London, May 2017
Your team is briefed – at the end of 1945, some Nazis set up a colony on the dark side of the moon. Yes, it’s an “Iron Sky” themed escape room! Your government has intercepted a signal saying “Ready”. You and your team must thwart their plans by breaching their moon base and destroying their weapons. As part of the briefing, you’re also warned to “watch your head on the slide”. This had me grinning before we walked in.
The rooms themselves are designed to take you through a natural thematic progression breaking into various parts of the station, killing the guards, unlocking security protocols to finally disable the weapon; all the things you’d expect in a classic action / adventure mission.
This is supported strongly by some excellent decoration, with a mixture of heavy industrial and futuristic space technology. There are also a couple of lovely Easter Eggs not directly relevant to completing the room but which greatly enhance the experience. One of my teammates was like a kid opening a present and finding the toy he’d always wanted when the first one was revealed.
It’s worth noting the puzzles here; there was not a single padlock in sight, instead everything is done by physical cabling, hidden mechanisms and electronics (all on theme). There is also a much greater array of physical and skill puzzles compared with many other escape rooms. There were still enough logical puzzles to satisfy, but the secret to this room is the physicality – not just the slide, but puzzles that require (a bit of) physical effort, as well as those requiring skillful manipulation of devices. Did I mention the slide already?
This room does have flaws: the hint system could be clearer; a puzzle in the first room was unclear (although we solved it by eliminating options); the information for one of the puzzles was only provided once, and if you missed it the operator had to intervene to send it again; and I’ve seen more sophisticated rooms / puzzles.
However this all fades into the background because ultimately, I had incredible fun. I love the idea of running around a moon base trying to kill Nazis, in an experience in multiple rooms on multiple levels. It is very hard to design a physical room well, but only once we’d finished the room did we really understand how cleverly the room had been put together to maximise area usage yet feel very spacious.
Dark Side of the Moon should have been a fantastic game. The set was beautiful, and the puzzles were designed to give great immersion. This set a huge expectation, which ultimately fell short. In particular, the signposting and cues for some of the puzzles were very weak – enough so that we were unable to progress. The hints from our games master invariably told us to try things we’d already done – and left us feeling that perhaps they didn’t understand what we were asking, or weren’t familiar enough with the game yet.
One puzzle right at the beginning was wide open for multiple interpretations, and so we ended up trying a long series of complex sequences to try and get it to pass. With no real cue as to which interpretation was correct, we were stuck slogging through the various options.
The action sequences of the game are (again) brilliantly implemented, although again – with no cues, we had no idea if a particular sequence was running on because we weren’t choosing the right targets. (In fact, it simply runs until we meet a particular speed – but as there’s no way to know, after a considerable amount of time we stopped to rethink, wondering if we were supposed to be discerning about the targets or following some other pattern. In the end we had to ask.)
Another puzzle had a lovely, simple solution – but unfortunately the clue text that came with it had very poor meaning, and left us exploring a number of other options. Again, we had to ask – which is a shame because a better choice of clue could have made it far less misleading.
The final sequence took us into some fresh spaces – again, with beautiful design and increasing difficulty. These were fun, but ultimately led to one more task that was explained so quickly that we assumed there would be a way to get the instructions to replay! They didn’t, and ask the task involved quite a bit of capering, the only way to get it right ended up being to try the various combinations. I think we were lucky to get it right on the second or third try…
Ultimately, this game has so much potential to be awesome. The set design and immersion is in the highest quality bracket, and had the cueing for the various tasks in the game not let it down so hard I would be seriously considering it for a 4.5 or 5.
I do recommend you play it – especially as the other team that played it from our group really enjoyed themselves, and you can marvel at the beautiful features and elements that these guys have built in. The games itself is new, so perhaps over time the company will take on board some feedback and improve it.
After being disappointed in D.I.V.A., I was braced to have the same reaction to Dark Side of the Moon – although how bad can a game be if it has you battling space nazis? I played on the same team as Sam above, so unsurprisingly my view of the room is closer to his than to Lewis’s.
The game’s style is more like an action movie than a puzzle game. The team climbs (stairs, not ladders!) and explores, battling enemies along the way. The use of space is fantastic and really feels like you’re dashing through an expansive complex.
Players are given smartphones and walkie talkies here too, plus a clipboard for making notes, which again felt like more equipment than we wanted to be carrying around. There are no QR codes this time, so the app is only used as a time clock and hint system.
I actually found those points that were most obviously reminiscent of an action movie to be a bit flat. Teams enter the game equipped with plastic guns, and the use of these felt a bit rote, somehow lacking the right sort of excitement and pressure. I suspect that’s a matter of needing more feedback from the game room as you perform the task.
Despite that, the sheer physical movement around the game space made the experience come together. Nor do I mean to imply that the puzzles are a minor part of this game. Although a big chunk of it has an ‘action’ style to it, there are plenty of puzzles. Unlike in D.I.V.A., I had no objections to them and thought they were sometimes challenging but fair. Some of Lewis’s criticisms seem valid though, and perhaps the same problems didn’t come up for us mainly because we happened to jump to the intended way to solve them, where we could equally have jumped in a different direction.
Come to the game expecting it to be tough, and for the puzzles to sometimes be a bit misleading. But with that caution, if the idea of running around a moon base shooting nazis appeals to you, you’ll likely have a great time playing Dark Side.