Athens, May 2019
I’m a sucker for spaceship and sci-fi games. (My teammate, not so much.) And one of the great defining classics of movie sci-fi is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which pretty much created the trope of the coldly homicidal computer in a story that’s inspired any number of escape rooms. Escapepolis’s two hour game Cosmos 05 isn’t an adaptation of that movie, but certainly makes homage to it.
Games in Athens often use actors. Escapepolis do not, but in Cosmos 05 you have an antagonist to deal with nonetheless: the murderous robot Erik, who provides a stream of electronic objections to your progress and continued existence. Erik provides a more direct threat too, and we were warned that he would sometimes perform a scan in search of us. When this happened we’d each get an advance warning, plus a simple maths equation to solve, the answer to which identified a safe place to stand while Erik did his scan. Failure reduced our remaining oxygen, effectively a time penalty – although I’m pretty sure I went to the wrong safe spot on one occasion and got away with it without losing time. This turned out to be an excellent piece of theatre that happened just often enough to keep the tension up without becoming an annoying distraction, each time causing a panicked scramble to find safety before the robot detected us.
Having woken from cryosleep partway through an interstellar journey to investigate a possible new world, your job is to deactivate Erik before he smashes your craft into an asteroid, then get back on course to your original destination. Cosmos 05 doesn’t have the expansive physical space of many Athens games, but it more than makes up for it in cinematics and density of puzzles. Extensive use of technology is not at all a guarantee of quality, but this is an example of technology used well, a zero padlock design where interesting puzzles use varied and inventive mechanisms.
Like many technologically advanced games, Cosmos 05 relies on a handbook of information to help guide players in the right direction, and to provide written components to some of the puzzles. That trope is not often seen in lower tech escape rooms, since players rarely need guidance to apply a four digit code to a numeric padlock; but when faced with a complex spaceship control panel covered in switches or buttons or electronic sensors, players need some way to get to grips with it. Providing an actual manual or guide is a crude way to deal with that problem that comes with many potential downsides, but in this game I thought it was done well, mainly because it avoided unnecessary red herring information and because it was careful to be clear about what information was relevant to which stages of the game.
We played as a team of two, and Cosmos 05 is a linear game very well suited to a small team – unusually, the booking system even allows you to book in for it as a solo player. It would be a shame to play on your own though, this is an experience best shared. Although it has a wealth of challenging, smart puzzles to solve, it feels less like solving puzzles than taking part in a movie. Right from the first moment it drops you into a glossy space fantasy, an impression built further with the sleeky menacing Erik and the dramatic story progression. On completing the game, the credits rolled – quite literally, just as at the end of a film. In a less impressive game that would have struck me as self-indulgent, but it seemed entirely suitable for this highly cinematic experience. I’d highly recommend it to any players, but sci-fi geeks in particular will be in seventh heaven.