Online, May 2020
Not having (yet) played Crime Runners’ physical escape rooms, I don’t know the details of the story of which this online game is a continuation. That wasn’t a barrier to playing this, though it did make me quite curious to go and discover what the earlier chapters involved.
Back To The Congressman is in theory a heist story, though since this game only covers the first chapters of the story it’s more an ‘infiltrate a mansion’ story. Your game screen shows a picture of your location, and you can click on hotspots to shift to other locations or perspectives, or for a close-up of particular items.
At heart this is the same category of game as the escape games you’d play with Flash Player in your browser, the genre of computer game that pre-dated and helped inspire physical escape rooms. However, it didn’t feel to me like a step back, but rather like lessons learned by running physical games have been fed back into the design of the online experience. The visuals are photographic stills of real environments not line-drawn computer graphics, and the audio really helped make them feel immersive.
Most importantly though, this is a multi-player game, and all players who connect with the same access code see the same screen. After a couple of moments of confusion (‘why did that just change? what are those blue flashes?’) that became very natural. You’ll still want a separate audio or video call to communicate with your teammates while playing, but as a shared experience it worked well – even if we did have to remember not to excitedly click on several things in quick succession, to allow time for the effects to show up on the other person’s screen.
Puzzles are classic escape room style, with classic escape room locks and keypads into which to enter solutions, and I thought it gave a convincing sense of playing a physical escape room; although it took advantage of the format to use a larger setting than would be possible in real life. Unlike a physical game you have the option of resorting to external information on the internet to help you mid-game, though for most players that shouldn’t be needed.
Any game of this style invites comparisons to puzzle-based computer games, of which there are many free ones and some very high quality ones. In quality of presentation and puzzle design, Congressman comfortably beats the former; its main advantage against the latter is its multiplayer system that aims to make it a team experience. I enjoyed it a great deal and for me its main flaw was that it stopped abruptly just as the story was progressing – you’ll need to wait for the follow-up to find out what happens next.