Paris, Oct 2018
Just over five years ago I played my first escape room, at Hunt Hunt in London. I played my second with them as well, since at the time no other U.K. venues existed. Although I loved both games at the time, they were primitive by modern standards and would likely get a low-ish score from me now. Their Paris branch operates both those games, but also a couple of the company’s more recent designs – including Pirates, one of their latest.
Even before entering the room it was clear that Hint Hunt have progressed a long way from their original games, from the sounds of creaking timbers and other audio effects coming from behind the beautifully sculpted entrance. I raised an eyebrow on seeing the very modern torches waiting for us to use, but these had a story explanation, if a flimsy one: we were current-day explorers, called in by the descendent of a historical pirate king to sail his ship to an unknown island and retrieve a fabled sapphire.
Avoiding details for spoiler reasons, the visuals of this game vary from merely impressive to exceptionally cool. No game is ever going to give a genuine sense of being on a ship sailing to an island, but Hint Hunt do a great job of selling the fantasy.
Even so, in some small ways Pirates felt oddly primitive. That was not only the frequent use of laminated written messages and some longwinded pirate verse, but also some number-crunching maths puzzles. When you’re in the middle of a pirate adventure, solving an equation feels rather dry, and is not very well suited for cooperative solving. Moreover, the numbers involved were purely arbitrary, in a way that emphasised that they were there just to make work for the players, not as a natural part of the story. Your impression may vary but for me that made it less satisfying, with more of a sense of jumping through hoops instead of overcoming the environment.
On the other hand, this game also had one of the most gorgeously physical tasks I’ve seen anywhere, thematic and cool and very hands on. With this and the game’s other stronger moments, the puzzles present themselves as a natural part of the story and environment while also being huge fun to complete. I’d wish that the design could reach that high standard more consistently, but even so there’s still a great deal to love about Pirates.
Our group of five ran into bottleneck issues during one section in particular, and I’d recommend 3-4 as a good number. I also recommend taking care in the room, after a couple of us came away with nasty bumps and scrapes; and coming dressed for a game that expects you to get hands-on. Some of our group liked it more than others, but all agreed it was a strong game, and if you only know Hint Hunt by their older games, you really need to see what they’re offering now.