Leicester, Aug 2018
Having waxed enthusiastic about the big elaborate sets in the other Escapologic Leicester games, I’m going to now declare Chronos my favourite of the three, even though it’s physically the smallest. But it packs a great deal into that space, with some exquisite decor and very physical puzzles that are as attractive as they are challenging.
The story is that you’re travelling back in time to a Victorian laboratory on a mission to find the only known cure for a devastating pandemic. The time travel idea nicely bookends the game, but the emphasis is on the lab that forms the main part of this escape room. The word ‘laboratory’ shouldn’t mislead you into expecting white coats and test-tubes; this is science as performed in the grand heyday of Victorian hubris, with huge bubbling glass alembics and shiny brass pipes. The elegantly polished result has Escapologic’s usual stand-out production values, but with less grit and an efficient use of space that instantly had me excited to play. We probably lost several minutes on our time because we were happily exploring all the interesting bits and pieces in the room before we properly got down to trying solve anything.
Most Escapologic games are fairly linear. Chronos is an exception, and a large part of it can be tackled with a divide and conquer approach. We largely failed to do that, and I suspect the majority of teams will end up solving it in a mostly linear way. That’s because Chronos is tough, without instantly clear separation between different strands of the game, so you may find yourselves needing to confer and solve as a group to make progress.
A couple of times a single element is used more than once in different ways – not in the sense of, for example, the same key being used in two different locks, but with large components featuring in different ways in different puzzles. I’m in two minds about whether that’s a weakness in the game, causing unnecessary confusion, or a fair and reasonable feature of an escape room that’s explicitly described as the Leicester venue’s most challenging. If you’re quick enough to figure it all out, or not too proud about receiving hints, then that lack of clear division between some of the puzzles will just make it all the more satisfying to solve it.
Speaking of hints, they’re here given in two different ways. To stay true to the time travel premise, they’ve sensibly avoided standard options such as walkie talkies or a clue screen. Instead, a flickering of the lights indicates encouragement, for when you’re on the right track, and there’s also a mechanism to deliver written clues when needed. The combination is more effective than either element could be on its own – the lights provided relatively subtle nudges that were much less heavy-handed than a full clue, but the written clues allowed the gamemaster to give clearer help where it was needed.
But what’s lovely in Chronos is physicality of the puzzle construction. Working out a numeric puzzle to get a padlock code, or solving something electronic, is satisfying enough. But it’s a different level when you can deduce the way some complex piece of apparatus operates just by looking at it carefully and experimenting, like a Victorian engineer trying to fix an unfamiliar mechanism. A greater part of Chronos uses more traditional symbol matching style puzzles, but it’s the cool physical mechanisms that you’ll remember.
It’s easy to forget the game’s story midway through, but the puzzle structure brings you smartly back to that for the final sequence, giving a strong finish to a consistently interesting game. The difficulty level is high, partly because of the sometimes confusing links between puzzles, so I’d recommend less experienced groups start with a different game first (probably Reactorvate) – but as soon as you’re up for the challenge, Chronos is a gleaming treat that shouldn’t be missed.