Exeter, Jun 2019
The Shadow Darkens is a sequel and replacement for Red House’s earlier game, The Scarlet Shadow. Both follow the adventures and tribulations of their noir detective Jack Armstrong, and a certain magical mask. The earlier game had you searching Jack’s office to rescue him after he’d been kidnapping; this one has you searching Jack’s office to clear his name after he’s been framed.
It’s not only the premise that’s similar. On entering the room we found it so familiar we briefly worried we’d booked into a game we’d already played. In fact there’s no overlap between puzzles in The Shadow Darkens and those in The Scarlet Shadow, but it’s set in the same office and uses many of the same props and decorations.
The game style also closely matches the previous game, and much of what I said about that one applies equally to The Shadow Darkens. It’s very much about narrative and style, and you have to pay attention to story and understand what’s going on if you’re going to get out, though they’ve toned down the quantity of written material you need to plough through. While less reading is no doubt a sensible decision, it also gives the game fewer opportunities in which to build its world and characters.
Game structure is broadly linear, making it a good one to play with a smaller team. Partly because of that linear structure and maybe partly because I’d already played one game in the same location, it seemed like a quite measured and non-showy game, enjoyable without being particularly distinctive.
Red House have just expanded to a second location, and my impression is that they’ve saved their more adventurous game ideas for there while sticking to a tried and tested style in Exeter. The game that The Shadow Darkens echoes was a very enjoyable one, so ‘more of the same’ is not a bad thing, although if you’ve played the other then this one will feel a bit less fresh than it would otherwise seem. And escape room standards have risen mercilessly over the last two years, meaning that while it’s a similar standard to its predecessor I’m going to rate it slightly more harshly. Even so, it’s smart, has a good sense of style and has thoroughly solid puzzle logic.