This Saturday, myself and 9 friends participated in the Real Escape Game TO. Its structure would be familiar to any avid video gamer or puzzle solver: you are in a locked room, and need to follow a series of (not obvious) clues to get out. As soon as I heard about it, I recruited friends over Facebook, and with extended friends that came to a total of 10 people. The slot we booked was for 11 people, and in my mind this was perfect, as we had one guy who knew noone – a wildcard – at least, as I fantasized about it. Probably a plant. Probably we’d have to kill him, or his surprise ability to factor large numbers would come in handy.
This review contains no spoilers for the puzzle itself. The most spoiler-y thing I talk about is some high-level strategy.
My expectations varied wildly going in. I thought they’d be so high that I would inevitably be disappointed, but I enjoyed it very much and would definitely do it again. This particular room was the first “volume” of a series of rooms the same company will be doing in the future.
My puzzle-solving lineage goes back to playing Myst and Riven in the olden days. I played a bit of Sierra games, mostly Space Quest, but that felt like less puzzle solving some times and more hunting around in pixels, or arbitrarily combining objects together. For the puzzles in The Room, it involved pen, paper and coordination.
I was curious how you could keep 11 people busy and not bored for the 1 hour we had to complete the room. We did not succeed, but we were very close. At the time we played, only 1/24 groups in Toronto had beat the room, and apparently the winning group only did with 1 minute to spare. In San Francisco, there is a duplicate of this room, and the win rate there is 18/1000. We managed to finish the big first stage about 30 minutes in, which is supposed to be quite good.
When you’re initially let into the room, it looks like a normal living room, slightly larger than an average, with an assortment of furniture, paintings, tables, books everywhere. There was nothing immediately obvious that screamed of a clue, like a disembodied head or something, except there was a door at the far side we were instructed to open. Of course, we were all hyper-actively thinking of what to do. Once we were allowed to start going, I, almost as a joke, started disassembling the piece of furniture that was immediately in front of me, and that turned out to be spot-on. The game is very well designed, staging clues from nearly immediately obvious, to much more rewarding if you try harder and look deeper. All of us were busy most of the game, either taking things apart or searching to find clues, or assembling these clues into puzzles and solving them, yielding results that would help us unlock (often literally) more puzzles.
Unlike a video game environment, there was no interactive logic puzzles, like magical levers for you to pull that created some behaviour you had to solve. The only real mechanical stoppages were things that were hard to find (i.e., hidden in furniture) or locks, the combinations for which we had to solve as part of puzzles.
Interestingly, the orientation of the items in the room did not matter, and if you rearranged the room the same puzzle could be run, as long as it was just as difficult to physically find certain clues as it was before. With 11 people moving around the room, I find it difficult to imagine how you would make alignment of objects in the room relevant. As we “processed” objects, there was the brief suggestion that we should declare a corner of a room for objects that were “finished” and had had all their clues extracted. This somewhat worked in practice, but often details were missed and having a pile like that turned out to be too strict of a rule.
I brought my GoPro and planned to record our playthrough, and edit the best bits together, in the style of Chinchilla Dave’s Skyrim playthroughs. Totally unsurprisingly, they did not let us bring in cameras or other recording devices, which is fair.
I highly recommend it. It is very hard, but there were many satisfying partial victories along the way that made it gratifying.