Published on June 15th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
Archimedes Inspiration, London – Leo’s Path
It’s the age old question: does size matter? And if so, how do you measure it?
Having played a lot of games it’s not uncommon for us to escape a given game fairly quickly. A fast escape isn’t necessarily indicative of a small game: sometimes you get that feeling of whizzing through puzzles at a rate of knots as you just get into the groove of the game and challenge after challenge falls before you, and you reach the end with loads of time to spare. We escaped Leo’s Path in under 32 minutes, but never really got that feeling. Indeed, we were fairly well stumped at a few points during the game. And that’s where the problem is: it’s a hard game, and I can certainly see people taking a full hour to get out. But a good half of that is going to be spent baffled by the puzzles rather than making any sort of progress. I don’t think there’s really more than half an hour of fun in this game: most of the puzzles require an “a-ha” moment that can be hard to get to, but then the solutions are fairly simple to implement. That’s the problem here: I can’t envisage many scenarios where teams would solve the puzzles more slowly while still enjoying the process. Rather, you’d just be staring at the room for an extra 28 minutes trying to figure it all out.
But damn, what an awesome thirty minutes of puzzling it is. As themes for games go, I’ve neither played nor seen anything like this before: a girl’s brother set sail for sea many years ago. He’s not been seen since. You attempt to follow his steps and find out what happened to him. It’s not the most immediately gripping story, nor does it have the immediate call to action and obvious time limit of defusing a bomb or finding an antidote. It’s a lot more sedate, and the game itself mirrors that. The intense heart-pumping soundtrack you get in many games is replaced by pleasant, serene background music, as you piece together puzzles in a well-lit, well designed space. As a team we tend to be quite calm and relaxed players, and it was really nice to play a game that met us there, rather than trying to artificially up the tension and put us in a more agitated sense of mind. Of course, the fact that it’s so laid back perhaps contributes to the smaller size of the game: when you create an atmosphere that’s telling you “take your time, don’t rush” to the point of handing you a phone to take in-game selfies with, you can’t then require players progress quickly to succeed – the time limit needs to fade away to the point of being a non-issue.
The other place Leo’s path differentiates itself from the norm is being a “no locks” or “fully automated” game. What that essentially means is you never have to enter a code into a combination lock or open something with a key. Instead solving a puzzle will be detected by the game itself, and then something will happen to move you on to the next thing. I’ve mixed feelings on this: it’s pretty cool for sure, but also feels a little gimmicky. Certainly, having combination locks everywhere is normally damaging to the theme and immersion, and being able to solve puzzles that result in something other than a four-digit number is a nice change, but at the same time it makes no more sense to be opening a combination lock in a 13th century tomb than it does for a door to swing open by magic when you have the puzzle pieces in the right place. That said, there’s already a certain dreamlike element to Leo’s Path, which means it mostly gets away with it.
That element comes from the set design, which is top notch, starting you off in a home before progressing elsewhere. And here’s where it’s sort of interesting: I mentioned you’re retracing the steps of someone who set out to sea, but it’s not that literal. Rather, once you’re out of the initial room it’s more like you’re in a series of paintings depicting a few keys scenes in the man’s fate. And that’s really cool. It lets the sets be a little broader in design and even cartoonish when needed, and means that they actually look more impressive and interesting than a realistic depiction would be. It actually reminded me a lot of the computer game “walking simulator” genre: Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch, Dear Esther and so forth – a sort of visually hyper-realised take on reality, delivering a touching, emotion-led story. But like those games, it’s a story that, while it tugs at the heart strings, isn’t actually all that interesting. The room is also clean and the props and puzzles are all in very good shape, which isn’t always a given for rooms that have been open nearly a year.
The last thing to mention is the puzzles, and that I’m coming to them last speaks volumes about where the emphasis lies in Leo’s Path. They’re actually pretty good, but it’s an entirely linear game where the focus is on quality over quantity: it’s six or seven puzzles that require a mix of observation, logic and pattern recognition. Some of them are a bit obscure, and most players are going to need hints, but none of them felt unfair. The hints are delivered via text message on the aforementioned phone, which is a little jarring, as it adds an unwanted element of reality to the dreamlike setting.
Talking of jarring, the ending also stands out as a bit odd. It suddenly ratchets up the urgency through a very gamey mechanism that made no sense in context. It felt like after creating a wonderfully laid back, different take on an escape room, they couldn’t quite commit to it and wanted a tense finale. While understandable, it feels out of place.
It’s a tough one to rate, this. What there is of it is both good, and very different. Which is normally a recipe for a high rating from me – even if ‘different’ might mean it won’t appeal to everyone, which is still true here. But the size of the game is still bothersome. I should complement the staff at this point: though we finished quickly we got a long post-game walkthrough where they demonstrated alternative methods of solving some of the puzzles (which was a neat idea, and one which players will never notice) and told us plenty of stories about the most ridiculous things people had tried in the room. We hadn’t come along specifically as reviewers either, they weren’t aware of that so it’s fair to assume it’s standard practice for those who finish quickly. But as fun a ten minutes that might be, it’s not as fun as actually playing.
At £32 per person for three players it’s at the upper end of the price range too, and worked out at exactly £1 per person per minute for us. But as the age-old answer goes, it’s not the length that bothers me so much as the girth. There’s just not enough there for me to whole-heartedly recommend it. We had a great 32 minutes, but had it taken us 52 minutes I don’t think it would have been half as much fun. I’d likely be complaining about the puzzles being too obscure and not being given enough hints.
So that leaves us in a weird place. Because it’s so different, I’d only recommend the game to those who have played a few before: it’s very atypical and hard enough to not make a good introduction to the genre. If you do fall into that category, you’ll probably also finish it pretty quickly, and need to be prepared for that and be able to not to think too much about the cost/value proposition. If you fit into both of these categories you should definitely play it – especially as, at time of writing, there are plans to close it and replace it with a new game. If you fit into just one or neither, there are probably better options for you. But if you’re a huge fan of Gone Home and wondered what a real life version of something like that would be, ignore all that and try it out regardless!
Result – we escaped in 32 minutes, did I mention that?
Date played: 13 May 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess
Summary: A genuinely unique game held back by just not having quite enough to it. But for many it'll be worth playing for the novelty alone.