Heraklion, Oct 2023
The theming here suggests a Dan Brown style plot perhaps involving the Illuminati or something, but it’s actually more original than that: following the death of the Pope, the holy sceptre that’s a symbol of his office has gone missing.
Holy Secret is unusual for having a live actor as a core part of the game, without any fear elements. The actor is your guide to the monastery that you’re infiltrating, and your first task is to find a way to neutralise him as an obstacle.
Having someone in the room while we play, watching us attempt to solve things, is something I generally find distracting and unwelcome. But the monk here struck a good balance, acting as a hint delivery system and also part of the story, all in ways that were reasonably justified by the plot.
The flow of the game is almost entirely linear, and makes heavy use of key padlocks and number codes. On finding a key or code I often found the place to use it wasn’t in the place that seemed intuitively likely; rather than progress from one room to the next, it sent us back and forth between different areas as we solved puzzles in them. That was actually quite an effective way to maximise use of what was in any case an expansive and varied set.
I’d quibble with some details of the puzzle design, but the presence of the monk smoothed over potential stumbling blocks; such as the one unexpected and extremely difficult search task in a game that otherwise involves little searching, which would have left us completely stuck, had the monk not immediately indicated that we should look more closely, and kept insisting until we finally spotted what we needed. That might not be the most elegant design, but it worked well with the setting and theming.
Holy Secret also has a decision for you to make, and we were told in the briefing that there was no wrong answer. That’s true enough, but we realised too late that the choice is between an easier and a more difficult path, and regretted not choosing the more difficult option – though our host did show us afterwards what we’d missed.
At its core, Holy Secret is a fairly traditional escape room. When you add in the unusually large set (relative to normal standards, not compared to games in Athens!) and the extra immersion of story and actor, this is an experience well worth trying if you’re passing through Crete.