Tallinn, Jul 2017
First things first, this is the sort of game where you may prefer to know as little as possible about it before playing it. So you might want to stop at the one sentence version of this review, which is: this is a remarkable game that you should go play if at all possible, and when you do you should leave behind any expectations about how an escape room should work. Don’t worry, you can read on after you get back from Tallinn.
Still here? Okay, back to the review. While researching games in Tallinn, Affect Laboratories’ website caught my eye as intriguing and unusual. Instead of listing game rooms or explaining what an escape room is, it talks about ‘experiments’ and invites you to a job interview.
The game is located out past the main Tallinn railway station, in what looked like a warehouse or industrial complex. We were welcomed by hosts who were in character and ferociously, slightly manically polite, like receptionists in a near-future surgery clinic in a Terry Gilliam film. And beyond that I shan’t describe for fear of spoilers, since the game is immersive from the moment you arrive.
The less you know about this game before playing it the better. That makes it difficult to review, so I’ll just give a few relevant pieces of information, such as that it’s large scale and very technically advanced. It’s somewhat more physically demanding than a typical escape room. It has a delightfully dark sense of humour. It is more experiential than other games. It mixes a little sci-fi with a little dystopia and Kafka.
I can imagine a couple of mad genius game designers sitting getting drunk together and swapping crazy ideas for all the cool and ridiculous things they’d like to put in an escape room, everything that sounds hilarious or amazing but which obviously couldn’t really be done, because of budget limitations and common sense – and then going ahead and building those ideas anyway.
There are points in this game that’d I’d criticise in a different escape room, where puzzles appear confusing or where it’s possible for the players to get themselves into a situation where they’re frustratingly stuck. But not everything is as it seems. There’s no guarantee all players will have a fantastic experience – the game doesn’t try to give each team the same polished cookie-cutter experience, it gives them freedom to fail and enough rope to hang themselves.
Interview breaks the rules. It messes with your expectations, it plays dirty, it sets you up and pulls the rug out from under your feet. During the game you might well decide it’s unfair or badly flawed. It’s a bonkers genius work of art, and it’s hilarious and infuriating and fantastic. Expect something that’s as much immersive theatre as puzzle game, and go with the flow. And above all, go play it.
Affect laboratories welcome you for testing. The experience starts from registration, with easter eggs all over the place and wonderful humorous black humour scripting throughout. The attention to detail is superb, where even the toilet is customised.
The first room starts off looking very ordinary, but you quickly enter the main area shown on the website. What happens next is a fantastic series of tasks, ranging from skill to mental, physical to lateral thinking.
What distinguishes this room however is an exceptional level of engineering seamlessly interwoven with film level scripting that means the room fights back, even pitting players against each other. Frustratingly I’m not able to elaborate more because to do so would give too much away.
Other rooms have highlighted a need for teamwork and patience, but this room takes that requirement to a whole new level. At times your lives may depend on it!
The room isn’t completely flawless – there were times when one team member was unable to contribute much, and arguably one of the codes to a puzzle should probably have been clearer.
However really I’m nitpicking. This is a superb room run by a super enthusiastic owner with great vision and desire to make his rooms the best they can be. An absolute gem that is almost worth flying to Tallinn just to play.