A Weekend in Paris: The Game

Probably the most famous of the Parisian venues, the Game have eight games tucked into the corners of a beautiful airy venue. The emphasis here is on quality, with not just great games but also real attention to the customer experience. All their games have two-hour slots in order to allow plenty of time for your arrival, greeting, briefing, playing and wrap-up. Like many of the city’s companies, they offer you a drink on arrival, and there’s absolutely no pressure to rush into the briefing. When the briefing does arrive, it’s impressive. They ask for each of your names, which they’ll often use during the experience, and they’ve clearly focused on customising the briefings for each game, which are usually given in character and often include some props.

The games were all good quality, with careful thought put into how you transition into the experience. Obviously they had better and worse games, but even their poorest were well worth a visit. Yes, there were occasional basic tropes that I’d have preferred not to see in such a high-quality venue, but they were few and far between, with the majority of puzzles being significantly more rewarding. The sets ranged from impressive to absolutely stunning. The only negative across the experience was that all the games were pretty much linear. While I don’t object to that in principle, it did mean that, with four of us, it got frustrating at times, especially if you chose the wrong puzzle to work on.

Something to bear in mind if you want to play several of their games: If you arrive early, you’ll have to wait outside; they won’t allow you to stay in the venue between games; and they’re inflexible with their schedule. You cannot play at anything other than the even hours. As enthusiasts that was a bit frustrating, but for normal players I suspect it really helps to perfect the experience, so I fully understand why they’re so rigid.

The Catacombs (4 stars)

Even before this game started, I was impressed. The Game is laid out over at least two floors, and they’ve sensibly put the Catacombs in the basement. What impressed me, though, was that, while all the other games require you to use the stairs to get downstairs, this one requires you to use the lift. How far down have you gone? Who knows…

Inside the room, it lived up to that opening, with a solid underground feel, complete with plenty of skulls to capture the catacomb vibe. This really did feel like we’d been sent down to the catacombs to explore and find some treasure. There’s more sense of exploration to the game as you transition into the catacombs proper and feel like you’re delving deeper into the subterranean space. It’s not all perfect, though, with some bits jarring a little and feeling almost gimmicky – losing some of the gravitas that the initial stages had built up.

I would like to have seen more done with the story. While there was a goal, it was a little bizarre and felt to me like they’d added it on to give you a reason to be down there. I think this game would have fared far better if there had been a cave-in that you needed to escape from rather than converting it to the quest that we played.

However, it was the puzzles where this game felt weakest. It started off with an interesting idea of having to retrieve oxygen canisters in order to extend the game. This was undoubtedly there to add some tension from early on, but I doubt they’d have ended the game early if we’d run out (they’re not fixed-duration canisters, so it’s possible that the amount of ‘oxygen’ you get is determined by how well you’re doing). In the end, I found them irrelevant – teammates would find the canisters and insert them in the machine and we’d continue along. That might have been OK if there had been some corresponding feedback, but there wasn’t, so I was oblivious to the whole thing.

The game was almost entirely linear, with perhaps a couple of times where two puzzles could be solved in parallel. With four of us in the space, that left us often getting in each other’s way, which wasn’t helped by a relatively constricted environment (as you might expect in a catacomb theme). A couple of the puzzles involved physical interactions, one of which I was impressed by, but beyond that there was little to excite. Several of the puzzles were disappointing given the brand’s reputation and the other games we saw at the venue. One was almost insoluble due to darkness. Another combined two dull escape room tropes implemented in a particular tedious form. The final issue was something that I found utterly unforgivable: within the game is a combination lock next to which is a big sign showing a lock and the word STOP. Naturally, we all decided we weren’t meant to touch the lock – its positioning meant that it might have been some inner workings of the room – and eventually resorted to taking a clue. I can’t make this any clearer: Don’t put the word STOP next to a lock that you expect people to unlock!

The finale extended the physical exploration of the space and was the natural conclusion to the game, but it felt a little flat – in part because the story wasn’t that exciting. We escaped in a little over forty minutes having taken a couple of clues along the way. Clues were given when necessary, although I felt on at least one occasion that they left us for longer than I’d have liked.

The Casino (4 stars)

I really like the premise of casino heists. I’m not quite sure why, but I suspect it’s the feeling that they could have non-binary win conditions (it’s not just about escaping – how much money can you steal?), that they have a fairly natural fit for escape room puzzles (numbers and symbols everywhere) and that they’re generally glamorous-looking – you put in a roulette wheel, a blackjack table and some gaming machines and it’s easy to make a pretty environment. So how did this casino fare?

Visually, it was easily the best game of this style that I’d seen. It felt like a real (albeit cut-down) casino. They’d gone to a lot of trouble to make a space that was, well, glamorous. Certainly more glamorous than the real Vegas casinos I’ve seen. It was, necessarily, a caricature, but it was a well created one. That in itself was good, but the thing I really liked was the theatre within the space. Great games don’t just get you unlocking a padlock and opening a cupboard or new room: they give you an exciting reveal. The Game absolutely delivered on that front.

Puzzlewise, it was a little more mixed. The puzzles were generally enjoyable, but I found them a bit more stop-start than usual. We’d get stuck for long periods without the GM intervening until even I had got frustrated with the room, and that’s rare indeed. One puzzle in particular really felt like the vast majority of players will need a hint, because there’s effectively no direction and what little clue you may get is incredibly faint. Even after we were given a hint, we still struggled to work out what we were meant to do which, in my experience, generally signals a weak puzzle. To counter that, there were a few much more solid puzzles with solutions that genuinely fitted with the story – not something just tacked into the environment.

When it did flow, it did so beautifully, with the result that I barely got to see the finale of the game. We’d thoroughly explored the room so, by the time we got to the ending, we more or less knew what we were doing and each puzzle fell within seconds. From what I did see, it was an enjoyable finale rounding off a room that, in spite of a few weaknesses, was still a good experience.

Assassin’s Creed (4.5 stars)

First off, a confession: I’ve never played the computer games. I’ve seen various references to them, so I have a vague idea of what they’re about, but I was a little nervous that the best parts of the experience would be entirely over my head. I needn’t have been, though, because they make sure to tell you the key facts before you enter the room and, truth be told, while familiarity with the games might make you appreciate the decoration more, none of the puzzles required that knowledge or were even benefited by it in any way.

Having said that you might appreciate the decoration more, I’m not sure to what extent that would have been possible, because it was truly stunning. They’d created a beautiful set, taking full advantage of the height of the space to match the game-world’s style (note: you’re not allowed to climb…). This is an officially licensed game, so it’s no surprise that they’ve gone for real attention to detail, and I was pleased to see that nothing felt run down or flimsy. To put it in perspective: this wouldn’t have looked out of place inside a Disney theme park.

For a game that’s likely to attract first-timers, I thought the opening was relatively tricky. For me, it lacked direction – there were a few potential puzzles to work on and no hint as to which of them we had sufficient information for. In particular, we started off with what was a dull task-based process only to find later that we were missing a vital piece of data that, as well as being necessary to solve the puzzle, also removed the tedium of what we were doing. Perhaps that’s deliberate, to keep multiple players in the game occupied, but for me it was a disappointing start to a game that took the edge off the excitement they’d created with the briefing. It wasn’t helped by the prop required and the puzzle itself feeling entirely out of place.

Thereafter, things took a definite turn for the better. The decoration, the puzzles and the sense of exploration all really helped to pick the game back up. The puzzles were nicely integrated with the theme, and I particularly enjoyed one set that we saw coming from relatively early on. The game is almost entirely linear so, once we’d found where to start, it was usually pretty obvious what the next puzzle was. While that solved the earlier problem of lack of direction, it did mean that our team of four often got in each other’s way and some of us were left as interested bystanders for some of the solves.

A few of the puzzles had good a-ha moments where we were entirely stuck and then suddenly saw the trick that allowed us to proceed. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like Japanese puzzle boxes, then there’s one puzzle (of an entirely different sort) that may frustrate you a little but, even if you struggle to find the right solution, there’s a perfectly reasonable brute-forcing approach that will allow you to continue.

A series of false finales built up the tension towards the end of the game, with us continually thinking we were about to retrieve the artefact we were searching for. When the end finally arrived, it was on a puzzle that was both fun in its a-ha moment and slightly disappointing in the mundane nature of the solution.

The Plane (5 stars)

Of the twenty or so games we played in Paris over the weekend, this was by far and away the best of the lot. It was executed brilliantly in almost every way, with the theatre of the experience being a real highlight. Before we even entered, there were some beautiful touches to build up the situation. You can’t expect players to just waltz in off the street and suspend their disbelief on entering a game. You need some sort of transition, and this was one of the best that I’ve experienced. It started outside the room, with a strong introduction and a little bit of theatre, and then ramped up to a whole new level once we were inside.

This game is visually stunning and, considering it’s a plane-themed game, it’s surprisingly expansive. They could easily have opted to leave you in a space with six or eight aircraft seats and some token props, but they’ve gone way further than that. And then, when you’ve already been impressed by the set design, they layer on the opening theatre of the game. This opening experience is good enough that I’d caution anyone with a fear of flying to think carefully before they actually play…

The theatre over, it was time to see what they could do on the puzzle front. With a game like this, where realism is a central tenet, you don’t want to be forcing escape room logic on to the players. This game needed to be one where you were searching for things you might reasonably want to use, where things were locked away sensibly and where each action was, more or less, on theme. The good news is that they’ve managed to achieve that. Yes, things were a little forced at times, but they always fitted within the game world.

Often that was just finding a way to extract a piece of information from the props available, but there was a decent number of physical interactions too. My favourite was one that could be solved in a huge variety of ways – we took one of the most common routes, but it was great hearing afterwards what other teams had tried. I love games that have that kind of versatility in them.

Given the nature of the space, it could have easily devolved into a search nightmare – there are plenty of places where you can hide things on a plane – but they’ve opted for fair hides. Overall, the puzzles were clever, but I did get the feeling that the constraint of making them fit within the story meant they were a little less exciting than they might have been in a more expansive environment. I guess you always have to make compromises.

In truth, there aren’t many puzzles in the experience, although thoroughly exploring the space takes a little longer than your average game, so you’re not likely to be bored. Certainly, we reached the finale still feeling fresh. It builds nicely, with you starting to get a feel for how you’re going to escape and slowly building up the required knowledge. That ending wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d have liked given the intro, but the GM jumps in to keep up the adrenaline and leave you with a solid finish. We played with four people and that worked well.

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