Sector X: THE B.R.U.C.E. PROJECT

Being stuck indoors, more and more people have been teaming up to play online escape rooms. Already missing playing, I was excited to discover this new form of game play, wondering what unique puzzles I would be presented with now that the rules of reality no longer applied.

When I heard that Bewilder Box and Eltham Escape Rooms had teamed up to create an online experience, I couldn’t think of a better place to start. Sector X is designed as a point and click online game, rather than a game where you instruct a real person to interact with an item.

We managed to escape 57 minutes in with no clues. Down to the wire!

The Story

The story so far… Renowned scientist Dr Wilder Sr., dies tragically after a routine dimension hopping adventure goes hideously awry. He’s reduced to nothing more than a brain in a tank of fluid. His son, Wilder Jr., aka Benji, is determined to resurrect his father’s genius and so begins the B.R.U.C.E project. The plan? To create a robot that can be controlled by a human mind. Work is completed on the prototype.

In order to ensure that the robot can sustain his father’s immense brainpower, Benji enlists teams of recruits from all over the world to remotely access the bot’s head and test its capacity. Now the final phase of testing begins. The droid is passed to Dr Dirk Banana so that it can be deposited in his experimental holographic testing chamber. Are two heads better than one? Is three really the magic number? Will these magnificent minds work as a cohesive unit or will all of Benji’s work have been in vain…. It’s time to find out as you enter ‘The Holobox’.

The Basics

Station X: The B.R.U.C.E Project is the first installation of a 2 part escape room. For £15 a team can play the game anytime within 24 hours after purchasing the game, giving flexibility for the ever changing schedule many of us are living by at the moment.

Players

The game is made for 2-6 players, though the creators advise 2-4 is the best group size, which I wholly agree with. When attempting this room, we played in our usual team, consisting of 4 players, from 12-44 years old. A typical family group. We thoroughly enjoyed the game, and everyone was able to participate, but I believe communication would have broken down with too many more players, especially since we were playing over zoom.

The puzzles were based in a linear style, so you can only complete one puzzle at a time, a classic escape room design. The layout of the puzzles also meant we always knew what we needed to look at next, even if we didn’t know exactly what to do with it.


Game Play

When a team purchases the game, they are buying access to it for 24 hours. The team is given a code to enter on a website, which will allow them all to see the same screen. Ideally every player should be on a different device in order to fully appreciate the game play. When playing you can see the mouse of every player, and when one person opens a window, it opens for everyone else too. This was a very different experience to playing a physical escape room, as often players are working on different things. Though this may have been annoying in a real life escape room, it made sense when playing virtually. You were able to all focus on the important information.

Controls

In it essence, the escape room was a point and click. You sometimes has to use keypads or keyboards on screen to enter codes and passwords, but most of the time you were clicking on different items to interact with them. The only issue we had with this type of game play was when we sometimes had more than one person click on an item at the same time. There were sometimes audio or video that would echo, which meant we had to wait until it was finished and then try again. We also found that when two different buttons were pressed at once by accident, we wouldn’t know what triggered what. This was definitely more user error than the design of the game, but is something that may catch some players out.

In order for us to be able to communicate with each other we could use any method we want. We went with zoom, but any kind of video call would work.


In Game Information

When playing the B.R.U.C.E Project, there are lots of clues onscreen to help you know what is available to you, and what you can interact with. When you are playing an escape room in real life, you can interact with it physically, see what is available to you a lot easier than you can on a screen. In order to combat this, the creators made items you can use now glow, pulling you attention to it. There were also chains over what you could not use yet. This really gave the satisfaction of opening a lock, as much as you can virtually. We got the sense of achievement and progression as we made our way through the puzzles.

There was also the familiar timer in the corner that I religiously kept an eye on, determined we would escape within the hour, though there is no actual time limit to the game. to me that marks a good escape room. Though you know you could take all the time in the world, and the story didn’t have an immediate time pressure, we still felt like it was a race against the clock, and that every second counted. It is this pressure, this urgency that sets escape rooms apart from general puzzle games, and the B.R.U.C.E Project definitely brought the heat.

Elements In Motion

Although it was a virtual escape room, the B.R.U.C.E Project was very much full of computer game mechanics. We would click different objects, and the way they interacted would give us some clue as to how we would solve the problem. Whenever we were presented with a new puzzle, it was like playing a new game, with its own rules and interaction mechanics. No two things would interact the same. This is not something that would normally happen in an escape room, but it didn’t feel like a cheat or like half a puzzle. This escape room was hard, and realising just how we were able to interact with the items was often a puzzle within itself.

I’m going to give the creators at Bewilder Box and Eltham Escape Rooms one of the biggest compliments I think an escape room designer can achieve. the game flowed. We always knew what to look at next, when we arrived at a new level, we knew where to start. I never got the feeling of hopelessness, that we were completely in the wrong area, with no idea where to turn next. There was also the benefit that there were no distractions in the room. The theming allowed for only items that were part of a puzzle to be put into the room.

Because we all shared a computer screen, and there were often parts of a puzzle scattered around the room it meant that we had to take notes and screenshots. So often when playing escape rooms we have wished we had something to write information down on, or have been caught up because we remembered a code wrong. Here, the creators actively encouraged us to take screenshots (which I won’t share for fear of spoilers). You don’t always need to make notes, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes we didn’t write down a code when we should have, overestimating our memory.

When I saw that we were encouraged to take screen shots, I was worried, it felt too much like cheating. Then I played the game and realised that unless you had the memory of a robot yourself, you would not be able to complete the puzzle without such help. more often than not, you would put the different pieces of information together and still find it hard to solve the puzzle. I quickly got over my aversion to taking notes!

Verdict

The B.R.U.C.E project took a huge leap from physical to virtual escape rooms, and wow did it pay off. The creators saw where a characteristic of playing an escape room would be different on a screen, and put in a mechanic to avoid any issues, or made them a part of the game play. Though the puzzles didn’t fit so much with the theme, i would have been disappointed if it had. I hadn’t seen puzzles like this before, and they were perfectly suited for virtual play. Instead of taking physical puzzles and placing them online, these challenges were perfectly created to use the new environment that escape rooms have discovered.

Impatiently waiting for the next round of Sector X,

Ellie

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