Online, Nov 2020
Venues are still working out the best way to convert physical games to remote play. For an example of how to do it well, it’s worth looking at E-Exit’s games. Many good remote games still leave me with the impression of being an imperfect substitute for playing in person; Exorcist is one of the rare cases where I’d sooner play the avatar version.
The story is that you’re on a virtual tour of a mansion nicknamed Crowley Manor, and you’re in the narrative from the moment you connect, talking to a friendly, nervous spookologist and his cameraman. The latter remains out of shot more or less throughout, but is also there in character. Having two hosts gives them useful flexibility in moving around and positioning the viewpoint to make it as clear as possible.
The game’s focus on immersion goes beyond the way it starts. They smoothly segue from intro to game, slipping in in-universe justifications for anything that would otherwise not fit, such as the timer and the modern padlocks, with an admirable attention to detail in making it not just a puzzle game but a coherent theatrical experience. This also means there’s no inventory system – although normally I find avatar games benefit from inventory screens, in this case I think a separate screen would undermine the atmosphere more than it would benefit gameplay.
Exorcist also incorporates video elements in a way that I won’t describe in detail, but which is smoothly done and which further builds the narrative. What really holds it together though is the central performance of the main avatar. ‘Avatar’ isn’t really the right term; he’s a fully fleshed-our character not just a pair of helping hands. Both sympathetic and amusing, he left us feeling genuinely motivated to get him out of there.
Of all the avatars I’ve seen, he was also one of the best at giving the impression that he really didn’t know any of the answers. That could potentially be frustrating – at times I wanted to say, hurry up! keep your mind on the job, man! – and if we’d been stuck I’m not sure how forthcoming he would have been with hints. But for us at least he provided an experience both engaging and entertaining.
Puzzles and decor were good though wouldn’t particularly stand out from the crowd; what makes Exorcist is the acting and the staging, the many tricks they’ve added in while adapting it for remote play. If you know someone who’s skeptical of playing Escape Rooms by proxy, this might be a good way to change their mind.