London, Nov 2018
After a remarkably long time with three open games and another five (!) listed as ‘coming soon’, Bermondsey-based Lock’d have launched their fourth game. The House of Alastair Moon is set in the house of a magician who turned to black magic after the death of his family, and then mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind an ominously empty mansion which you’re now intending to explore.
When I played the first three games at Lock’d, way back in early 2017, I found them pleasant but simple games, a bit plain and lacking in content despite the inclusion of an occasional more ambitious element. It was immediately clear that Alastair Moon is a definite step forwards, recognisably the same style of escape room design but prettier and more sophisticated than their previous games.
That includes much more extensive use of technology. Introducing electronics and maglocks are by no means a reliable way to make a game more enjoyable, but Lock’d have used them here to allow a more varied range of puzzle interactions, including one I’d heard about but not previously come across in a game myself. The extra electronics also allowed some very satisfying visual effects. While the tech use was broadly very successful, at a couple of points it did feel a little arbitrary to work out what the intended action was – not unreasonably difficult as such (though I did think our host seemed a bit ready to jump in with a hint at those bits, as if used to teams needing help to get past them), but needing a little guesswork and experimentation to find the correct way to proceed.
Alastair Moon includes a variable score system, where in addition to solving the mystery of the mansion you’re also attempting to recover as much valuable jewellery as you can. Leaving aside the dubious morality of looting the man’s home, that’s potentially a nice way to give experienced players more to do, but I was left with the impression that they hadn’t fully thought the mechanism through. The first problem was that we didn’t have a clear idea what counted as valuable for this purpose, and there wasn’t a single linking similarity that we could use to identify target items. As a result, we accumulated some items that we expected to use towards a puzzle, and only belatedly realised that they were purely for scoring. It also meant that at the end I grabbed absolutely everything I could see that might remotely be considered an objet d’art and staggered out of the game carrying a pile of props, much to our gamemaster’s amusement.
More seriously, it rather deflated the game’s conclusion. While playing an escape room you get a sense of how far you are from the finish, by how much you have left to do. Good design works with that, building the sense of excitement and urgency towards a dramatic finale. In Alastair Moon, the end arrived abruptly, much sooner than we’d expected, because we knew we still had a bunch of things to open and solve – but these turned out to be part of the bonus track, not the main story.
That impression was increased further by a particular large component near the end of the game that turned out not to be used. As a result, I felt that this game had lots of elements that were individually impressive but the overall experience fell short of the sum of its parts, fizzling out where it needed a dramatic ending, and seeming a couple of puzzles short of a properly satisfying game. That said, it’s certainly the strongest of the venue’s four rooms, and has some genuinely cool moments to enjoy along the way.