Key Enigma: Hack Forward

By | December 28, 2022

Room-in-a-box, Feb 2022

Rated 4 out of 5
Toby says:

Key Enigma’s debut game ran its Kickstarter in 2020, and it’s spent as long sitting on my shelf as it did in production – the stated 8 hour play time put me off from diving in. Once I finally did start it, it turned out to be actually very digestible, consisting of eight chapters that each made for a quick-ish game that’s easy to fit into a spare corner of an evening.
I’d describe this as a hybrid box/online game: it comes with a box full of envelopes and components, but much of the action takes place in a browser window. However, that varies a great deal between different episodes. One chapter sends you investigating websites ARG-style, another uses almost entirely physical items from the box, and a third is based around simulated computer terminals in the browser. Because of the physical components you’d want to have all players in the same place – it wouldn’t easily be possible to play with a geographically separated group.
Hack Forward is very led by narrative, and starts off with you investigating a series of leaks stemming from data hacks, and the disappearance of the journalist who was looking into them; and a group of anonymous hackers. The story is built through multiple layers, but first and foremost via simulated chat messages between you and the group of hackers. That’s done well, but at the same time was the most frustrating part of the game. There’s so much back and forth chat, all unfolding at a fixed pace that’s a little too slow for me. It also has an effect where it shows an image or something in the chat, but it’s tricky to look at it because each new chat message jumps the scroll back down to the bottom again.
In all other respects, I found it a big success. Puzzles are well designed and use various clever effects; and perhaps more importantly, are designed with fallbacks to make sure that if the technology doesn’t work at any point, that doesn’t block your progress. I really liked the variety from chapter to chapter, keeping it fresh while still forming a single continuing story. For us it totalled somewhat less than eight hours all in, with a couple of chapters needing just over an hour and most being substantially less than that, but it still added up to a great deal of playtime, and I rather liked having a stream of shorter games to play when we had limited time. 4 / 5
Pris rated this:4 / 5

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