Riga, Jul 2017
Firstly, be warned that this game includes very explicit and graphic imagery of nudity and mutilation – if you don’t have a strong stomach or are uncomfortable with confinement, this may not be the game for you.
I’m not a big fan of slasher horror games. I don’t particularly mind gruesome decor or jump scares, although I don’t find them a big thrill either. But I find the designs less varied, with lots of the same old blood spatters in darkened concrete basements, rust and dirt and plastic body parts. As a result, I tend to choose this genre of game after I’ve exhausted alternatives. But Maniac at GetOut topped enough lists of Riga game recommendations that it clearly deserved a try.
One way to make a slasher horror escape game stand out is by going all-out in making it intense and terrifying. That’s not the route they’ve taken here. It starts out very much in the usual vein (to use a particularly appropriate turn of phrase), though striking what I felt was a particularly good balance between fright/gore on one hand and puzzles on the other. However, it develops in a much more interesting and narratively satisfying direction, to a final section that was a masterpiece of hands-on naturalistic puzzle solving.
The contrast in styles between different sections of the game could have left it feeling disjointed, but the progression is very natural and makes complete sense.
Much of the game is beautifully realistic (okay, ‘beautiful’ is the wrong word, given the theme…), such that what the game requires the players to do is exactly what you might expect from a group of kidnap victims trying to escape a serial killer’s lair. That standard isn’t met throughout the game, with other puzzles being more standard fare. One in particular stands out as making no sense except in escape room logic terms of combining the items provided simply because they’ve been provided – but that was the exception not the rule.
There was a critical piece of information that one of our teams got and the other team did not. The former team got it by accidentally doing the right thing to activate some equipment, without realising they’d done so. The latter team did not and never got the information, and eventually had to be clued past that stage. After discovering this and hearing what the game expects at this point, I’m sure it’s something that none of us would have actually thought of doing as a possible solution, regardless of how long we spent on it. Conceivably it’s a cultural difference that’s more obvious to a local audience.
That’s a significant weak point that my team was fortunate to blunder past without noticing. That and a few much less severe wobbles in the otherwise very skilful game design keep it from joining my shortlist of absolute favourite games, but to be clear: this is a superb game that starts pretty well, gets more interesting and finishes with a sequence that’s outstanding.
It has plenty of content, a fairly high level of difficulty and many points where it’s easy to lose time, so play it with enough people: three experienced players at a minimum, more for beginners. The conclusion is definitely the highlight of the game, and it would be a shame to run out of time before playing through it.