Outside the room
After playing four games at Escapologic, I was finally starting to feel like I had the measure of the place. The games are different – not simple observational rooms but equally not packed with logic puzzles. Story-heavy – you get the feeling there’s more story in the creator’s mind than what is told in the room itself – and with an emphasis on physical interactions with the room. The last two games we had to play were Howitz and 13utcher. Darker rooms which might cause worry to players of a nervous disposition. First up was Howitz, where we were given an intro by Matt, another of the great hosts we had over the weekend. As we’d started to get to know the staff a bit better, we’d also started throwing them a bit off track during the briefings but, to his credit, he took it all in his stride and, well, probably paid us back during the room…
A tragic loss. A happy family destroyed. A desperate man, irresistibly drawn to dark forces. As the door slams shut behind you, you’re trapped in the world of Eli Howitz, an enigmatic figure whose gut-wrenching story pervades every millimetre of the room. Just what happened in Eli’s toy shop? You’ve heard the rumours. You know the horror stories off by heart. But how much truth is there in the police report? Can there really be ritualistic carvings on the walls? They say there were glowing symbols, and toys that whirred, clicked, and span on their own… At the very heart of Howitz lies a truth too terrible to imagine. Dare you uncover it? Enter Eli’s world, and discover the man behind the myth. But don’t tarry too long, or you could become just another plaything for the black magic that holds this room in its grip…
Inside the room
As the description says, Howitz is set in a disused toy shop, so you’d expect there to be a few toys around the place, and there are. Well, to be honest, a few doesn’t begin to describe it. This room was packed with toys and was probably the searchiest room I’ve ever played. If you’re not a fan of red herrings and searching, then, at least for the first part of the game, you’re going to find yourself incredibly frustrated. That’s made worse by the room feeling fairly grimy and dusty. Over the weekend that was a bit of a theme of the Escapologic games – here in the abandoned toy shop, the workshops of the 13utcher and Contraption, the subterranean Cryptic or the disaster site of E.P.I. Centre. Always on theme but there’s a balance here of matching the theme for immersive purposes and making the game an enjoyable place to be. Combining searching and a grubby room was a big turn-off for me. That said, if you ignored the fact you had to search it and looked at the space as a whole, it looked impressive, with a vast array of children’s toys around the space really conveying the theme.
Fortunately, that’s not the whole story and, as time goes on, searching takes a back seat and puzzles come to the front. Perhaps it’s through luck, perhaps it’s through choice, but that had an interesting pay-off for me. At the beginning of the game, you’re scattered players, exploring the landscape to work out what’s important and what isn’t but, as the game progresses, you get pulled closer and closer together to experience the end game as a team. The finale to the game (and it’s really a series of finales) had us crowded together actively engaged in a series of linear puzzles. To be honest, with four of us that was pretty crowded but, in essence, these are team games and, as long as you’re good at rotating who has primary access to the puzzles, you’ll have plenty of fun.
That final series of puzzles was much more what I’d come to expect from Escapologic – hands on, physical puzzles with a little bit of humour thrown in. I was fortunate enough to be centrally placed for one of the biggest and best of those puzzles, but there were a fair few to go around at the end.
Throughout the game, the host make good use of his behind-the-scenes access to create small but fun jump scares. If you’re of a nervous disposition, you may find this a little unpleasant, but for most people they’ll just ramp up the tension a little and, maybe, occasionally having you swearing at your game host (Matt – I hope you didn’t take it too personally). The creepiness of the game stems more from the story than from what happens in the room.
We escaped after 31 minutes with no clues (and, in the process, set the record for the room).
This was probably my least favourite of the six Escapologic rooms that I played over the weekend, but that’s still a pretty high bar. If you’re not a searcher, go into this game with your eyes open, knowing that you’ll spend a fair amount of time at the beginning turning over the shop before moving on to the more fun part of the game. Of course, if you *are* a searcher, then you’ll be in your element.
The nature of the end game makes me feel that Howitz is best played with three players, but you may prefer four to get that initial searching out of the way early on – each to their own.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.