Brussels, Jan 2018
Really good games are harder to compare with each other. While every escape game is different, after playing a few hundred games, their relative quality mainly comes down to the same few factors: are the puzzles interesting and fun, well-designed and free from unnecessary ambiguity? does the game look good, and give you a moment of ‘wow’ when you walk in? do you feel drawn into the story, and immersed in the narrative? Assessing most games comes down to how well they’ve done at those, and any game that gets all of those right will be an outstanding game. All of the absolute best games, though, go beyond those in some particular way that’s unique to that game and that venue’s vision.
With Escape Rush, strange as it might sound, part of that extra something is the lobby and entrance. Many venues do an excellent job of theming their rooms; a few invest in making their waiting area look good too. Almost none go as far as taking the exterior of their location and turning it into part of the immersion. The theming here is of a disguised secret intelligence service with access to time travel technology, using it to respond to terrorist attacks by jumping a short distance back in time and preventing them from happening.
Submarine Bunker sends your team to a Russian base taken over by terrorists, where three nuclear missiles are set to launch at major world capitals. Your job is to get into the base and defuse the missiles before they launch.
The set is spectacular. I’ve seen few games with such a large set, and even fewer that feel so expansive in the way they use their space. Given the game’s name it should be no surprise that it involves a submarine; where other games with that theme give you a narrow submarine interior, here the sub is one lovingly realised part of a larger environment. The large play area has some beautifully detailed highlights with audio and lighting used to heighten the drama and drive the game to a tense finish.
Submarine Bunker has an action-movie plot, and the game feels more like taking part in a movie than solving puzzles. That’s not to suggest that it substitutes action in place of puzzling, but rather that all its puzzles consist of actions that make sense in the story: gaining entrance to the base, finding a way to access the missile controls and deactivating them. The few more obviously artificial elements are easily overlooked in the rush from one step to the next.
I’d describe the puzzles as the weakest element of the game, in that they’re merely very good, and therefore a step short of the superb quality of the build and cinematics. That is to say, the puzzles are well-designed and serve the theme and story, but aren’t what make this game stand out; there’s an opportunity for Escape Rush to innovate further there. But chances are you’ll be too busy feeling like a secret agent and saving the world to notice.
The large scale cinematic design and no-expenses-spared build quality look encouragingly likely to carry over to their future games; as will the pre-game experience, which thoroughly won us over before our actual game time started. Escape Rush are some way outside Brussels city centre, but you’re passing through the city – or just within, ooh, perhaps 500 miles of it – this one’s worth making a trip to.