Online, Aug 2020
When I played, Ezkapaz had only just started offering remote games, and were struggling with serious tech issues in their online interface. It’s tricky to judge how much to take problems like that into account in a review – I imagine they’ll find ways to avoid or minimise problems, and in a couple of weeks probably most teams will have a smoother experience.
A lot of the issues stemmed from their custom interface. This split a browser window into a Zoom livestream panel on one side, and an segmented inventory window on the other. Joining instructions recommended use of Chrome, but at least four of our five team members weren’t able to connect with that browser. One eventually managed by using Edge instead, two of us resorted to using Zoom directly on a separate screen, and one gave up entirely and missed the game.
The actual room is inspired by Cluedo (or Clue, for those on the far side of the Atlantic), a classic murder mystery scenario where Lord Cadavera has been found dead and you need to work out which of multiple suspects is the culprit, plus which murder weapon was used for the grisly deed. This doesn’t involve digging into alibis and motives; rather, as you solve puzzles you encounter suspect pics and weapons, which allows you to rule them out as possibilities, until you’re left with one suspect and one weapon.
It’s not a huge game area, though was nicely appointed as a gentleman’s study, with well produced game components. The majority of the content resolved to padlock codes of one sort or another, and each time we made progress the avatar would tell us a code to type into a box on the web interface, which would refresh the inventory panel and add additional pictures.
The logic of a couple of the puzzles struck me as a bit of a stretch, with one in particular that seemed open to a range of possible answers; I suspect we eventually homed in on the right one only thanks to some non-verbal prompting from our avatar that nudged us in the intended direction. But despite that I broadly liked the puzzle design, which was often subtle enough not to be immediately obvious to enthusiast players and included some nicely original ideas.
I’d have enjoyed playing it in person more than I did remotely, even leaving aside the initial connection problems. There were further issues with players having to reconnect midway through, and one point where our inventory suddenly vanished and had to be unlocked again by entering the various codes we’d previously found. But more fundamentally, the inventory system just felt a bit cumbersome. It has nice features like a built-in magnifying glass to zoom in on items, but fell down any time I wanted to inspect more than one item at once; and immersion was weakened by the need to continually enter codes, then wait for the panel to refresh, then search through to find the newly added items.
That may be mainly a hard-to-avoid consequence of playing a game that uses many written components. The more obvious tech problems will hopefully be ironed out, and it’s an attractive game with some smart moments; I suspect it’ll still be one that’s not quite so well adapted to online play, despite the ambitious interface they’ve set up.