Published on November 6th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
Deadlocked, Reading – The Phoenix Research
This is a hard one to pin down. Here’s the problem: The Phoenix Research does a couple of really cool things. The sort of things that would elevate a four-star room to five stars on my ratings scale. The problem is, underneath those it’s not a four-star game. It’s not even a three-star game. It’s actually quite bad.
You’re given a video briefing at the start of the game, and discover your task is to find some scientific research. From the description you might expect a very scientific/lab-based game, but no, you’re searching an office. Not that you can’t have a good game set in an office but it’s a setting that’s been done to death. There’s no real twist either: you eventually gain access to a new space but it’s not much more impressive and you’ll still spend 80% of the game in the office.
And you can spend all that time in the office because it’s full of stuff. In fairness to Deadlocked, it’s all on theme. A lot of stuff is a red herring but equally you’ll find plenty of documents relating to the Phoenix project and the company behind it. It’s a hell of a lot of background and world-building, but 90% of it is irrelevant to actually winning the game. We spent a good ten minutes utterly stumped before even getting a handle on what we should be looking for, and I’ve spent a fair bit of time since trying to work out the “meta” behind the game – how it was supposed to flow and what the experience was meant to be, because for us it was little more than an exercise in frustration.
(And normally at this point I might include a self-deprecating comment about how I’m maybe not that good at escape rooms but this was one of a few games I happened to be playing with the two most experienced escape room players in the entire world, and they were as baffled as me.)
From looking back, it seems the idea is that you’d look through some of these documents and spot a clue. A nudge in a particular direction, to look at a particular set of things more closely, and perhaps use something else in that document or a related one to decode something. But those nudges were far, far too subtle. At least for the amount of stuff in the room. If there were fewer documents to look at, or fewer things in the room that the documents might reference, it might have been workable. But with loads of potential clues, and loads of potential things to use them on, it was just too tough to figure out when the clues were so vague. Another puzzle used real-world knowledge in a quite clever way, but would have been impenetrable for those without that fairly obscure bit of knowledge. And also they did it wrong so anyone with that bit of knowledge would end up solving the puzzle and going “well that’s stupid”.
It probably doesn’t need much: just either take a few items out, lock more things away, or make it clear what the starting point is and have the clues follow through in a linear chain… if it did that then maybe it would be a decent enough office game but that’s still not exactly exciting. But it is exciting because it does some pretty clever things. Firstly there’s a feature in the game that’s really neat and I can’t spoil, but it allows the room to change slightly based upon the actions of previous players. Secondly, the game has multiple endings. I thought this would be a spoiler too but the websites says as much. The endings basically allow for everyone to “win” but in a different way depending on how well you do. The game also has end credits, and on finishing you get a link to a behind the scenes website where you can download the soundtrack, watch a making of documentary (when it’s finished) and see outtakes. Lastly, the finale to the “good” ending is very silly but a lot of fun.
But there are problems even here: the multiple endings are cool, but the thing that makes them cool is they’re theoretically transparent to the player. In an ideal world, they’ll never find out about them. The interaction between previous teams is a neat idea but fizzled for us because of what the previous teams had done.
So that makes this a weird review to write. I can’t actually recommend you go play this as a game. It’s not up to snuff. But if you’re a bit of an escape room nerd, then it’s probably interesting enough as a curio to be worth giving a go.
And yes, if you’re struggling to read the certificate in the photo, this was my 100th game!
Result – we failed to get to the final ending on time, taking around 70 minutes
Date played: 17 September 2017
Team: Dean, Sera, Sharon
Summary: A game with some really cool elements let down hugely by just failing to get the basics right.