Room-in-a-box, Feb 2018
Escape The Crate has now been running for a year, and it is to the credit of the designers that they’ve never gotten lazy and settled into a predictable rut. While the format remains constant and some puzzle types make recurring appearances, they keep trying different ideas and changes that keep it from getting stale.
As the box artwork gleefully makes clear, Extinction is set in the late Cretaceous period. Each episode in the series takes pains to depict its historical period accurately, which is trickier here with such a distant time period; but the game makes a point of referring to only dinosaurs from the correct era, instead of jumbling together a top ten most famous species list.
One of this game’s small innovations is to replace the standard time limit with an asteroid counter and a time track on the inside of the box’s lid. Players are instructed to set a timer for every 7 minutes (or 8, or 10, depending on desired difficulty), and to advance the asteroid each time it rings. The result is much the same as a simple time limit, but it’s a fun way to present it – although I recommend using a blob of Blu-tack to stop the asteroid from sliding about.
The previous episode had nice components but a distressing number of flawed puzzles. Extinction manages to improve on it on both fronts. We did need to refer to the game’s hint system a couple of times, once for something that seemed obscure but reasonable in hindsight and once for something that still seemed dubious once we’d got the answer. But other than that I found it solid throughout, and moreover the puzzles form a clear narrative progression.
The differences between episodes keep them varied but they’re consistent enough that if you like one you’ll likely enjoy the whole series. There are lots of clues that consist of just printed papers, sometimes some weak puzzles where you may need to resort to the hint system, and sometimes not quite enough clarity on which of the various envelopes you should be trying to solve next. Against that, the non-paper parts of the game are often surprisingly well made, and the boxes’ range of ideas have plenty of hits to offset the occasional miss. Of the first six episodes, Extinction is my latest candidate for ‘best in the series’, and the fact that I’ve found myself more than once writing something similar is a good sign that the series is moving in the right direction.