Online, Apr 2020
Half the world is sheltering indoors from a pandemic sweeping the globe – not the plot of an escape game but the sad reality we find ourselves in. With physical escape rooms off limits, many companies are creating games which can be played over the internet in some form. The Insiders is one of the first such games, though frankly the quantity of content looks like it was created over a considerably longer period. A disclaimer: the game’s creators are good friends of mine, though naturally this review strives to be strictly impartial.
The Insiders comes in three parts, with a gap of some days between each part (though if you really can’t wait you can request to play through it at a faster pace). You might wonder how exactly a purely online game works – which is a good question, since so far there really isn’t an established convention.
In the case of The Insiders, an immediate difference to a physical game is that there’s no time limit, and the total game time is likely to be considerably over an hour – more like 2-4 hours. You could play it solo, but I’d definitely recommend playing it as a pair or group, even if players are geographically dispersed. That’s partly because it’ll be more enjoyable that way, but also because some of the steps are more approachable with more than one person working on them – in particular a certain task which must count as one of the most hair-tearing, brain-melting tasks I’ve seen in any escape game, online or off.
Deadlocked’s game combines what I’d describe as three distinct styles. The first is ‘internet sleuthing’, providing clues via familiar third party sites in a highly naturalistic style. The second is with clues provided in a PDF using a more explicit puzzle-solving style, more akin to working through an episode of Puzzled Pint. (These parts expect you to print out some components, and while it’s possible to complete it without doing so it’s certainly an advantage to have access to a printer.) And the third relies on custom online interfaces, with a feel that’s closer to a computer game. The variation in game style means you’ll almost certainly find some sections of this game more to your taste than others; on the other hand, even if one part doesn’t grab you, another probably will.
Although the type of gameplay varies quite a bit, it’s linked in a single narrative, which begins with you being contacted with a request for help from an employee of Wexell Corporation. This is one of the ways in which this is an experience rather than a grab-bag of puzzles to solve – the story, and the use of NPC interactions to move it forward.
Those who don’t read carefully might find that the very first step may look like an unexpected dead end. In other respects the difficulty level is quite approachable, though I was completely stumped on one step until my teammate had the right insight; hints are available by email though.
In these suddenly changed circumstances, the escape room industry is experimenting with new boundaries to the genre, and no-one really knows what sorts of experience there’s a market for, or what a sensible price is. Purely digital online escape games compete with a huge range of other entertainments such as computer games, and consumers are notoriously less willing to pay for non-physical goods. That matters when reviewing a game, because I can’t really say I have a good sense for what counts as good value for money or not. Still, this provides a greater amount of puzzle solving time than a normal game, for far less money, and the cost is redeemable as a gift voucher against one of the company’s physical games at such time they’re open once more.
As with play-at-home games, some players will find that there’s just not enough overlap with what they enjoy about a physical escape room; others will be pleasantly surprised at how well this captures the feel of playing an escape game. While it’s hard to compare to a physical game, I feel on more solid ground comparing it to play at home escape game products – against which The Insiders provides greater immersion, and puzzles in much greater quantity and variety.
There’s a danger reviewing something that counts as as new genre of game, because it’s hard to separate what was good about the game itself from what was good about the genre. Whether you find that fully digital escape games are to your taste or not, I’m confident that The Insiders is a high quality, impressive instance of this new type of game.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.