Nottingham, May 2017
This is a difficult game to review for me, because there was a great deal about it I thought was really good, but which I found to be undermined by a couple of huge flaws that saw us stuck on a single puzzle for well over half the time. In addition, having failed it by a larger margin than I think any previous game, I need to be careful to avoid sour grapes.
Crypt-ic sees you infiltrating the cobweb-festooned tomb of a medieval monarch, whose spirit may (or may not) help see you through the traps guarding his last resting place. Suitably for an ancient crypt, the game takes place in total darkness, with nothing more than lanterns (two for the team) to see by. Now, darkness as a way to make a game harder is usually a lazy and frustrating design choice, but I actually thought it was entirely appropriate here.
In fact, this is a fantastically atmospheric game. If you prod the furnishings too closely the illusion of ancient stone gives way, but the rest of the time my brain completely accepted that I was clambering around an underground tomb. Speaking of which, be warned that it’s a fairly physical game and definitely not one to wear your best clothes to!
Before entering, the team receives a handwritten journal of clues, plus some other items. Because of the extreme wear and tear that players inflict on props, paper clues in escape games are often laminated. That’s not the case here, and the journal looks convincingly like it’s suffered months in the backpack of an intrepid explorer. This again worked well with the atmosphere, with one player peering at the handwritten scrawl under lantern-light while shouting out advice to the rest – though deciphering pages of text in near-darkness was also one of the more frustrating parts of the game.
The game went wrong for us with a large puzzle where we eventually got the idea of how to solve it, or thought we had, but were using a reference set of information that turned out to be entirely incorrect, and in fact a total red herring. It would be simple to remove the distracting information, or adjust it to be less misleading. Even so it’s clearly ridiculous that we spent over thirty minutes on a single puzzle, and there were several exacerbating factors. Firstly, there were a number of elements to the puzzle, which we had worked out correctly, but which we then went back and questioned when the solution didn’t emerge. Secondly, the darkness and the limited number of lanterns made it harder to notice the hint that’d have got us onto the right track, and left us worried we’d missed something vital in the room. The sheer quantity of clues and information in the journal also kept us going back to that for more information. And finally, although the operator gradually chimed in with increasing hints, the hints were all for things we already knew, rather than clearing up the central confusion. (The hints are done in a very atmospheric way – but at the cost of making them sometimes hard to understand.) The game gets points though for the way we were eventually allowed past the point we were stuck on – it has a built-in system for doing so in a way that was far more inventive and immersive than simply being instructed in what to do.
The nature of escape rooms is that every team is different, and one team gets completely stuck on something that other teams don’t think twice about; and it wouldn’t be fair to penalise a game just because our team happened to run into a blind spot on this occasion. Allowing for that, I still think Crypt-ic suffers from a couple of major (though easily fixable!) weaknesses. The red herring that brought us down seems an egregious flaw and one that’s likely to affect many teams; it only affects a single puzzle, but it’s a pretty important one. As a more basic problem, why restrict the team to only two lanterns? The game would be just as atmospheric with one lantern per player. The limitation has the effect of introducing unnecessary bottlenecks and is much more likely to result in some players standing around blocked.
There were other issues too: we successfully opened a compartment and found nothing at all inside (the operator said it should have contained an item that we found somewhere else, so that may have been a reset mistake). From a puzzle flow point of view, I also think the journal gives too much unstructured information up front, increasing the chance of player confusion. But without some of the other issues, in particular the limited number of lanterns, that would have been much less of a problem.
I wanted to love this game: it has so much that’s great, particularly the set and the atmosphere but also plenty of clever, original puzzles. A team who happened to have things go more smoothly for them could absolutely have a fantastic time playing it. On balance, that means I should probably give it a middling rating, but that would be misleading, because it’s not at all a middling game: it’s a potentially great game with some potentially severe problems, and how you experience it will depend on how badly those problems hamper your visit. Fortunately, since I know my team-mate’s doing a ‘bad cop’ review here, I can focus mostly on the positives and give it a ‘good cop’ rating. Advice for getting an experience that matches my rating rather than his: play with a team of three if possible, to minimise the number of people stuck without torches; and don’t be slow about pushing for hints and help if a puzzle is just not coming together!
I’ll start by saying this room has the potential to be as high as a 4. The set design by and large is excellent with some lovely props, and some original physical puzzles. However it had two huge failings that ruined the experience for me:
– We were only given two lanterns between four people. This restricted our movements in a way that didn’t add to our experience and made the darkness frustrating rather than fun.
– One of the puzzles was really misleading, with surplus information that reasonably appeared to solve it but meant we spent over 30 minutes on the wrong track; this was exacerbated by an operator only giving us clues we already understood, without indicating the solution clearly when we were obviously stuck. This meant we missed the final room entirely (which looked interesting).
I wouldn’t suggest doing this room until they remove the false information and provide enough lanterns for the whole team.
I tend to side with Sam on this. We played this as five strangers, and I felt it was the weakest of the (otherwise fantastic) rooms at this venue. We were hampered firstly by the overwhelming darkness (5 people, two weak lanterns), and then by a puzzle prop failure (swords), meaning a painful experience trying to get past that puzzle as the host was clearly assuming we were doing it wrongly, despite our protestations. It’s since been fixed up so this won’t be an issue again.
Our inability to get past this puzzle (20+mins) led to many of the team sitting down and giving up. I think the only time this has ever happened in an ER for me.
The set is great, the ideas are all sound, thematic and fun. Just the over reliance on the darkness plus the hosting problems led to a terrible experience on the day.