Berlin, Nov 2017
Caught in a storm on an island in the Caribbean, you seek shelter in an old hut… only to find that it’s haunted by the spirit of an old pirate, who will now keep you trapped forever unless you can find a way to escape. That’s the setup for the third game at Claustrophobia’s Berlin branch, which also manages to be the most beautiful of three impressive builds. In an unusual but effective twist, the game doesn’t start by stepping into the hut itself, but instead with the path leading to the hut’s entrance, allowing for a more involving and dramatic opening.
Pirate Hut was my favourite of the three games at the venue, and I think it’s both the most atmospheric and also one with the strongest design – though with a couple of flaws. Focusing on the negative, my biggest gripe was just that it was unnecessarily dark for the initial sequence of the game, certainly not pitch black but dingy enough to be frustrating to explore, with portable light sources which were too feeble for my liking. And the way to improve the lighting turned out to be something that would have been perfectly reasonable had it been easier to see, but unnecessarily obscure while we were stumbling about in the gloom.
A large puzzle near the end was also a potential source of frustration – it required a correct sequence of answers provided by other sections of the game, and was also fussy about how those were input, meaning if it didn’t trigger correctly it was difficult to tell whether some part of the sequence contained a mistake or whether it just hadn’t been entered precisely enough. This worked fine for our first team on the second try, but caused much greater frustration for our second team, who spent quite a lot of time repeatedly trying the correct solution and minor variations on it until it finally worked.
With those two significant caveats, it’s a superb, beautiful game. What could have been quite a menacing theme isn’t dealt with too seriously, with an amusing physical puzzle setting the tone early on. Claustrophobia’s typical game style is linear, but less so here than usual, for some sections of the game at least, and it’s better for it. While the dim lighting may have grated, it’s also effective in the atmosphere created, which is reinforced with audio; and some lovely items in the room contributed to the resulting impression. These are also used in unexpected ways, and in one case we tried something more as a joke than seriously, which then turned out to be the correct next step.
Each of the various strands of the game drew together for a conclusion and finale that lived up to the dramatic opening. While Berlin’s branch of Claustrophobia didn’t win us over as much as those we’ve tried in other cities, even their weaker games are still interesting and memorable, and Pirate Hut layers onto that a genuinely beautiful set enlivened by an entertainingly original sequence of puzzles.