Brighton, May 2018
Return of the Mad Scientist is a sequel to a game I played way back in the pre-history of 2016. At the time Escape Game Brighton had two games; it has since closed both, and replaced them with similarly named sequels. Although that suggests an ongoing narrative, there was little story to be found here: the website gives a brief blurb about preventing a doomsday plot, and retrospectively I can see that this was woven into the room design in places, but the briefing covered only the usual health and safety points and the game played primarily as an abstract series of puzzles.
It would be inaccurate to describe the room as bare; it’s full of puzzles and decorations. The decor feels unpolished though, with liberal use of do-not-touch stickers and visible cabling, rather miscellaneous props to pad out the decorations, and a couple of gadgets that the host had to warn us were not part of the game before we started. It also doesn’t particularly resemble a laboratory, more an upstairs room in a suburban house.
We spent a while completely stumped at something that involved taking the answers from several earlier puzzles and combining them to make a meta solution, where we just couldn’t work out how to get one of the needed elements. Eventually we resorted to asking the gamemaster, who explained what it involved, and it was in fact a novel idea for a puzzle, and one that fitted a ‘science’ theme well. However, guessing the correct approach from the given information seemed to need a quite Olympian leap of intuition. Worse, the clue item for the puzzle and the language used suggested an entirely different way to tackle it; and having got the correct approach, it gave a somewhat ambiguous output with multiple ways to combine it to form the meta-solution.
That was by some way the low point of the puzzles, which in other respects were broadly acceptable; some felt a little uninspired and others a little tenuous, while the best were decently creative and fun.
You’d hope that a redesigned game would be superior to the one it replaced, and in presentation and in much of the content this one has the edge over the one I played two years earlier. But the improvements are fairly marginal, and the weaknesses seem more glaring than they did back in 2016; I find it harder to overlook the rather slapdash build quality. I certainly didn’t hate the game, and there were enough decent moments that I’d view it leniently. On the other hand, the briefing included a warning that a couple of the electronic items in the room might freeze up, along with instructions for restarting them if they did; and we did indeed have problems with both of those. That reinforced an impression of too little care paid to the game’s maintenance, which leaves me disinclined to recommend it.