Online, Sep 2020
Having produced quite an array of online escape games since March, the remarkably prolific Panic Room are now bringing out a range of escape game puzzle books, of which Isabelle is one. This format makes me realise there’s a hazy dividing line between a book-based game and a print-and-play game that the company prints and posts to you – the finished product here is a spiral bound book, but I played a pre-press self-print version that worked equally well. Note that some pages are intended to be cut while playing, so this is a one-shot game unless you go take pains to play it without damaging or marking it.
This is a horror theme, and it’s blood-spattered pages draw inspiration from a dozen different supernatural horror movies. Isabelle is a creepy doll, in the spooky attic of a haunted house in the infamous town of Amityville, and – as you’re told in the intro letter and video – it’s possessed by not one but nine demons. To successfully exorcise it you’ll need to discover the names of all nine. Broadly, each name corresponds to one puzzle, and this is a major difference to The Panic Room’s online games – where those tend to be strictly linear, Isabelle lets you start anywhere and tackle the puzzles in any order, or split them across multiple players. Of course, it’s tricky for different people to work on different pages of the same book at once – but this is a once-and-done game, and you could simply remove pages from the binding to share them out.
Mainly because of this structure, Isabelle is a little more adapted for enthusiasts than the company’s other games, in that beginners may initially struggle to know where to start. But then there is of course a hint system provided online for anyone who’s stuck. You will in any case want an internet connection to play, and not solely for the hints and the webpage where you enter your answers – the game isn’t self-contained, meaning you may need to draw on the wider resources of the internet to complete it.
Puzzle hunt players may be disappointed that the game ends once you’ve correctly gathered the nine names you’re looking for, without a big final metapuzzle. But there’s plenty to get stuck into even so; and the pricing is attractive, at a similar level to many self-print and online games, but for a physical product. I’d put Isabelle as one of my favourite two games so far from the Panic Room stable, in particular for the non-linear design that drops you in the deep end and lets you figure out how to swim.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.