Southampton, Jul 2018
‘Immersive’ is a worrying term for a game based on the sinking of the Titanic, but fortunately they don’t take things as far as plunging players into the icy waters of the Atlantic. Instead, this game places the players in an upper class berth on the doomed ship, just as it begins to sink.
Houdini Escape excel at providing a good experience before and after the game, starting from the atmospheric lobby and the mini-cinema used for game briefings. I particularly admired the way they use a simple starting task to get you into the swing of things before you’ve even entered the room, introducing both story and gameplay smoothly before the game itself starts.
There’s an interesting shift of style a short way into the game, where it starts off with a warm-up set of mostly abstract puzzles that can be tackled in parallel. Thereafter it changes to a mostly linear story-driven style where the puzzles are strongly themed as part of the narrative.
With a deadline of 90 minutes it appears to be paced to allow most teams to get the full experience. For experienced players that should be more than enough time, and although a tighter deadline might have given more of a claustrophobic panic feeling of being trapped on a sinking ship with no time to escape, it gave more time to take in and enjoy the game.
And that was appreciated, because Titanic manages to be a much more cohesive experience than just a series of puzzles. A couple of fantastic special effects provide the memorable moments that you’ll be talking about afterwards, but it also skilfully managed a gradual escalation of alert level, mirroring the way in the actual tragedy passengers were initially told there was nothing to worrying about, only to be running for the lifeboats a short time later.
In one respect realism is at odds with gameplay: in one or two places I found the game area cramped in a way that made it hard for more than a couple of people to work on something at once. That is of course absolutely appropriate for the setting, though would also make me hesitate before recommending it to a large team.
Creating a game based on a historical tragedy is a little risky, and a different escape company hit the news a little while back due to the backlash incurred when they announced their own Titanic game. I’m not aware of Houdini Escape having had any blowback over this game though, and at least part of that must be due to the care and sensitivity they’ve invested in the design, with thorough historical research and respect for the lives lost. This is evident throughout the game in ways small and large, but particularly in the final debrief where our host told us more about the historical connections and inspirations of the design.
Southampton is lucky to now have a wealth of very good escape games provided by the various companies based there. The variety of styles and themes mean that it’s very much a matter of personal taste for which to pick. For me though, against very stiff competition Titanic tops the list – the immersive atmosphere, attention to detail, and interesting puzzles make it a stand-out escape game.