Zwolle, Jan 2020
When a game comes highly recommended I tend to add it into the schedule without further question, without worrying about little details such as the theme or story. This can backfire, which is how I found myself explaining to a team who weren’t keen on horror games – and specifically not horror games involving live actors – that we were about to do a performance-driven game where the poster showed a doctor with blood dripping off his hands. Fortunately all players seemed to have a good time regardless.
The doctor in question is the menacing Dr. de Wit, into whose clutches we’d foolishly placed ourselves. (‘Scary psych ward’ is a setting sometimes badly handled in a way that entrenches prejudice against mental health problems; some aspects of this game could fairly be criticised on those grounds, but the game’s antagonist is the manipulative and evil authority figure not the patients.)
As well as actor interaction, nervous players should expect separation and constraints – implemented with imagination and variety, and also a proper care to emergency release procedures, the explanation of which was delivered without any break in the role being performed. Inevitably there’s a risk that some players may be left waiting on their teammates to progress, or constrained longer than intended, if the team takes longer to solve particular steps; though I noticed the venue was quick to start hinting specifically for the puzzles needed to make sure all players could take part properly.
A possible source of frustration is that The Experiment provides plenty of four digit codes with multiple places to try them in, and in some cases the codes are deliberate fakes – though naturally you’ll go round fruitlessly trying them everywhere anyhow, just to be sure.
The Experiment’s extended 75 min game length is primarily to account for the inclusion of theatrical sections. Even so, in that time you progress through an array of different rooms and environments with varying styles and objectives at each point. I wouldn’t call it a pretty game as such, but it does a very effective job of recreating the stark, bare decor of an unlovely institution.
Plenty of the puzzles were presented as puzzles and codes that didn’t particularly have an in-setting reason to be there. Nonetheless, there’s a strong sense of story throughout, provided by the initial setup and a constant sense that you’re in danger of being caught. I particularly liked the the way the game ends. Escape games are thankfully less and less often about ‘escaping’, but The Experiment is an exception, where the primary aim is simply to get out, and the way to do that is superb, both dramatically tense and amusing.
While there was plenty to enjoy in the puzzles, the appeal of The Experiment is firmly on the drama and the immersion of the game, as well as the expansive set that really leaves you feeling lost in the bowels of a hostile sanatorium. If you like some theatre and interaction along with the puzzling, and don’t mind the darker tone of the game, then you should love The Experiment.