Norwich, Dec 2017
In Archived Alive! your mission is to rescue the local historian, who has managed to lock himself in the vaults. As he explains to you in the intro video, the poor fellow has been there three days without food or water, and since he’s also worried about his research being stolen, everything in his office is locked behind a series of cryptic clues.
Accordingly, the game is set in a room that looks convincingly like the office of a somewhat disorganised academic. The room is however in Norwich’s Guildhall, which instantly provides an extra layer of authenticity that would be missing with generic commercial office space or a corner of an industrial park.
The core of Archived Alive! is Norwich history. One puzzle after another refers back to the city’s past, in a way that means you’ll almost certainly come away having accidentally learned something. I don’t mean to imply that it sets out to be earnestly educational; rather that it’s difficult to avoid noticing something interesting, in the same way and for the same reasons as when walking through a museum. Where it departs from its theme, it does so to add small touches of light humour or a couple of more physical puzzles that add welcome variation to the game.
Be warned that if you strongly object to red herrings you might dislike this game. It’s normal and pretty unobjectionable to have objects that are purely decorative, and Archived Alive! has plenty of them. More notably though, it includes a couple of objects that look unquestionably like part of the game, but which are never used, one of which the operator confirmed is present as an intentional distraction. That’s a design decision I dislike, although it bothered me less because the game had a clear flow. That is, at most points it was reasonably clear what items we should focus on and what they might be relevant to, and therefore we didn’t waste much time on the distractions. Your mileage may vary though, and someone who spent a substantial amount of time chasing those dead-ends instead of working on the important bits might justifiably feel aggrieved.
There are also a great many similar padlocks, and a slightly ‘mathsy’ style to the game where most steps resolve to numeric codes, sometimes by way of a sum or two. I’d have liked that less in a different game, but here the result was an academic feel that at times felt almost as if we were doing some light research into Norwich history. That’ll appeal to some teams rather more than others, but I enjoyed the distinctive style as well as the generally solid puzzle design.