Norwich, Aug 2018
Where History Mystery’s first game is situated upstairs at the Norwich Guildhall, their second is in the basement of the same building, in what used to be gaol cells right up to the 1980s. The booking confirmation warns players that the cell graffiti uses highly colourful language; perhaps we looked easily shockable, since our host apologised for this at least twice more during the briefing.
Body of Evidence is based on a real-life Victorian murder case. The briefing tells you that you’re due to be sent down for the crime in the absence of any other suspects – but this game isn’t about trying to get out of a 19th Century prison, it’s an exploration of the story of this murder, a dramatised investigation to reveal the culprit and discover how events transpired.
This investigation unfolds through the discovery of pieces of evidence, police reports, press clippings and other snippets of information. I had no prior knowledge of this piece of local history, but I have no doubt that all the details revealed in the game are meticulously true to the actual events. In addition to these physical and written clues, the game periodically provides you with a piece of video giving a re-enactment of something that occurred at the time.
History Mystery reliably produce interesting conceptual games that aren’t afraid to experiment with the normal escape room format. There’s also a clear increase in sophistication moving from their earlier games to their more recent ones. With this, their second game, the concept is stronger than the implementation, at least in the nitty-gritty of some of the puzzle design. The larger part of the game revolves around opening a set of mostly four digit padlocks; which is fine, though that also meant that somewhat too often for my tastes the puzzles involved simply finding hidden digits in one way or another. A few elements were unexpectedly reused. And it also uses UV in a way I wasn’t keen on, with little guidance as to where it was needed such that it seemed necessary to scan each and every item that came our way just in case.
That said, the design also exhibits the creativity and flair I’ve seen from the company in their other games, such as with a witty piece of lateral thinking, and there are plenty of highlights to which the criticisms above do not apply. But more than that, throughout the game both the high-level sequence and the individual puzzles tied into the story in a way that was frankly superb. Particularly towards the end, it uses wordplay and metaphor to guide you through the ins and outs of the case in a way that brings alive both the puzzles and the history.
The result is a game that’s more than the sum of its parts. Even if some of the puzzle mechanisms are no more than workmanlike, it’s easy to overlook that in the non-stop flurry of locks to open. In many games I pay little attention to the story, skim-reading plot points and focusing on just solving whatever I can find, but Body of Evidence successfully built up its narrative with a depth and colour that did full justice to its location and which made it memorable way beyond anything a normal museum display might manage. As an escape game it’s good; as a way of bringing to life a small piece of history it’s outstanding.