Plymouth, Jun 2019
Having narrowly missed the chance to visit Roomsmiths on my last visit to Devon two years earlier, and having heard good things about it in the meantime, I made a point of including it on our schedule this time round. Located in the slightly rundown area around Union St. Roomsmiths is one of those venues that you may have difficulty finding – unless, of course, you actually read the instructions in the confirmation mail. Naturally we hadn’t, and ended up wandering back and forth past tyre shops and garages before spotting their sign in an upstairs window.
Purely from the name, I’d guessed The Naked Eye might be a 1930s noir theme, and initial impressions were consistent with that. Initial impressions were however entirely misleading – it was a much weirder style of game. I can’t say I finished with a clear grasp of the storyline, but that seemed a deliberate choice, to provide many suggestive fragments to build the fictional world rather than spelling out the plot.
An unusual feature of Naked Eye is the way it reuses certain elements between puzzles. That probably sounds like a design no-no, but it’s more that the room teaches its players a common set of associations, and then uses them consistently. Any potential confusion from that is entirely defused by skilful signposting. In fact, I was very impressed with the way signposting was used throughout; several moments that might otherwise throw players off track, such as expecting them to reach a solution from incomplete information, or when the flow jumps back to an earlier section, were made intuitive and natural by the use of small nudges written here and there.
Several times we discovered written clues pointing us to one or another thing that we’d already solved, meaning that several of the trickier puzzles could be solved either by having the right intuition or by careful searching, which struck me as an excellent way to fit the game to a variety of play styles. It also kept the pace up, since where we might otherwise have gotten stuck, a little persistence tended to be rewarded.
Naked Eye has a lot more going on than is immediately obvious. Its tongue-in-cheek black humour is subtle but wickedly subversive. It’s not afraid to subvert expectations and even one or two escape room conventions, and it manages to do so without being arbitrary or confusing. I suspect it was put together on a relatively low budget, but punches well above its weight. If I had one frustration it was with my own bad timing – in visiting just a couple of weeks too early to be able to try the venue’s second game while I was there.