Online, Apr 2020
A collaboration from the escape room companies Bewilder Box and Eltham Escapes, Sector X is an online escape game where you must guide the robot B.R.U.C.E. through a series of puzzles. The new breed of online escapes is very diverse in style, and this one uses a custom computer interface with cute retro graphics. Although it looks like a computer game, you’re not moving the robot around in the style of, say, a platform game – rather, there are hotspots to click on that show puzzle clues or interfaces. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that the robot is in an escape room, and you’re solving the puzzles so that the robot can advance.
Being an unhosted game you can play it at whatever time suits you – although as soon as you begin the game’s clock begins ticking. There’s no time limit after which you fail, but the timer adds pressure to complete it swiftly.
What makes this a team experience not just a solo puzzle game is that multiple people can collaboratively play, each connecting from a different computer. You see your teammates’ cursors moving around the screen, and when one person clicks on a clue it pops up for everyone – though you’ll definitely want to have a conference call active in parallel so that you can all talk as you play.
This is very effective at turning the game into a team effort. It has downsides – a teammate may close something that you’re still reading, and there’s no way for different players to look at different clues at the same time. I also found I could hear the game’s audio disconcertingly repeated with a delay through our Zoom call, though if I’d properly read the instructions in advance I’d have seen that they recommend using earphones to avoid precisely that problem!
Part 1 consists of five stages; I believe there will be a separate part 2 to follow, with another five stages. Each stage has a couple of different steps, and the whole thing might take you anywhere from 30 to 90+ mins to complete. The puzzles felt very much like ones you might encounter in an escape room, and all were well designed – in every case the solution was satisfying and logical.
Although the delivery format is essentially a computer game, Sector X feels very much like an escape room experience. Partly that’s the style of the puzzles; partly it’s the way you tackle it as a team, even if the interface constrains you to all work together on the same thing more than a physical game would. I think both elements are critical to its success – after all, there are a great many computer games out there created with vastly more resources. To stand out from those, a game like Sector X needs to work as a shared experience, and as one that captures the feel of an escape room.
I thought that it succeeded on both counts, and also had lots of enjoyable touches in the presentation and with the main character. It’s a charming, enjoyable hour of sociable puzzle solving, and it’s a good tonic for those feeling escape room withdrawal symptoms.