Yesterday, I posted about the “in-person game” winners of the Top Escape Rooms Project. In 2020, though, there was a new addition to the awards: the online category. In some ways, this new award is more interesting for the average enthusiast, because you can actually play most of the rooms, whereas the in-person games are scattered around the globe and would require a small fortune to visit.
The other nice thing about the online list, from a purely personal point of view, is that three UK rooms made it in. It’s great to see some of the local companies get their moment in the spotlight. In fact, the USA and the UK stole the show with nine out of ten of the awards and only the Ukraine preventing them from shutting out the rest of the world.
#1 – PURSUIT OF THE ASSASSIN ARTIST – OMESCAPE
I really struggled to name my favourite online game, but this was certainly one of the contenders. As will become a bit of a theme with the games that did well, Omescape had taken advantage of the online format to do something that wouldn’t really have worked in person: a clever mechanic that added an extra layer to both the story and the puzzling side of the experience. In fact, this was probably the virtual game where I most enjoyed the puzzle-side of the experience, with one particularly standing out because of its originality, subtlety, multi-stagedness (that’s a word, right?) fun implementation and link to the overall theme.
In the game, your GM/avatar is a detective who’s infiltrating the artist assassin’s home with an aim to bring him to justice. You’ll meet the assassin inside the game, which gives the opportunity both for some set scenes and for some high-pressure interactions. For me, while they were a little shorter than I’d have liked, they added some welcome mid-game pressure to keep our adrenaline levels up. In fact, this game excels at having important moments throughout – from the very start of the game right through its core and right up to (hopefully!) the successful apprehension of the assassin.
While it definitely enhances the experience, the use of two actors in one game contributes to the one downside of the experience: the high price. At 180 USD, it’s more expensive than most in-person experiences, and whether or not you play this game probably comes down to whether that’s acceptable.
#2 – MISS JEZEBEL ONLINE – 60OUT ESCAPE ROOMS
I guess I should start with the news: if you hadn’t already guessed from the title, 60Out‘s game has a decidedly Adult theme. If you’re not entirely comfortable with that, then you should stay well clear, because they double down on the sexual side of the game.
Still with me? Well, this is another assassin investigation but with an entirely different vibe. Expect innuendo mixed with a fair amount of comedy. There’s also plenty of ad-libbing from the actors (yes – this also has two). If you’re the kind of person that likes to throw curveballs at your GMs, then this is definitely a game you’ll enjoy, because they’ll take it and run with it. The puzzles aren’t up there with the Assassin Artist, but they’re still fun and never get in the way of the experience. The set design felt a little more tired, but that was offset by having a “Goldilocks” amount of actor interaction: plenty of dedicated puzzling time but, when you did encounter the actor, it was long enough to make sure it had a little depth. The one thing I felt was that the endgame was a little lacking. Perhaps that was our team not knowing how to finish the experience, but it felt a little like it fizzled out rather than finishing with a bang…
It’s another expensive game – 125 USD to 215 USD depending on team size. For me, that price per person was just a bit too high but, if you’ve got a group of people who’ll enjoy and throw themselves into the experience, then it’s probably worth that premium. Note that it’s currently not taking bookings but will re-open in early February.
#3 – VIRTUAL EXORCIST – EMERGENCY EXIT
Emergency Exit is a small UK company that had previously had very little exposure outside the North West of England. The Virtual Exorcist shot them on to the international scene when they decided to go all-in for their online experience. This is probably the game that felt like the most natural experience of the top 10 for me, with the documentary style of introduction: there’s a camera person in the room as well as your GM, which means that you really feel like you’re having a much more natural conversation with them. For me, that made it easier to joke with the GM, which allowed me to get more out of the experience.
Of all the virtual games I’ve played during lockdown, this is my favourite. It may not have the best set or puzzles, but it created the most immersive experience. Aside from the GM interactions, a big part of that was well delivered recorded cut-scenes, which allowed them to layer on special effects that most games didn’t come close to, even though the interactions in the room were far less high tech. The puzzles were solid: enjoyable and, while not particularly standing out, they also didn’t get in the way.
One thing that made me slightly nervous about the game was the idea that it would be horror but, honestly, I wouldn’t even describe this as scary. If you’re of a nervous disposition, I still think you could play this game without any problems. The other great thing about Emergency Exit games is their price point – £80 (regardless of team size) put them at a significantly lower price than the rest of the top 5.
#4 – THE BEAST – EMERGENCY EXIT
I guess, if you’re going to miss out on the top 3 placings, then being knocked out by your other game is the way to do it. There’s not much to add to the previous review – there’s a very similar setup with a GM, camera person and cut scenes. For me, this was weaker than their first installment. While the game was longer (lasting up to 90 minutes), I found the ending was a lot less solid – given their love of cut scenes, I really expected them to finish the story solidly, but it felt like it lost some of its momentum right at the death. Overall, though, it was still a very fun and compelling experience that built well on their first outing. Reflecting the slightly longer run time, this game is a little more expensive at £100 per team.
#5 – THE VANISHING ACT REMOTE – LOCURIO
I can’t comment on this game (I’ve got it booked for early next year!) other than to say that the in-person game is highly rated, Locurio is well known for its attention to detail and they didn’t just launch immediately but took their time to create the experience. I’m confident it will be a great virtual game.
#6 – THE TRUTH ABOUT EDITH – MAD GENIUS ESCAPES
Mad Genius‘s The Truth About Edith is an unusual game. It’s certainly not a traditional virtual escape room (if, indeed, such a thing exists). It’s predominantly an audio interaction with the host. You don’t explore a room but get sent off to complete different challenges, which vary hugely. At times, it felt like an ARG-style, search-the-internet sleuthing game. At others, it felt like it had simply taken paper puzzles and put them online. Part of it felt like an online computer puzzle game. Another part felt like a multi-player version of the co-operative computer game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. Finally, part of it was immersive theatre.
So yes, it was a bit of a smörgåsbord of entertainment, but one that I enjoyed. If you like variety, this should definitely be on your playlist and, at $100 for four connections, it’s on the cheaper side of the virtual rooms in the top ten.
#7 – AGENT VENTURE MISSION THREE: B.A.D SIDE OF THE MOON – THE ADVENTURE IS REAL
Most of the games in the top 10 struck me as universally fun (assuming you liked the theme!), but this one from Agent Venture is much more polarising. In fact, had this not been part of a series of games, I’m pretty confident it wouldn’t have been rated so highly. Those people who didn’t like the style undoubtedly played episode one and then gave up, so only the people who were really into this experience would have made it to the third, and apparently best, installment. I’ve only played episode one, but I found it a really interesting game.
First off, each person is given a different role. You have access to different information and must complete very specific tasks to help the team escape. I was in the role of Hacker, which meant I was tasked with more conventional puzzles. Others had the role of navigator, communicator or researcher, and that led them down different routes. It’s something I’ve seen people attempt in physical escape rooms without success because it’s too easy for people to share info, but there’s a more natural barrier here which holds up well. On the other hand, I found the hacker puzzles were a little repetitive and, unlike in a conventional game, I couldn’t share them out. For me, that made this game weaker from a conventional puzzle point of view, although that was made up for by the next point…
Unusually, there isn’t a single path through their escape room. I think that pretty much every stage we experienced had two distinct paths to success, which meant that not only did we have to communicate well but we had to make decisions where there wasn’t a “right” answer. That added an edge to the game, where we were making decisions without full information and genuinely worrying about whether they would be right.
Finally, it’s another audio experience. Indeed, you never get any video here, just a GM performing all the voices of the different characters you meet.
So, is this a game I’d recommend? Yes. If you like intense challenges, then it’s definitely worth playing. If you want something that you know and love as an escape room, though, then look elsewhere. The good news is that it’s just £10 per person, which is ridiculously good value if you do enjoy it!
#8 – CONDEMNED 2 ONLINE – NORCAL ESCAPE CO.
I never played this game, and it’s no longer available.
#9 – PROJECT AVATAR: FIRST MISSION – LEGENDARY QUESTS
While you can no longer play this mission, Project Avatar lives on with its sequel, Stalker, which, in my opinion, is even better.
It’s worth saying, before we go any further, that you may not consider these escape rooms. The games are a little more puzzle-light and search-heavy. The fact that this didn’t detract hugely from the experience should tell you just how engaging we found the rest. The addition of the significant search element allows wider team engagement by making it possible to spot objects over Zoom but requiring focus from your team.
The stand-out feature of this room is the feeling that you’re in a first-person computer game. The avatar keeps their hands in the sort of place that you’d expect, there are power-ups to boost your health, and there’s an overlay that allows them to add a little extra polish to the room. I say “room”, but there’s a huge amount of space to explore, which you slowly unlock and investigate. There’s just enough backtracking to give you a sense of orientation while still getting the maximum feeling of novelty.
Something that I felt was key to this experience was that, even when a teammate was controlling the avatar, I really enjoyed watching the scene unfold. The avatar threw in funny moments all the way through, which had me laughing out loud. At €100 for a team of four, I think their new game is reasonably priced, especially for enthusiasts since you’re all but guaranteed to get your full hour of play.
#10 – VIRTUAL X-CAPER – AGENT NOVEMBER
Last but by no means least in the TERPECA award-winning games was Virtual X-Caper. Agent November have been running in-person outdoor games for a long time, which means that they already have experience of being an active part of their games. That showed with their ability to judge their interactions perfectly through the room, throwing in humour where it helped but leaving us to get on with solving the game when that was better. One aspect of the game that I really enjoyed was a feature that allowed the GM to laugh at, and/or congratulate, the team during the game and discuss the highs and lows at the end – I don’t want to spoil that element, but it’s the kind of attention to detail that differentiates normal games from award-winning ones.
The weakest part of the experience is the set – this felt like a normal London flat with little done to create an exciting immersive space. That was disappointing at first, but it soon faded into the backdrop as we got engaged with the plentiful puzzles and humour. They were good, varied puzzles that required a good amount of discussion among the team and never left me frustrated. The interaction with the GM filled any lulls between puzzles, and generally the hour whizzed past.
At £14 per person, this is another bargain of a game and well worth playing, especially for small teams. There’s also the rumour of a new experience out in February.