John Doe: The Prison of Blue Castle

By | July 21, 2018

Lille, Jun 2018

Rated 3.5 out of 5
Toby says:

John Doe’s company name comes from their overarching story device, which is that they’re a secret agency whose entire agent roster has recently been compromised; since their professional agents have all been outed, they’re reliant on you, promising members of the public, to undertake their missions for them instead. Which doesn’t sound like a terribly sensible way to run an espionage service – but snark aside, it’s a nice device to add a little extra immersion to the premise.
Your mission is to escape a Cold War era Eastern European prison, while ascertaining the fate of a missing agent, and in many ways this is a classic prison break style of game with the usual split team start. It doesn’t attempt to be thoroughly naturalistic – no one would mistake the sequence of puzzles that the game throws at you as something you might encounter in an actual jail – but given the consistent theming and the expansive, impressive environment that should only bother purists.
Our group was less convinced by the puzzles, particularly a major central step where the correct approach felt highly arbitrary. Since there were various alternative ways to extract possible codes from it, we ended up spinning padlock dials for each of a tediously long set of possibilities. While that could certainly do with some tweaking, on careful reflection I think the game’s standard of puzzle design was perhaps stronger than we gave it credit. A weaker early puzzle, another that perhaps works better for French speakers plus a tech malfunction (that the operator covered for quickly and well) all combined to shake our faith in the game early on, such that when faced with an ambiguous answer we took all options as equally (im)plausible instead of focusing on the most likely.
After struggling with a stop-start middle section of the game, the final sequence was smoother and fun. What we were trying to do appeared to make little sense in narrative terms (the operator afterwards gave an explanation that more or less justified it, I guess), but it was very clear that it was the intended goal and gave an entertaining ending. Also in the game’s favour was a piece of theatre added in just for fun and immersion.
There’s a great deal to enjoy about Blue Castle. It has plenty of flair in its design, making excellent use of an interesting space; even where I was doubtful about puzzles, I found them implemented with very good theming and visual style. Although we inevitably focused more on the sections that we found a bit weaker, some relatively small tweaks would tighten up the game greatly and help keep players from getting bogged down; and should the nuts and bolts of the game go more smoothly for you than they did for us, it would be easy to be wowed. 3.5 / 5

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