Birmingham, Mar 2019
Clue HQ’s Birmingham branch has two games that are only available in that location, both often praised by enthusiasts. Since one of those (Captain Riddle) is the best I’ve played from the company so far, I was eager to try the other, Hellevator. Although I’d assumed from the name that it would be a paranormal horror theme, it’s actually set in a dystopian near-future, where you’re unwilling participants in a sadistic game show where failure means death.
Despite the ominous name and deadly premise, Hellevator is not a particularly scary game, and only the most nervous players should have any problems with it. That said, there’s a long list of health warnings to take note of on the website, and it starts with the room concealed in quite the densest cloud of dry ice I’ve seen anywhere. Once we got used to that, the game set the scene in style with a sophisticated sort of video briefing message, and a novel twist on a split team start.
While Hellevator is certainly bigger than a typical elevator, it’s small for an escape room. In that space the puzzles are packed tightly in the available wall space, and it took us a certain amount of experimentation to work out what was immediately in play and what we’d need to return to later.
I had the impression we received quite a few small nudges from our gamemaster, for minor things such as drawing attention to something that had opened without us noticing. A little more feedback built into the game would help there, but it would probably still feel a bit stop-start – because the game is a linear sequence of unrelated puzzles, where each time you solve something you then need to work out which of the many things in the room to focus on next. Additionally, a couple of puzzles struck me as a little misleading in ways that needed just a little more signposting.
This game is distinctive for its technology and atmospherics. Those don’t always extend to the actual puzzles – the design not only follows Clue HQ’s tendency to fill their games with padlocks, in several places it uses multiple padlocks on the same lock, meaning you sometimes have the dispiriting experience of solving something only to find you’re no further on. The layout does however give some guidance in which locks will open next, reducing time spent trying codes in the wrong places.
But although I’d quibble with various aspects of the way the game’s structured, it overwhelms small weaknesses by sheer force of cool. There’s a limit to how epic an escape game can be when set in one small room, but Hellevator makes a good stab at it. Its main gimmick is used to great effect, and reinforced with Clue HQ’s usual array of lighting changes and other tricks, and then some. If you’re after a satisfyingly solid puzzle game then there are other Clue HQ games I’d recommend ahead of this one; but for razzle-dazzle and a memorably distinctive game, Hellevator is well worth trying.