Brighton, May 2018
As any frequent visitor to Brighton knows, the Pavilion is a flamboyant and florid palace constructed with domes and minarets at a time when the British upper classes were infatuated with anything Oriental. The first game from recently opened Pier Pressure is inspired by the building, both its internal decoration and the moment in the 19th century when Queen Victoria was petitioned to sell the building to Brighton town. The storyline is a mildly exaggerated take on this historical incident, giving you an hour to find the stolen petition to save the Pavilion from demolition.
The real-life Pavilion is famously opulent inside, so sets an extremely high bar for an escape game to meet. Pier Pressure have however managed to do exactly that: stepping through the gorgeous entrance door takes you into a space that’s convincingly close to a luxurious Georgian drawing room. That goes deeper than just the initial impression, too; some of the room’s details are carefully modelled on particular furniture and decorations in the actual Pavilion, supplemented by a number of big custom puzzle items. At the same time, almost everything is there as part of the game, with very little that’s purely decorative. (It does includes more tricky searching than the uncluttered layout might suggest; I was delighted to for once defy my normal incompetence at search tasks and spot something before we even had the clue for where to look.)
Purists will be pleased to find that no padlocks are used. I have no real objection to padlocks, though they’re often used in a way that doesn’t fit the theme; and there are none to be found here, with the game instead using a combination of purely physical mechanisms and plenty of invisible sensors. Hidden electronics in games can sometimes devolve into ‘find the set of items and place them in the obvious location’, but there are some nice ideas here for tying that into the history of the Pavilion and framing the tasks in a way that makes them feel less arbitrary. Even so, all of my favourites of the many excellent puzzles and tasks in the room were zero-tech ones, including a simple but lovely large skill puzzle, a clever use of the decorations and an end-game task that I found original and very effective.
It’s a classic style of escape game, but executed with no-expense-spared build quality and a great deal of ingenuity. The attention to detail extended to an enthusiastic in-costume briefing and a feedback system for praising what teams did well – and also one of the cutest ideas for a hint system I’ve seen. It’s clear that the designers have put a lot of work into the game, and the result comes together for a lovely pleasing game that left us happily discussing our favourite moments from it for the rest of the day.