Derby, Nov 2019
Arriving at Make Your Escape for our booking, we were welcomed in by a sardonic overall-wearing janitor from a dystopian future. It’s always a nice touch when a game’s host is in character from the outset, and he maintained the persona throughout the welcome and briefing. While it works perfectly well as a stand-alone game, Dystopia is best played in conjunction with its sister room Utopia as a two hour double header, and any review of one must need make extensive reference to the other.
In the game’s narrative, we were moving into a rundown apartment in a crumbling building in the left-behind half of the world, soon to be contacted by a revolutionary organisation. I really liked the combination of futurism with decay, a grim setting presented with humour that reminded me of the movie Brazil.
It was one of those games where we ended up playing it almost too fast – thanks to the very solid puzzle design everything made sense and other than a couple of brief sticking points we blitzed through it at speed, which was great fun but over too quickly. I didn’t feel that reflected a problem with the quantity of content though, we just had a strong team and were in the zone.
You can play either game first, with clever design of story and physical layout allowing you to transition from either into the other. The flexibility there is impressive, although has a trade off: a fixed order would have allowed a clearer narrative conclusion. Since the two halves can be swapped round, each had a slightly ambiguous ending intended to work whether players have already played the other half or are just about to.
(There is also the option to play them in a race setup, with one team in each room; while that sounds fun, my guess would be that most enthusiasts would prefer the sequential setup over the competitive one.)
Where Utopia is sleek and full of electronics, Dystopia is much more gritty and hands-on not just in appearance but also in puzzle style. Which of this pair of games you prefer will depend on your tastes, and whether you like high-tech minimalism or a more physical game. Dystopia is in that sense the more old-fashioned of the two, but personally I tend to prefer physical mechanisms and would give it the edge over Utopia. However, clearly the right thing to do is to play them both in combination.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.