Initially, when I started thinking about writing this review, I figured it might be difficult to meet the length requirements. Escape games, in essence, are really simple beasts. Click things until you find them all, assemble the puzzle pieces, and then proceed to the next level. But when I started to think of it outside the box, using my experience of running an IT help desk for years, it started to become clear to me. This won’t be hard at all.
I mean, what does a help desk have to do with an escape game, or any game really? Well, the answer is simpler than you would imagine. You see, you can get almost anyone to fix your computer, or you can even use your powers of Google-fu to fix it yourself. The biggest selling point of a help desk (other than not having the overhead costs of hiring your own IT department) is the experience. At least, that’s what our help desk measured its success rate on: customer satisfaction. If the customer experience is sh*t, but your problem was still solved, you wouldn’t give high customer sat scores. On the contrary, if your issue wasn’t solved, but the customer service was still fantastic, your experience may be awesome.
So how does this relate after all? Well, simple. Many escape games are alike. Actually, alike is too soft of a word. Most escape games are identical. Typically the graphics leave something to be desired; the puzzles are “meh” quality, and they just get boring over time. Escape the Past makes a solid attempt at addressing these problems, which to be fair isn’t the easiest thing with such a saturated and imitated genre.
For starters, the artwork is on point. Most escape games are pretty generic looking. Escape the Past is different, in that each scene, each turn of the ‘page’ makes you feel as though you’re in a piece of art. The scenes literally look like paintings, and the best part is, the clues aren’t just shoved in. They are tastefully placed, and the artwork for the items matches the background. Sure helps make it harder, and I can’t say it didn’t make me swear once or twice while I was searching for stuff.
Frankly, compared to all the other escape games I’ve played, I’d be comfortable calling this visually stunning, or at least beautiful.
Escape the Past also does well trying to tell a story. You find pieces of letters that attempt to provide context as to why you’re clicking on static images looking for pieces that move or make sense. Speaking of clicking, there is one pet peeve that I have in escape games, and that is the fact that there’s no sustainable mechanic that prevents you from clicking a million times all over the screen in an angry, frustrated, and emotionally compromised fashion because you can’t seem to find the next clue (voice of experience…. or something like that). Unfortunately, this is not addressed here either. There’s nothing stopping you from clicking like mad all over until a new clue pops up. It would be great if there was a click tracker that told you how many times you were blindly hoping for luck, or perhaps even a hard limit approach that only lets you have X amount of interactions with each panel to solve the puzzle.
Speaking of puzzles, they’re not easy, which is good.
But, they’re also not so challenging that they don’t make any sense to us non-Mensa folks. See, puzzles need to make sense, as well as tell a story. They can’t just be hard for the sake of being hard. If that were the case, people would like math class, and then who would play football? It’s hard to describe some of the puzzles I enjoyed without spoiling part of the game, so I will refrain. But, I can say that I was impressed with the thought process that went into some of these scenarios.
I suppose my biggest pet peeve in the game would be that the several chapters of the game do not continue after each other. I mean this from a strictly mechanical point. Once you complete a level, you need to back out all the way to the main menu and remember which level you just played to select the next. Sure there’s only a handful, but I can’t imagine it would have taken too much trouble to place a next button that started the following scenario at the end of a level.
Overall, I’d have to say I’m rather pleased with Escape the Past. If you enjoy escape-themed games, this really won’t disappoint. To tie in my help desk example at the beginning, sure other escape games will allow you to strain your brain and solve puzzles, however the experience here is what sells it. I suppose if I could change one thing, I would add more levels, as there are only currently four chapters. It certainly left me wanting more.