Online, May 2020
In the many new genres of online escape rooms springing up, the category variously referred to as ‘audio-led’, ‘simulated’ or ‘GM-led’ is essentially a remote livestream game without an actual room. Hour Glass’s game was the first such I’d tried, and it uses static images to illustrate our surroundings or specific clue items, with the gamemaster filling in everything else verbally – describing what we’re seeing and reporting the success or otherwise of our actions. Hour Glass is a new company set up by a UK enthusiast, currently with one game available and another soon to launch.
In this one you are (collectively) a suave secret agent tasked with retrieving some of the Crown Jewels – specifically the sapphires, since the culprit is one Blue Ivy, who seems to be selective about the colour of the precious stones she pilfers. After the initial scene-setting, done verbally in the manner of many a physical escape room briefing, we had an illustration of the room we were in plus an inventory bar at the bottom for useful items we’d started with or found. The graphics were pretty basic but the system worked smoothly.
I noticed our host used a particular descriptive style for reporting the outcomes of what we’d said we’d like to do, not simply ‘that worked / did not work’ but more verbose sentences that felt like the responses you might get in a text adventure game. The result was both a little stilted and also effective at reinforcing the story immersion. I should add that she also ran the game smoothly and confidently, and coped well with our technical problems (which were entirely at our end, nothing to do with the game).
An audio format seems like a golden opportunity to build puzzles and situations that simply wouldn’t be possible in a physical room – exotic environments and NPC interactions, driving cars, firing cannons, blowing up buildings. Stolen Jewels stuck strictly to a design that could, broadly, be implemented as a physical escape room, which seems like it’s not taking full advantage of the possibilities. Their follow-up sounds like it’s set underwater, so may be going further in that direction. Along similar lines, my impression was that each puzzle needed to be overcome via the one intended solution – which is fine, and normal for physical games, but it seems like this style of game could include puzzles that reward players for coming up with wildly creative out of the box solutions. Although perhaps at that point it’d become less a simulated escape room and more a hosted table-top roleplay session.
Number-phobics should note that there’s a strong maths element to this game; you could broadly categorise many of the puzzles as either maths-based or as things you might find in a computer escape game, revolving around finding items and then finding the correct places to use them. That style may or may not appeal; either way, the puzzles all made logical sense. As an example of a new format, it neither put me off nor wholly won me over – I’d try more games of this sort, but wouldn’t necessarily rush to pick them over some of the other types of online game now available.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.