanctum was perhaps the hardest of them by a small margin. It should therefore provide a satisfying level of challenge and quantity of puzzles for all but the fastest players. With its emphasis on puzzles and quality production values throughout, it looks good and provides a fast-paced flurry of solving that should deliver a solid hit of dopamine to your escape room addicted brain.