London, May 2017
I went into Project D.I.V.A. thinking, wow! – but came out thinking, what a shame. This game has cool technology and stagecraft, let down by too many game weaknesses.
There’s a huge contrast between Escape Rooms’ new Angel games and their original, well-established London Bridge location. Where the older games are quite traditional in style, with games strongly structured around a clear series of puzzles, the new ones are technology-driven and visually spectacular.
Project D.I.V.A. uses an app to play. This means each player carries a phone with them, running a custom app. Messages arrive in this app in two ways: firstly, the game contains some QR codes, and scanning one with the app causes a message to arrive. And secondly, the app doubles as the hint system (and game timer), with the operator able to provide additional messages at their discretion. Fortunately, all messages arrive at all players’ phones, so there’s no need for each player in turn to scan a QR code. Less fortunately, the app is a bit slow and reluctant to respond at times.
The app also contains a couple of additional sections of functionality that aren’t used in the game, and a website URL that gives away this game’s origin at a venue in China. We were instructed to ignore these sections and did so.
It’s a linear and padlock-free game. We played with a team of three, which was a perfectly suitable size in most respects, but there is one specific moment that needs four players and which therefore required a brief unexpected intervention from the operator to get us past it – for that reason alone I’d recommend a team of four for this game.
So, the weaknesses of the game. An early puzzle had us scratching our heads with the sheer ambiguity of ways we might try to solve it. The initial hint told us nothing new, and the second gave us the answer outright. Later sections of the game had the same problem to a lesser or greater extent, with solutions that require your mind to jump in the right direction, where you might instead jump to one or more equally plausible alternatives; and the hints just stated the solution, removing the pleasure of figuring it out.
The tech worked well throughout, with one glaring exception where we knew what to do, involving moving something to the right position by pressing directional buttons, but the controls were both slow to respond and hugely over-sensitive, turning what should have been a great sequence into frustrating tedium.
I also wasn’t keen on the app, which was effectively a high-tech digital equivalent of receiving clues as paper handouts. It also meant we had one more thing to carry around, along with a walkie talkie each and a clipboard for making notes; and it was easy to leave behind in an area that then became inaccessible. (Or maybe I’m just forgetful.)
Against that, if you overlook the problems with the puzzles, the game is fantastic. It looks great, but more than that it sets up some truly impressive moments, in particular the way the team transitions to the second main area. The ending is another highlight as well – or should have been. I’ll drop a slightly spoiler-y hint here to not tune out the background audio as we did, because you’ll enjoy the end more if you’re paying attention.
This has the potential to be a very good room. Most of the severe problems with it could be relatively easily fixed with technology tweaks, better hinting and some puzzle adjustment. I’m still not keen about the use of the app and the QR codes, but I could accept that as a stylistic choice if the rest of the game implementation was solid. I’m going to give it a relatively good rating though because I think the flaws are such that they’ll affect some teams more and others less; and because at its best, it was good enough to make me forget entirely about the frustrations and put a big grin on my face – even though only temporarily.