Online, Oct 2021
Over lockdown, Mystery Mansion Regina established a reputation for their impressive avatar games, including their Sleepyman horror trilogy, so a pop-up avatar game for Halloween was one to catch. Though the announcement contained the curious detail that apparently they’d got someone else to design this game, and their own gamemasters hadn’t seen it yet..? However, you might guess that there’s some blurring of the line between reality and fiction going on here – this game starts the world-building before you’ve even logged on. This is one of those games where you might be better off playing with no advance information, so if you haven’t played it and grab one of the few remaining slots, consider at this point whether you want to read on!
The Haunt is set in Mystery Mansion’s venue – which of course is where it is actually located, an effect much like sitting down to read a book that begins, “As you settle into your chair and start reading…”. It’s a premise that plays with the remote set up to blur the boundaries of the game and create an illusion of reality. It’s obvious enough what they’re doing, but the tongue-in-cheek immersion was a lot of fun.
Being set in their actual venue, it wanders in and out of the sets for their other escape games, and if you’ve played those you may recognise rooms. At points our host would tell us, don’t worry about that, it’s just a puzzle from the such-and-such game I run – which is a pretty unique way to deal with what would otherwise be ghost puzzles.
I don’t want to spoil details, but the spooky story plays with the remote format in several creatively clever ways to build tension and uncertainty. I loved a particular off-the-wall puzzle, and thought the third act innovation was brilliantly different. The use of Telescape is also smart – the game doesn’t particularly need an inventory system in the usual sense, but adds in digital elements that complement what’s happening in the main window.
Different teams vary wildly in what they find frightening, though it’s obviously hard to get scared when safely on the other end of a Zoom call. The Haunt has the potential to get under your skin, but I’d describe our experience of it as amusing-scary, more likely to make you smile than jump out of your seat.
As a puzzle game, veterans will find it on the easy side, and not just linear but somewhat guided, in a way that detracted a little from our feeling of agency. I’m not sure that’s a flaw so much as a design decision to make it a little less of an escape room and a little more of an interactive theatre experience. On that basis I enjoyed it a great deal – a Halloween treat from a company comfortable enough with avatar games that they can innovate with the content even while the premise gently parodies the format. I’m posting this review on the game’s final day, so probably it’s now closed anyhow; though if you’re reading this today and it’s left you keen to play, you might just still be able to grab a slot.