Milton Keynes, Nov 2018
Any company that opens a sci-fi game named Portal is pretty much guaranteed to catch my attention, so when we found ourselves in the vicinity with a couple of spare hours I grabbed the chance to book in. Escape For Real’s room has no connection to the computer game with which it shares a name, except perhaps some smooth silver laboratory aesthetics. Your task is to investigate the technology left behind by a mysteriously vanished scientist, and perhaps use it to follow him into a different world.
Portal is firmly in the post-padlock school of escape room design. In place of physical locks, it leans heavily on an array of electronic set pieces, some easier than others. Our group enthusiastically dived into the non-linear start, and I picked what turned out to be one of the game’s weaker puzzles, a pattern manipulation game that could easily become a frustrating bottleneck and which players are more likely to solve by trial and error than careful analysis. I suspect the earlier part of this game will wow some players and leave others cold – it will depend how much you like electronics and tasks that are as much games as puzzles.
Given the pre-game back-story it shouldn’t be a spoiler to say that the initial shiny white laboratory is not all there is to this game, and the later sections contrast nicely with the beginning. Puzzle style later on is a bit more traditional, but includes some genuinely fresh, cool ideas. The coolest of those seemed a bit easy to overlook, but fortunately one of our group was paying attention closely enough.
With a modestly sized set Portal still manages to give a nice impression of an alien environment, one only slightly undermined by the open doorway behind us. You could argue that the game’s implementation falls short of its grandiose setting, but it was charming enough that I was entirely happy to suspend disbelief where needed.
Strip away the various gadgets and Portal is perhaps a bit simple with quite straightforward puzzles, but it was consistently interesting and also pretty to look at, with a style that should make it more memorable than the average escape room; and also had one of the more satisfying ‘hidden in plain sight’ puzzles I’ve seen anytime recently.