Published on May 30th, 2017 | by Dean Love1
Modern Fables, London – The Escapist
There’s a somewhat interesting contradiction at the heart of The Escapist that makes it tough to write about. If you check out the website you’ll see a lot of background story about a woman, Lavina, who ran an illegal bar in South Bermondsey. She’s gone missing, and your job is to explore said speakeasy and try and find out what happened to her. But that’s not really the theme. The real theme is a bit more darker and mystical, but as it’s not really talked about on the website, I shouldn’t really give it away. Even though it’s fairly apparent from about five minutes into the game.
Like many London games, it’s situated in the middle of nowhere. Coming into Surrey Quays tube station it’s a pretty weird walk along back streets, under the overground lines, past a maintenance station, and skirting around Millwall Football grounds. They’re based out of Guild House, which is apparently an “artistic hub” but seems to be an industrial estate that’s been taken over by arty types, complete with a big metal gate that requires you to call once you’re outside to get them to open it. To their credit, this interaction happens in character, and the entire set-up is weird enough that I can just about believe there would be a real illegal bar operating out of there. (Though disappointingly, there isn’t. You do get to raid some bottled water from the fridge but there’s no booze in sight.)
You’re briefed in character in the ‘bar’ itself, and interestingly the team photo is taken before you play – presumably just in case you don’t make it back! After this you’re left to your own devices. The bar room itself is pretty sparse, with just the aforementioned fridge and a few other bits and pieces, but it’s just the introductory puzzle to access the main part of game.
It’s here the game really does live up to its concept. You really are solving a mystery. Sure, there is still some tracking down codes to open boxes to find things, but a solid trail of clues exists to be followed if you’re paying attention. There’s a fair amount of reading involved, not obnoxiously so, but more so than in your average room, as when you find letters or diaries you really do need to read through them and pay attention rather than just trying to spot a string of four numbers in them to open a combination lock. I don’t think I’ve ever before got stuck in a room and been able to simply stop and look at the clues we had, work out what went with what and find the last clue we had to concentrate on. Interestingly, a big part of the game is finding four specific objects. And with sufficiently comprehensive searching of the room, you could feasibly brute-force search your way to the answer. But it’s far more fun and interesting to try and decode the clues you’re given which tell you exactly where to look.
There’s a good mix of puzzles here, mostly of the more cerebral kind, without much emphasis on physical interactions. There’s some neat bits, but the majority of the game is solving these riddles. The puzzles are all logical and fit in with the reality of the world (even if that reality is a little twisted) – or put more simply: if the game says you need a book, it’ll be on the bookshelf. If you need a glass, it’ll be behind the bar. Although some of these logical deductions will only make sense if you’ve been piecing together the story and understand exactly what’s going on: this isn’t a game that can be powered through without paying attention to the plot. One puzzle stumped us for ages, purely because it used wordplay – essentially a cryptic crossword clue. We’re not bad at them, we’ve just never seen them used in an escape room before so we didn’t figure out what it was for a long time! Even with clues (delivered by a neat thematic mechanism) we just couldn’t get into the right mindset.
The game builds to a pretty neat finale, which ups the production values a little. Intriguingly, the final puzzle can actually be failed, and you can lose the game that way. So again, it hammers home that need to have actually figured out what’s going on in order to solve the final riddle.
The sets themselves don’t look great but they do the job. The initial bar room seems a bit too dusty and empty to be even an illegal speakeasy, but the remainder of the sets accurately portray what they’re trying to portray. And it’s first escape room I’ve seen that features actual knickers in the bedside knicker drawer.
Modern Fables is a good game. It’s not going to blow you away with its puzzles, and certainly won’t with its aesthetics, but it does manage to do something a little different to most games. We played it the same weekend we played Escape This Room, and they’re both very story-led but very different experiences. Escape This Room uses the story to lead you through the game, whereas The Escapist uses the game itself to tell you the story, and effectively tests you on it as you play.
Result – we escaped with around fifteen minutes to spare, just about making the leaderboard
Date played: 13 May 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess
Summary: A game that feels more like unraveling a mystery than any other room I've played. Not perfect, but sufficiently different to be worth recommending.