London, Mar 2019
Having opened the UK’s first escape room back in 2012, Hint Hunt’s London branch then continued quietly doing business with their two games while the industry exploded around them, until finally adding some new options to their line-up in 2018. Two of their new games have the highly unusual feature that they share the same space: both set in a submarine, the idea is that the room can be reset for either of two entirely different games. At least, that’s the theory. Torpedo was the first of the two I tried, in which your mission is to find and eliminate the enemy submarine that’s hunting you.
It was immediately clear that this game is a step up from the original Hint Hunt games I remembered – though still quite a way short of the gorgeous Pirates game their Paris branch operates. Your environment is perhaps cleaner and less claustrophobic than a genuine submarine, but the metal piping and panels of electronics make for a decently convincing simulation.
Your aim, for most of the game, is to ready your submarine to launch a torpedo, a multi-step process that involves a believably complicated series of actions. As with almost all escape games, the theme and setting is an excuse for a series of puzzles that pay lip service to the story but can’t really be mistaken for a real-life situation. Nonetheless, Torpedo does a good job of making the game experience feel something like operating a submarine, as you decode messages and set various instrument panels in preparation for the torpedo launch.
As well as that sense of realism, Torpedo has an excellent clear structure which presents the players with a series of sub-goals required for their overall objective, gives them feedback to make it clear when they successfully complete one of those sub-goals, and delivers a dramatic and satisfying conclusion to finish. It’s perhaps a shame therefore that the game doesn’t actually finish there – instead, it has a final section as a sort of coda to the game, which I suppose ties up what would otherwise have been a handful of unused loose ends, but which also lets the air out of the victory somewhat.
There were several unused loose ends left behind even so, some quite curious – a hatch that was surprisingly empty, a locked cabinet that was never opened, and something that was quite clearly interactive but which we never used. We guessed that these were elements connected to the other Submarine game, but it meant a selection of minor but unwanted red herrings, and a kind of background uncertainty about whether the things we saw would be relevant to our game or not. Those were a little distracting, though not (as it turned out) as distracting as when we came to play the second of these two Submarine games.
The older Hint Hunt games placed quite an emphasis on search, sometimes with clue objects hidden in pretty obscure locations, including one place that really ought to have been off-limits for the game. Torpedo involved far less stringent searching, although it did still hide one item in a place that looked like it wasn’t part of the game. While you could argue that blurring the boundaries of what is and is not part of the game makes the players think outside the box, it also teaches players bad habits that may then carry over to what they do in other venues.
Torpedo is much more sophisticated and elaborately decorated than Hint Hunt’s original games, and much of the gameplay lives up to the visuals. Its greatest weakness is I think the way it shares a space with its sister game Deep Down – while they’ve used a clever array of tricks to provide different content for the two games, this still inevitably means a number of elements that are present but not part of the game. As a result it’s just a little more confusing and a bit less tightly designed than it ought to be. Nonetheless, if you’re picking a game at Hint Hunt’s London branch, this one or the other submarine game is your best option.