Online, Oct 2020
Room Escape Southend may be the most prolific UK creator that I’ve yet to visit in person; they’ve been operating for well over four years and swap out their game designs for new ones every few months. They’re also one of the few UK companies that have embraced the play-from-home remote avatar style of gameplay, with some converted physical designs and some games build specifically for the format. The Field is one of the latter, a short-term Halloween pop-up game that only exists for remote play and which boasts the selling point that it’s actually outdoors in a Field.
Our initial attempt to play was stymied by technical problems, but then getting a wifi connection to work reliably from a field seems likely to be a challenge, and our rescheduled second attempt went more smoothly.
I was braced for (or eagerly expecting?) a scary horror game. After all, this is a Halloween game where the premise is that you’re camping out in the countryside and your friends have vanished one… by one… by one. Of course, it’s pretty challenging to create a frightening atmosphere when the players are sitting in their cosy living rooms watching through a screen. But it didn’t help that our host introduced the plotline with the matter-of-fact tone you might use when explaining to your spouse that you bought brown bread because the shop had sold out of white.
Still, it’s set in a genuine field, at night, and the handheld camera and torchlight go some way to create a Blair Witch Project feel to the game. A Telescape inventory system provides a schematic of the game area, which perhaps reduces immersion a bit but helps a great deal in avoiding a painful search through the grassy gloom. The physical game area turned out to be quite small, smaller than the map picture suggested. I can see that spreading the game out across too large an area could make it confusing for players, but since we had the map a bigger space could have given more of a sense of exploration, and taken better advantage of the setting.
You’re mostly looking for codes of different lengths and types to try in the various padlocks you can find. Viewing clue items would have been difficult by torchlight, due to contrast and glare, but the inventory system meant that wasn’t a problem. I found some of the puzzles to be on the confusing side, and it felt like we spent a while struggling with them; it was then a surprise to find we’d abruptly finished the game, with a bit over twenty minutes to spare.
The unceremonious finish and smaller amount of content balance against cheerful hosting and a distinctive setting. Also in its favour is that it’s markedly cheaper than most avatar games are at present; it’s now long since shut, but if it returns next year, keep your expectations tempered and enjoy it for the low-budget outdoors feel.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.