Room-in-a-box, Feb 2020
Low Memory is the follow-up to The Awakening, one of the most interesting and successful home escape games released yet. Like its predecessor, it uses a fairly complex system of action tokens in place of a time limit to restrict how thoroughly you can explore the world; a branching game path where you will see most but not all of the content; and some quite dark, mature themes. The plot advances through booklets of numbered story paragraphs, to which you’re directed on solving (or failing to solve) puzzles.
Also like its predecessor, it’s a long, substantial game. The Awakening claimed a 3-6 hour play time; Low Memory claims a total of 9 hours, split into three chapters of 3 hours each. Experienced puzzlers will likely finish it in rather less time than that, but still – there’s vastly more content here than in most play-at-home games.
This time it’s a futuristic setting, a suburban tech-based dystopia reminiscent of Black Mirror. I can’t give any more detail than that, since the slow unfolding of what’s going on and who the main characters are is a major part of the enjoyment of this game. I was genuinely intrigued and curious to find out how the story would resolve; I don’t believe any home escape games have achieved that other than the two from Escape Tales.
The emphasis on story shouldn’t be taken to imply fewer puzzles. Low Memory has a number of puzzles commensurate with its extended game time, and the later ones in particular are pitched at a noticeably tougher challenge level than is normal for home escape games. Expect to have to spend entire minutes scribbling with pen and paper to get past some of them.
As before, you verify answers using a webpage; you can visit the page once and thereafter play offline. This system worked very well, with one big exception: right at the end it refused to accept any input for the final puzzle until I switched from laptop to smartphone. But I imagine any glitches will be gradually ironed out.
Each puzzle has a step of hints provided, with no penalty for taking them. These work well, although for a couple of them the jump from the hints to the solution felt too abrupt. An explanation of how the solution should be found would have helped in cases where we’d ended up stumped due to e.g. missing a critical instruction in the booklet text.
In The Awakening, which outcome you got felt almost entirely random. Here it does not – how well you’re doing has a much more obvious effect on the conclusion. However, success in the game depends less on how well you do at the puzzles, more on how lucky you are at selecting the correct areas to explore with your limited supply of tokens. That’s partly because the game doesn’t really ‘monitor’ how well you do at the puzzles – there’s no time pressure, and it doesn’t track how many hints you use in the website. I think both of those are very sensible decisions, but even so, the result is that you can storm through every puzzle and still get a ‘bad’ outcome.
Naturally, the right way to approach it is to not worry about doing well or badly. As the subtitle emphasises, this is a story-driven game, and it’s most enjoyable if you don’t worry too much about how quickly you’re burning through those action tokens and instead just enjoy the ride.
That’s easier said than done, and it found it genuinely stressful to choose which locations to explore, particularly where the game enticed us into wasting a precious action token on a useless space. But that reflects how successful the game was at drawing us into its story. A few gripes aside, it provides a very solid standard of puzzles, particularly for anyone who wants a challenge and doesn’t mind doing some work to get to their solves. And it ties those together with an interesting, layered narrative.
Your choices as players affect the outcome only in limited ways, and since you rarely have any substantial reason to choose one option over another the potential meaningful decisions might as well be made by coin flip; but even so, you decide which of many possible permutations the course of your game follows. For the complexity of its game mechanics, the difficulty of its puzzles and its sheer size, this isn’t a game aimed at beginners – but for anyone wanting something substantial, it’s a standout game and considering the amount of content it represents remarkably good value for money.