Lisbon, Nov 2017
Safarka Escape’s The Research is a curious, surprising game that we booked into on last-minute impulse and that turned out to be something of a find. The backstory involves a request from a friend to break into his rival’s flat to recover a set of stolen precious stones, and it got off to a good start when we received pre-game instructions that were in-character and which told us how to get into the target flat starting with the street entrance.
As that suggests, this game aims for immersion. There’s a lot I’ll avoid discussing here for spoiler reasons, with some fundamentals about how the game works that took us by surprise, and the game was the better for it. But it takes place in a fairly ordinary flat, and while the flat may be that of a possibly crazed scientist, its appearance is fairly mundane in other respects.
Although as a result the decor may not be the most exciting, the puzzle components and clues are carefully designed to be naturalistic, presented as the workings of the flat’s owner. While that meant there was sometimes an excess of information, and therefore a risk of accidental red herrings, it also helped make the game feel much more convincing. The game operator also tended to provide some subtle nudges (or occasionally less subtle nudges) to keep us pointed in the right direction.
It had some rough edges. Although there wasn’t much searching required, one critical clue was hidden in a place I’m sure I’d never have thought to look without a hint. More generally, the volume of available information means teams may be prone to go off on wild goose chases near the end of the game in particular, at least until the gamemaster nudges them back on track. One solution mechanism was reused as part of more than one puzzle, which is a little inelegant but worked fine. And players with a science background may want to nitpick a couple of chemistry-related design decisions.
For me, those were comfortably outweighed by some moments of genius. I particularly liked one idea that was used as a way to map between particular numbers and particular words. The game actually provides two separate ways to do that; apparently the original mechanism was too hard for most teams. But both approaches remain in the game, with the original harder system becoming something of an Easter egg, which is not required but which adds to the aesthetics of the game design.
Another sequence was an on-theme highlight. Even though it was time-consuming and we could have easily hacked our way past, we completed it in the intended fashion because it’d have been a terrible waste not to.
More than any specific puzzle though, the game managed to be fun, original and involving right from the start – for the points above but even more for the bits I’m deliberately avoiding talking about. I’ve played many much slicker or more visually impressive games, but it felt fresh and interesting in a way that’s worth more than expensive props.