Escapement: The Network

There are a lot of play at home escape rooms at the moment, one upside from this COVID experience. The Network, by Escapement, is one that I have been waiting for since it was announced. So when our mysterious package arrived in the post, I couldn’t wait to dive in. 

Firstly, this game is tough. Definitely the hardest at-home escape room I have played to date. There were times I felt it was unreasonably hard. Then I realised I was overlooking a clue that was staring me in the face. Completely on me. My blindness aside, this is a brilliant, challenging, deluxe play at home escape room. 

The Basics 

Rather than receiving the documents via email, The Network comes to you through the post. You will also be directed to a website, which includes messages from your  ‘contact’ at the Network, and also is where you put your answers in order to progress to the next part of the game. 

There is no time limit to this game, you can take as long as you would like. Which is good, because as I may have mentioned, this game is solid. All in all, we escaped in 2 hours and 45 minutes. 

This game can be purchased from the Escapement website for £39.99. This is more expensive than most  play at home games, especially since it can only be played once. However, the game has a very high quality feel to it, and to me, the price is worth it. Especially when you consider the price you would pay for a real-life escape room.

The Story

‘Cyntia Binks and her team are MIA. Escapement Network Agents will initiate Protocol 7 in the event that they have been compromised, if this is not the case, then we can assume those agents have been lost in the field. 

From the computer records we believe a small group of low level network agents could be responsible. We need you to find out who they are, why they are leaking information and who got to them!’

This story is linked to one of the escape rooms at Escapement, but works completely independently. 

Players 

The recommended size of group for the Network is 2-6 players. This is one of the only games that I would say the more of you the better. It helps to have several players to be able to work on different puzzles at the same time, and be able to have enough minds go at each puzzle to be able to solve it. This is a major plus because it allows the whole family to play. The game also comes with a 14+ age rating, and I can see where they are coming from. There is some swearing and at times show a ‘dead body’. Aside from that, there are a variety of puzzles that can be solved by players of any age. 

Unfortunately, because the puzzles are mailed to you and not electronic, you really have to all be in the same place to play it. Technically you could have someone video call and show them all the materials, but it wouldn’t work as well. 

Objectives/Goals

There are several things you are trying to achieve from this game. Who is the spy, what did they leak, and why are they spying. However, when you are working at a puzzle it can be hard to know exactly what it is you are trying to do. This is an issue that many play at home games struggle with. Without physical locks in front of you, it can be hard to know what you are looking for. A key, a numerical code, a keyword. And to be honest, unless you tell players you are looking for a 4 digit number code (which can give away a bit of the puzzle), I’m not sure what designers can do to overcome this issue. That being said, there were subtle clues as to what end information you were looking for, which helped to guide our thought process.

Rules/Mechanisms

When you open the box, you are presented with several manila envelopes, and some ‘evidence’ (and a pen, who doesn’t love a new pen). The website you are directed to is what gives you direction in the game. It tells you where to focus next, it is what allows you to enter your answers and progress through the game.  Having a website you need to go to is pretty much necessary when doing an at home game without using an avatar, like you do in YouEscape. It gives you the feeling of interaction that is missing when you can’t play a real life escape room. The Network used this website they created delicately, it complimented the work you had to do with what they had sent you to make challenging puzzles,  and that kept you guessing on what you had to do next. 

You receive 3 envelopes, each one representing a different part of the game. You won’t necessarily spend equal amounts of time on each one, but you do have a more tactile sense of progressing through the game. 

Some people may prefer splitting this game into 2 sittings. Almost 3 hours is a long time to be solving puzzles for, as enjoyable as they are. At times I felt burnt out, especially after you solve one hard puzzle just to be thrown into another one. Saying that, I couldn’t bring myself to stop, always wanting to solve just one more. But maybe that’s just my competitiveness showing. 

Controls

As usual with play at home games, there aren’t really any special controls you need to know. Again, there are some things outside of the game you may need to use, and the controls of these differ. 

The cluing mechanism worked in a way that it seemed you were talking to your support using coding. This scared me at first, but was easy when you got the hang of it. 

In-game information 

The cluing system is very immersive, using code you can select what you need help with. This is a game that is not clue shy. 

There is no in-built timer in this game, the timing is controlled by the players. This supports you being able to take breaks while you’re playing. There is also no recommended playing time, which part of me likes. I know that 3 hours is a long time for an escape game, and I kind of don’t want to know if that is over the average time. At the same time, my competitive side is dying to know.

Elements in Motion 

I loved these puzzles. They were extremely immersive, and for the most part felt like activities you would actually do if you were a spy. There was surveillance, hacking, interrogation, all the best spy stuff. 

This is also a very proactive game. I spent a lot of time waiting for the game to give me the ability to do something. I didn’t realise until we had wasted a quite a bit of time that I had to go online to get what I needed myself. That may have just been me, however (the designated overthinker in the group), because when my teammate looked at it, they immediately knew what they had to do. Which is something I found a lot with this game.

A fresh pair of eyes is invaluable here. So often one of us would get so deep into solving a puzzle a certain way, it wasn’t until someone else looked over our shoulder and suggested something we realised we had completely been barking up the wrong tree. That’s why I recommend a larger group here. You need to be able to swap between puzzles, to keep getting fresh inputs. 

The Verdict

The resources and puzzles in this game are very realistic, immersive and gave a sense of no expenses spared. This is a high-quality game, executed extremely well, the Escapement experience I have learned to expect. 

All in all the game worked well, and flowed very well. There were times it was hard to know what to do next, just because of the sheer amount of information in front of you, but there is always something pointing you in the right direction. 

When you complete the game, there is a twist that really surprised me, and implications for a future game that I adored, and that is all I will say for fear of giving away too much. 

If you fancy giving this game a go, check out the Escapement website. 

Ellie

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