Bucharest, May 2018
By what I can only assume is a curious coincidence, every time I’ve played an escape game hosted in a pub it’s turned out well. (And no, I don’t drink before playing games, so it’s not because of the reviewer equivalent of beer goggles!) Perhaps less coincidentally, every game I’ve played that has a time limit of greater than sixty minutes has also been well worth playing. So that all boded well for a 75 minute game located over a bar.
The pub that hosts Escape Arena is in southwest Bucharest, far enough from the centre to travel there by bus or cab instead of walking. We played the last slot of the day, and were ready to be unimpressed after spill-over from the previous group kept us waiting quarter of an hour after our slot time; after seven games and a great deal of walking earlier in the day, I was too tired to properly appreciate even a very good game. Fortunately, Indiana Jones wasn’t merely very good – it was superb.
Several of the companies in Bucharest gave us explicit instructions up front describing to what degree their game was linear, something I’ve rarely had in game briefings elsewhere. Escape Arena were more specific than most, explaining that it was fully linear except for a starting pair of puzzles that could be tackled in parallel. That seemed like more information than we wanted, but then in the game I found that instruction very useful, keeping us focused on the right thing at one point where we would otherwise have hared off uselessly looking for things to solve elsewhere.
Your mission is to follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones, who vanished trying to retrieve the Holy Grail from an Egyptian temple – how it came to be in such an incongruous location is not explored. Now, there are a lot of lost temple escape games out there, and although visually the set is up in the top tier of such games, it’s neither the largest or the most beautiful ruin I’ve escaped from. However, I found it particularly successful at capturing the swashbuckling spirit of the Indiana Jones franchise, and an outstandingly fun game to play as a result.
That’s achieved with a combination of very impressive highlight pieces coupled with a fantastic sense of drama, using lighting and other effects to heighten tension and atmosphere. Although you’ll more likely remember the more action-driven parts of the game, it also has some chunky puzzle content to chew through too, particularly in the earlier stages of the game. The explicitly linear structure means it’s usually clear what to focus on, and in places the difficulty level allows the rewarding feeling of working on a puzzle that yields to your efforts a little at a time. There’s little searching to do, but good observation of the surroundings is critical. If needed, the gamemaster provides hints that are given a light narrative justification – he is cast as an associate who’s remained outside the tomb with some of Indy’s notes, from which he may be able to find clues to help you.
A sequence of well designed puzzles is fun to solve regardless of the theming, but when those puzzles are used to build a themed experience it can add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. It delivered both intellectual satisfaction and the emotional payoff of a good Spielberg movie; and among the many first rate games to choose from in Bucharest, Indiana Jones is one I’d particularly recommend you be sure to include in your schedule.