Online, Aug 2020
There’s a lot of variation between escape rooms across different companies as countries, but also a lot of commonality, shared conventions that form a fuzzy but identifiable genre. Real Escape Game – the modern incarnation of the company SCRAP that played a significant role in inventing the whole concept – give an impression of a company that’s experimenting and doing its own thing with little regard to the rest of the industry. I’m not certain how much of that reflects Japanese tastes and how much is their own house style, but either way it results in some rough edges and also some memorably different games.
The premise for Abandoned Laboratory is mainstream enough: you’re trapped in the long-forgotten workshop of a deceased professor, and need to unravel the secrets of his inventions to escape. Unlike their Alien Research game, this is a full avatar format with a livestream of a physical room; although the camera spends a lot of the game stationary, so it might be better classified as a tabletop/diorama game.
The most immediate way in which it struck me as unusual was in the puzzle style. SCRAP also run ‘hall’ style games where multiple teams solve in parallel a copy of the same puzzles, each at their own table. Abandoned Laboratory is much more immersive and story-driven than that, but many of the puzzles would be well-suited for that format. You may find that you spend minutes at a time working on puzzles provided on web pages (accessed via QR code), with minimal interaction with the avatar or the game environment.
In contrast to that rather dry, academic solving style, other parts of the game expect you to follow the story and pick up on small details that might be considered overly subtle by typical escape room standards, or even to synthesise disparate snippets of information provided throughout the game to spot how to deal with your predicament.
It’s interesting and involving in ways that I’m deliberately not describing, for spoiler reasons. It shares with their Alien Research game a notable variance in play style at difference stages. There’s a lot to like and also plenty of ways you might be put off it. This is one I’d recommend most to players who want something a bit different, a bit novel – or just if you’ve played and liked other games they’ve made.