Online, Mar 2021
When I booked into The Kindling Hour, I knew it was the company’s third game in this style, but hadn’t twigged how closely connected the narrative was. It is in fact the third part in a trilogy that tells a single connected story, and although it worked fine as a stand-alone game, it would be better to play the earlier parts without knowledge of how the story ends. And that’s relevant since it was good enough that it left me interested in trying the earlier parts.
Swamp Motel’s games exemplify the ARG genre – that is, Alternate Reality Games which try hard to create the illusion that their fictional world is real. Gameplay may involve sending emails or texts, digging for information on various sites that exist independently of the game, and joining video calls where you may not be quite sure if you’re talking to a live person or a prerecorded video.
I won’t say too much about the plot since it could be a spoiler for the earlier games, but it’s based in London with a nefarious corporation and a cast of characters whose allegiances aren’t always clear. From start to end everything is in-character and part of the game, perhaps with the exception of the initial recap videos that summarised events in the previous two parts.
The style is intended to be somewhere in the ambiguous area between escape game and immersive theatre, and I’d put it a little closer to the latter. There are plenty of puzzles, with an emphasis on investigation, but there’s a clear breadcrumb trail to follow and I’m not certain whether there’s an actual ‘lose’ outcome – I suspect the more the players struggle, the more the host steps in with guidance.
I was pleasantly surprised at how professional and polished the game was. Acting and videography is very slick, and the cast slipped in and out of our discussions in a way that felt very natural, never breaking the illusion of the game world. And although it’s more experiential than puzzle-driven, I had no particular complaints about the puzzling either – it was solidly designed throughout. With a game time of comfortably over an hour, and since Swamp Motel have switched to private per-team pricing, the value for money is good too. So definitely worth catching – though since there’s a good chance you’ll want to play more than one episode, best to start at the beginning instead of diving in at the end like I did!