Online, Dec 2020
Everything I’ve seen of Ezkapaz suggests they’re a company with flair and creativity, who invest both money and effort into creating interesting, involving experiences. I’m putting that up front because this is my second review of a remote avatar game of theirs, and the second time that I’m rating them lower than what I feel the game could and should be getting. In both cases the single most important reason for that is the custom interface they use. It’s an ambitious and clever way to smoothly integrate the Zoom conference with a well-presented inventory system, and it now also allows some independent exploration of the (digital version of the) room – but in practice it not only suffered from technical glitches, it’s also frustratingly restrictive in design.
In this conversion of a physical game, you’re remotely advising your avatar, a cleaner who accidentally activated a time machine, so as to help her return to the present. And of all the 19th Century barber shops she could have ended up in, she’s had the extreme bad fortune to find herself in the one operated by a Mr. Sweeney Todd. I rather liked the genre blending going on there – it meant a set with old-fashioned stylings which had a good excuse to also include more modern elements, as well as plenty of riffs on the barber theme.
We were able to view and explore the room not only through the avatar’s camera feed, but also in a 3D digital rendering complete with clickable hotspots to view items more closely and to jump between different viewpoints. On solving something we’d often be told a codeword to type into the interface, which would update the list of available inventory items and sometimes change the 3D environment to reflect what we’d just had our avatar do in real life. Unlike the previous game I’d played with the company we had no problems connecting to the game; the issue was that these hotspots were completely inert for most of the game for me, and occasionally inert for some teammates, which more or less locked me out of some sections entirely.
I imagine that problem will be identified and ironed out. For all its many advantages, I’d still not be a fan of the interface though – mainly because it restricted how we could use Zoom, making it impossible to use two screens, and not allowing us to see our teammates while playing. If the company provided connection details to allow players to connect to Zoom in the normal way outside their interface, that would be an instant big improvement.
At game start our host showed us around the room, and very sensibly did so before giving us the codeword to activate the interactive sections of the inventory, avoiding it being a distraction. The mostly linear game structure didn’t take full advantage of the interactive room view, though (when it worked!) it was still useful to be able to look at one item there for reference while the avatar showed us something it related to. The puzzles were often classic escape room ideas, but implemented with custom themed props with a physicality that I’d certainly have enjoyed if playing in person. The game’s ending, for example, was a fairly simple idea that went a long way to adding sparkle to the experience.
I might quibble over a couple of other points, such as our avatar’s tendency to over-hint in places, but really the main drawback for me was the interface, and in other respects it was done well. I assume that most players will have fewer problems with it than I did, in which case despite its sophistication I still think it takes away more than it adds, but shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the game’s strengths.