Good escape rooms are a joy. People love being locked into a room full of bits and pieces, hints and clues, and then trying to find a head-scratching way out before the clock expires. Of course, finding an escape room to fit the puzzle-solving skills of everyone in your group is no easy task.
Can a gaggle of gamemakers create a balanced room-escaping treat and shoehorn it into a videogame, too? Let’s see.
Escape Academy is a puzzle game designed for Xbox, PlayStation and PC that tells the story of an escape-room aficionado (much like you, perhaps) who’s looking for an interesting quandary or two to wile some time away with. But after working through the first room full of easy puzzles, you quickly realize that the challenge set before you is much bigger than you expected.
That first escape room is actually a covert front for the Escape Academy, a secret school where a chosen few train to become masters of escape-room puzzles. And you, you lucky soul, have been chosen.
Gamers are challenged to comb through various escape-room setups—from kitchens gone wrong to museum settings to short-circuiting control rooms—while making their way, chapter-by-chapter, through a story that’s part secret academy and part conspiracy tale. They meet academy professors and rival students and earn a series of 10 badges for besting rooms with varying degrees of difficulty.
The conundrums and solutions scattered and hidden about the rooms involve word and math problems, logic puzzles, spatial reasoning challenges, ciphers, combination padlocks, and discoverable keys. And the solutions aren’t always as linear and straightforward as you might expect.
One puzzle solution, for instance, involves an evil supercomputer, a rat, lasers and a doughnut. There is also a ticking clock in each scenario to add some extra pressure. Keeping a pad and pen nearby for notetaking is recommended.
While the story side of the game is fairly pedestrian, the escape rooms are very nicely thought through. They vary in degree of difficulty and can be approached in solo mode or with co-op help.
The puzzles are never too easy, but they never feel impossible, either. We find a nice balance here that players of all ages can enjoy. The really tough problems might feel a bit frustrating for more inexperienced players, but with concentrated observation (and the ability to interact with all useful objects), solutions aren’t far away.
To help with the process, the game always gives players a musical tone when they’ve touched upon a useful solution. And there is a built-in hint system when things feel especially tough.
Some of the game’s ticking clock lock-ins involve potentially deadly situations, such as a room filling with toxic gas, explosives about to detonate or the need to find an antidote to a poison you ingested. But if gamers run out of time they’re given a chance to extend their efforts (with a downrated score) or start again. And failure doesn’t result in any goopy mess.
There’s nothing nasty in the game’s story. But you will find a few winking bits of humor. And the characters occasionally use the word “d–n.” One person spouts: “What the h—!?”
So. the answer to my earlier question is: Yes. The gamemakers have indeed delivered a collection of fun puzzles that not only fit gamers of varying ages and expertise, but give you a nice sense of being locked into a room that hides tons of sweet secrets. Can you escape it?
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.