London, May 2017
The Breakout is Enigma Escape’s second room, which in their narrative continuity occurs before their other room, which I guess makes it a prequel. Despite the very different types of story (‘escape from a psycho’ versus ‘break someone out of jail’, the two games are connected by a shared cast of characters.
They also share a naturalistic style of game which tries to avoid obviously artificial puzzles and instead build puzzles into the game set in a way they might occur in a real life situation. At least, that’s the idea – The Breakout follows that principle somewhat less than The Killer, particularly at first. There’s also a large puzzle of a type that enthusiasts often dislike (no, not a UV search, and not a sudoku!).
As the game progresses, the realism of the puzzles increases and so does the immersion. Much of the mid game onwards involves information searches, where the hard part is often figuring out what information you need and where you might be able to find it, and that felt to me about as convincing a simulation of breaking into a high-security facility as you could reasonably expect from a game.
It’s a principle of good escape room design that players should not need to guess the answer to a puzzle. If you can solve it, the solution should be clearly correct, such that you’re confident it’ll work before you try it. That’s actually quite an artificial expectation, and if you really were breaking into a prison system it would be unsurprising to come across obstacles that needed some informed guesswork to get around.
The Breakout violates the usual convention there on two occasions. One of these is pretty minor and many teams won’t even notice it. The other requires a bigger leap. In the absence of any clues there’s one obvious thing to try, which turned out to be correct even though we tried it expecting it to fail. So this isn’t a case of having to run through endless equally possible options. It still felt like an unwarranted guess though, in a way that will likely stand out to experienced escape teams much more than to beginners, and we might easily have dismissed the idea and spent ten minutes searching for a clue that didn’t exist.
On the other hand, needing to solve it speculatively in that way fits not just the theme but also the style of the game, much more than finding a convenient clue for it would have. So I’m left ambivalent here, and would caution experienced teams in particular not to expect all the usual conventions to apply in this game.
The game premise only sketches very lightly who we’re rescuing and why, and how the players are supposed to relate to them. The lack of detail there weakened the game’s aim of being story-driven. The continuity of characters between the games was clever, and probably has greater impact when the games are played in story order, though the connections didn’t entirely seem to make sense. (The venue has a third game planned which will be set between the current two games, so that might connect them better.)
I’d find it hard to say which of the two games I preferred. The Killer has a bigger physical element and sticks more carefully to the realism; of the two, The Breakout contains both my favourite and least favourite moments. As with its sister room, I hesitate to give an unqualified recommendation for The Breakout, but it’s an interestingly different style to most games and certainly worth trying.