London, Apr 2019
Having had some mixed experiences with London Escaped previously, I returned with some trepidation to try their most recent three games. White Walker is a curious offering: if you’ve visited the venue since the game’s installation you can’t have failed to notice it, a stand-alone, highly ornate room-sized box plonked down in the middle of their large lobby area. Covered in frosty spikes and gargoyles, it’s a cube perhaps ten or twelve foot across that makes little effort to hide its Game of Thrones inspiration.
Once inside the box, the decorations are even prettier, with a selection of large, attractive props all matching the ‘icy doom’ colour scheme. Our gamemaster instructed us that it was a strictly linear game; because of that and because of the very limited amount of space, it would be a mistake to play this with a large team.
Almost every step in White Walker is part of a custom prop, and completing one activates the next or gives you the item you need for it. There was rarely any doubt which part of the room was the currently active one; there was frequently some doubt about what we were supposed to do with it, though in a couple of cases that was because we were being too cautious about manhandling some of the more fragile-looking decorations and as a result didn’t notice information critical to solving the puzzles.
In such a technology-driven game, it was a relief to find that the tech worked smoothly throughout – nothing broken, nothing that was fussy about accepting a correct answer. Even so, I found it curiously unsatisfying, and got the impression that much more care has been lavished on presentation and technology than on making sure each prop is a good puzzle. Cool technology effects seem deployed for the sake of it, rather than to further the story or experience. There is a story – a voice kicks in whenever you complete a puzzle – but is little more than audio wallpaper, and doesn’t change the sense that you’re jumping through a series of hoops. They’re very pretty hoops, sometimes a bit confusing or arbitrary but mostly decent; but you’ll find your focus is on ‘how is this gadget intended to work’ instead of anything more immersive.
White Walker looks and plays a lot like a tech demo from an escape room industry show. That’s not exactly what it is – the cube is a third-party product sold as a turn-key escape room, easy to install since it can be set up in any empty space – but it feels a lot like one, doubly so with the small physical space and the shorter play time. It certainly looks good and has some cool effects, but its impressive elements deserve to be embedded in a more expansive game. As it is it has some nice components, but they add up to less than the sum of the parts.