Guildford, Apr 2018
If you’ve ever found Siri or Alexa slightly creepy, then Venus is the game for you. The setting is the not too distant future, in a wholesome, gently futuristic suburban living room under the perhaps not so benevolent care of a Venus home AI system. The AI has of course gone rogue and as system engineers, you have the task of fixing it by, essentially, turning it off and on again.
It’s not a huge space, and is better suited for a smaller team. Since it’s themed as a home of the future, the decor is less dramatically ‘sci fi’ than, say, a spaceship, but I found the blend of suburban normality with a dystopian edge to work very well, like a more light hearted version of a Black Mirror episode. And some lovely details make it clear a great deal of care has gone into its construction.
Technically advanced games based heavily around switches and consoles can sometimes devolve into little more than following instructions. Much of Venus follows that style but avoids the pitfall – by giving instructions that are unexpectedly complicated to obey. With the exception of some physical tasks, most of the difficulty in escape games typically comes from working out what to do – once you understand the requirement, it’s usually straightforward to do so. That’s not the case here. I found Venus quite distinctive in the degree of cognitive effort needed to deal with some of its puzzles. The style is somewhere between taking an IQ test, deciphering a complicated technical manual and, oh, whatever makes that sound more fun and less like hard work.
While the puzzles are interesting and pleasingly challenging, the biggest joy of the game was the Venus unit itself, who chimes in frequently throughout the game with comments that may or may not be helpful, but which were consistently entertaining. This mechanism is used to provide small hints for teams when needed, but if you’re doing well then you’re more likely to find Venus actively trying to interfere. That made the game feel much more dynamic, as if genuinely battling a computer opponent not just a series of set puzzles. Since large stretches of the game are non-linear and co-operative in nature, Venus’s interjections also added to an air of busy chaos.
I’ll freely admit to a bias in favour of sci-fi games, with a particular soft spot for entertainingly crackpot AIs. More importantly though, the combination of humour with well-designed puzzles and a story-driven premise is a recipe for an excellent game, and that’s exactly what Venus delivers.