The 13th Element is probably the game that sat on my to do list for the longest time. It had opened over two years earlier, just after we’d made our first visit to Escape Quest, but I’d struggled to get my team together for the return visit in spite of continually hearing from fellow enthusiasts about how fantastic it was. I’d heard tell of a science-themed game with a strong structure and plenty of puzzles, so I was excited that I’d finally be able to find out what it was all about.
Inside the room
The audio introduction to the game comes in the form of a mission briefing from scientists once you’re inside the room. It turns out that this experience is very much in mission-based format, with relatively little by way of story once the game begins. You do get a little colour about the inner workings of the laboratory, but nothing that has a huge impact on the story. What’s interesting about the mission is just how highly structured it turns out to be, with 12 central elements forming the core of the game.
It may not expand much on the story, but what it does do is deliver fun puzzles. I’ve commented in the past about how Escape Quest don’t favour technology in their games, but I was pleased to see that, while this room still used plenty of padlocks, there were a few places where technology was used to good effect: it gave variety to the experience and felt particularly fitting in the high-tech laboratory where the game is set.
As usual, I enjoyed a couple of physical challenges that were on offer but, whatever your puzzle preferences, I think you’ll find enough variety here to excite you. In fact, that variety was almost forced upon them by the structure of the room, where repeating puzzles would probably have been more noticeable than in a typical experience. As we’ve come to expect with Escape Quest, the puzzles were logical, with only one solve in the game where we weren’t confident of our answer. Ironically, that was right at the start, when we were expecting easy puzzles to settle us in. The other aspect where the game veered off the straight and narrow was where multiple puzzles used something similar for clues (such as colour), which resulted in a small amount of confusion when we came up with plausible solutions for puzzles by using entirely the wrong props.
The 13th Element set isn’t one that I’d describe as beautiful, but it absolutely is striking. The way the room and puzzles are laid out gives a great sense of anticipation and, when I entered the space, I struggled not to jump around trying to solve them all. Indeed, that’s the worst thing you can do, because they certainly aren’t easy solves. In other games, entering a sub-room of the experience gives an element of excitement and discovery, but here they’ve delivered a very similar effect when solving individual puzzles.
For me, the game should have ended once we’d solved that set of parallel puzzles or soon afterwards, but I found they dragged it out just a little too long with a gimmicky finale. It was a perfectly reasonable sequence, but I felt just a little disappointed that the room returned to more standard escape room fare in the last few minutes. Still, they managed to build the game up well to that point and create an intense finish that guarantees a decent adrenaline rush to see you out the door.
We escaped with five minutes remaining having taken a couple of clues.
13th Element is a strong game that will appeal to people who like varied, good quality puzzles, especially if they like working in parallel with their team. It’s a very good example of a science/laboratory-based game with a different feel to most experiences of that type.
We played as a four and, to be honest, I wouldn’t go any lower than that. Granted, we got stuck for a very long time on a couple of challenges, but I still think this is a tough game where that extra person will be valuable. Plus, with such a parallel game, there’s plenty to go round!