Harlow, Jul 2017
The Panic Room in Harlow is a branch of the company of that name in Gravesend. One of their games is shared between the two locations, and other games are occasionally moved from one branch to the other. Having already played their eponymous Panic Room game in Gravesend, on this visit I started with The Witch House.
The game’s setting is a haunted room in an old house, where the remains of a 17th century witch are rumoured to lie hidden, and where a recent visitor has complained of strange and sanity-cracking dreams. Your task is to find the witch’s remains before the clock strikes midnight. Astute players may notice both a connection to a short story by a certain author, and also some small tie-ins to one of the Panic Room games in Gravesend, though recognising these is in no way necessary for playing the game. The atmosphere is creepy but doesn’t set out to scare players.
I would describe the room as superficially very well decorated. That is, it (for example) achieves the appearance of wood-panelled walls with patterned wallpaper, which doesn’t stand up to close inspection but as long as you’re focused on the game itself, is effective at creating a suitable atmosphere.
While there’s plentiful use of padlocks, and puzzles that make no pretence of being anything other than puzzles, the occult theme is used well. Partway through we grasped that the puzzles were tied together with an overarching framework, which didn’t make them any easier but which helped turn them from a disparate collection into a coherent progression. What I most enjoyed about the room though was the use of some (more or less) natural objects, which felt hugely appropriate for the chamber of to a long-dead witch. Actually, perhaps even better was a clever use of technology to bring a much stronger narrative element into the game (which, predictably, we utterly failed to notice until a hint pointed us towards it).
It’s not a dark room, but it was dimly lit, enough to feel too dark in some of the room’s corners. One of the locks was a tiny cryptex that, with some letters faded from use, proved almost impossible to make out for some of our team.
The Witch House exhibits the same solid design and effective decor of the Gravesend games. It uses a smaller space, and a couple of minor frustrations like the cryptex means I put this one slightly lower on the rating scale than those. But that’s comparing it to a very high standard, and it’s a satisfying blend of gently creepy atmospherics and well-themed puzzles, with a couple of nice touches of tech and story.