Southampton, Jul 2018
No matter how much I firmly maintain that I don’t much like horror games, escape rooms like Seven Sins come along and demonstrate that that’s not really true. I could try to claim I liked it despite the horror theme, but that won’t wash: the theme is an integral part of what makes Seven Sins work.
As is traditional, you’re stuck in the gory basement of a serial killer and need to get out before your captor returns. While that’s firmly in the mainstream for an escape room, Elusion seem to like to put an extra twist on their games. In their original heist game, that was a scoring system that allowed different teams to emerge with a greater or lesser amount of loot. Seven Sins also allows you to win with a varying degree of success, but puts a darker spin on it. For reasons explained in the initial video briefing, each of you has been poisoned, and therefore you need to not only escape the killer’s basement but also to find as many antidotes as you have players. Should you leave with insufficient antidotes you’ll be consigning some of your team to an early death. As a further complication, each clue you take after the third will cost you one of your antidotes, meaning you may face a choice between deliberately sacrificing one of your players so that the rest can escape.
In other respects the format is firmly in the mainstream. Naturally, the titular seven sins are used as the basis for the puzzles, with a clear nod to the 90s movie Seven. They are in fact referenced in more than one way, which could easily have become confusing. However, clear puzzle structure avoids any such problems. We were briefly confused when something opened without us doing anything to trigger it, and at first thought it was a technical glitch until the hint screen gave us reassurance. Other than that there was very clear feedback, designed to make it clear when we’d accomplished something and to give an indication of how far through we were.
A dingy cellar with bloodstains and bodyparts is par for the course. Seven Sins manages to be much more disturbing – it’s gleefully macabre in a way that makes me a little worried about the designer’s mental state. But if you’re willing to suspend all standards of good taste, the twisted inventiveness on display is impressive and even amusing. It also takes every opportunity to unnerve, startle or creep out players.
Even so, I thought it managed to avoid hitting a level of realism that would turn the experience actively unpleasant. However messed up the design, even where it successfully made us nervous to walk through a doorway, it still felt enough like a game to not take seriously all the grotesqueries on display. With another theme I’d want as much immersion as possible; here it’s more enjoyable when it doesn’t give too perfect an illusion of reality.
The side-quest of finding enough antidotes to go round was a minor part of the game for us, with the only effect being that we had to go back and search for the last antidote where we’d otherwise have exited. Teams that struggle more should find this mechanism becomes a more important part of the game. I dislike restrictions on the number of hints available in a game, but I can see this system working quite well as long as a group doesn’t run out of antidotes entirely – there’s no actual cost to not having enough antidotes at the end of the game, so teams that just want a bit more help can spend them freely, while at the same time it provides fun opportunities for arguing over which player is going to be sacrificed.
But the main appeal of Seven Sins is just that it’s a very well designed escape room with some clever ideas and full-on decor that is as creative as it is disturbing. It’s definitely not for everyone, and unless you’re okay with some very graphic content it may be better to look elsewhere instead. But if that doesn’t put you off, it’s wickedly entertaining.