122 Castle Hill, RG1 7RG
The Cyphstress is a collaboration between Deadlocked escape rooms and the Siren craft brewery, with a plot that revolves around a globetrotting adventurer who is hired to find a legendary beer recipe. If I'm totally honest, the details of the storyline became a little hazy during our playthrough. This can be somewhat explained because we accidentally ended up creating our own escape room/beer collaboration while playing, creating the rules of a escape room puzzle-based drinking game...
...you see, you are predominantly guided through the game through interaction with a character via Facebook messenger (a Facebook account is absolutely required to play the game). You send answers, and receive new information, links, and images via the messenger chat. The responses from the chatbot are well-written and natural, which allowed us to easily personify the character that we were having a conversation with. The interaction here also paces the game, and provides the opportunity to place some subliminal promotions for the brewery partner ("Hmm, I'll need to think about this one for a while.... why not take a drink and I'll get back to you soon?"). We took those instructions very literally, with our team soon resorting to chanting "DRINK!" after every new message received. After an hour or so of play, we weren't quite sure what we were doing, or how we'd got there, but we were enjoying the moment and we were pretty sure the chatbot was our new best friend.The game is entirely digital- there's no physical or printed elements, yet it still manages to utilise a variety of content delivery mechanisms - there's some use of social media, external websites, audio, images and PDF files, and a custom web interface. You're provided with a single login to this interface which can be shared among your team but, as with similar games, we found it played better if just one player logged in and shared their screen with any remote players. The downside of using a variety of content is that the game requires a little bit of juggling of various applications and tabs - Facebook, the game's website, Zoom/Hangouts/WhatsApp chat etc. a PDF viewer, etc. - so you'll want to play it on a laptop/PC or preferably have several devices available and be familiar with switching between them.
The puzzles themselves feature a good mix of styles - traditional ciphers and codes, logic and spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, and a few audio puzzles. There is an inbuilt hint system, which we had to use once since we didn't understand the interface to a puzzle, but otherwise the game flowed well for us - the puzzles presented enough of a challenge to be interesting, but never so hard as for us to ever get stuck. The game starts fairly linearly, but opens up later so that there are multiple puzzles available which different players can work on simultaneously. And it all wraps up with a co-operative/co-ordination challenge, followed by a cheesy, humorous end sequence.
We played as an experienced, drunken, team of 4 players in 2 locations, and it took us around 2hrs 30mins to complete the game. There were opportunities along the way where we could have taken a break, but it felt perfectly natural to play in one sitting if you allocate time to do so.
There's a lot of quality content, very little filler, and for just £10 for the game alone represents very good value for money. Or, order it together with a mixed case of 12 ales from the brewery for £35 and you've got a fantastic boozy night in, and you're supporting two small businesses at the same time. Definitely recommended.