Outside the room
Bewilder Box have a pretty impressive reputation in the industry, with games that draw on a little bit of ’80s nostalgia, sci-fi stories and a large helping of humour. After the success of their first room, they’ve finally opened Judgement D.A.V.E. in another Brighton Pub, the Brunswick. It’s very much the same setup as their first game: you arrive at the pub and order a drink, and they’ll collect you from the bar at your allotted hour (with your drink if you want). There are clear advantages to that, with ample waiting space, refreshments available while you wait and not feeling like you’re hanging around if you turn up a little early. Whether encouraging people to have a quick drink beforehand is a good idea is another matter…
As with their first outing, you’re greeted in character, with plenty of humour to the introduction. By the time you’ve entered the game, they’ve already transported you to the Bewilder Box world, where you’re up against the Masternet 9000, a rogue A.I. As with their first adventure, they’ve got someone involved with the project who’ll bring some excitement to those of us of a certain age – this time Normal Lovett, who played Holly in Red Dwarf.
The Masternet 9000 (a rogue artificial intelligence) has staged a mutiny of the Bewilder Box Initiative. As per Dr Wilder’s orders, you and your team must journey deep into its cognitive training facility solving puzzles and utilising advanced field equipment to stop him before he escapes. Are you ready to use your mind and save humankind? Is your grey matter up to the task? Is The Masternet good, or is he bad? You have 60 minutes to find out… good luck.
Inside the room
Once inside the facility, it’s an impressive set where I really did feel like I’d left the rest of the world behind. They’ve done a good job of conveying the futuristic sci-fi theme, not just through the use of technology in parts of the game but with the decoration and props. In particular, they’ve managed to get a good balance between red herrings and set dressing. My only criticism is that, if you look closely, you may see parts of the set that are just starting to degrade. It wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it slightly damaged the immersion in a game in which it’s the number one priority.
Talking of immersion, throughout the game you’ll have interactions with the Masternet 9000 as well as with the clue system D.A.V.E., who’ll be familiar to anyone who played the original Bewilder Box experience. That’s a major part of the game, because this isn’t just about solving puzzles: it’s about letting the story flow over you, understanding the personalities of the two A.I.s and enjoying the humour in each. You really do get a feeling of character in a way that few games achieve. In some sense, it’s quite a strong storyline, although I feel they could have put more content in the game to help you understand what has led to the current situation and the consequences if you don’t succeed.
There’s plenty of puzzle content, and their puzzle-craft has clearly improved since their first outing. I’d be scraping the barrel if I tried to point at weaknesses – perhaps puzzles where it wasn’t clear when you had all the props and so ended up trying to solve them too early. There are plenty of strong puzzles, though and, while there was some searching, it didn’t dominate the game or cause frustration. It’s well structured, with sets of puzzles that you need to complete in stages, allowing players to work independently but regularly forcing them back into a single team to finish the last puzzle or two in a set. As you’d expect in a sci-fi room, there are plenty of tech props used in the puzzles, and they are used well – and not (too!) gratuitously – to enhance the experience.
For me, there were two puzzles that really stood out. One involved plenty of communication, some tech and physical interaction with the room to create a puzzle that was conceptually simple but genuinely challenging to complete quickly. The second was in the finale: a puzzle with the right level of complexity and plenty of communication that pulled the experience together nicely.
The game doesn’t have the largest footprint, but they’ve used it well to create a feeling of exploration as you slowly make your way towards the finale and your showdown with the Masternet 9000. By the time you get to the end, you’re likely to be short of time, and that final puzzle is, in some ways, cruel in its level of difficulty. That delivers a real sense of satisfaction when it is overcome, though, and it’s followed by a final simple step to end the game that ensures the adrenaline is pumping as you finish your quest.
We escaped in around 43 minutes, I think, with a couple of clues, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s less of a sense of time in this than in most games. Instead of a countdown clock there’s an upload bar (the Masternet 9000 is uploading itself to the internet) with a granularity of 10%, so you only know your time accurately to the six-minute mark.
I thoroughly enjoyed Judgement Dave, with its humour, strong characters, sci-fi theme/decoration and good puzzles. It’s a great game because, in my opinion, it will appeal not only to enthusiasts with its stronger-than-average puzzles but also to first-timers, who will be quickly put at ease by its humour, and the cluing system makes it feel like it’s just part of the experience rather than like you’re getting help.
We played as a team of three and got out reasonably comfortably. Given the pricing structure, I’d probably suggest that a team of four enthusiasts represents the best value, but it’s very much doable with fewer. I suspect going higher than four will get a bit crowded at times and would only be worth it for beginners.
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.