Redditch, Jun 2019
Perhaps the most curious feature of Space Challenge (which also applies to the venue’s sister game Tomb Challenge) is that it’s different each time you play it. Your mission consists of ten tasks, explicitly shown on the screen from the beginning like a todo list. However, different teams may get a different list. I believe the first one or two tasks and the last one or two tasks are always the same, but the ones in between are selected at random from a menu of possibilities by the software running the game.
That’s an ambitious idea and I’m not sure I really understand the motivation for it. Presumably it’s an attempt to achieve the holy grail of replayable rooms – but with only part of the game changing, are there that many teams willing to pay for a second or third play-through? However, the mix-and-match design had less of an impact on gameplay than I would have predicted, probably because it was only the central section that was randomised. In fact, if anything it felt like a stronger narrative than many games manage, thanks to the way it started and ended.
Much else about the game is ambitious too, with a set that’s complex and impressive – although the quantity of old computer components got a bit much. They’ve clearly built it with a ‘no padlocks’ rule, and instead use a variety of electronics and custom gadgets. Some of these use buttons and lights in a fairly generic way, others are very thematic and form a natural part of the story.
To me the gameplay felt a bit stop-start. That sometimes happens with linear games, and this one was very linear due to the structure – exactly ten puzzles to solve, each in sequence. Then the set design gave plenty of places to look at, often with little indication of which area to focus on for the current task; and some steps involved the type of search or observation tasks that tend to trip our team up. In fact, I’d say the gameplay emphasised those elements to an unusual extent, in preference to other escape room skills. In combination, all that meant we spent a fair amount of the game stumped rather than moving forwards, even though we ended up finishing with a fairly respectable time.
Your mileage there may vary. Space Challenge was one of three sci-fi games I played in the same weekend, all involving saving a failing space station or base; of the three, it was the mostly instantly impressive in its visuals and technology. Nor was it simply style over substance – you have a convincing sense of being in the story, and that story comes to an original and dramatic finish.