Ghent, Jan 2018
I’m tempted to start this review with ‘Labyrint is not an escape room’, but that’s not true – it is an escape room, it’s just a rather unusual one. It seems its creator conceived of and built it entirely independently, without having discovered other escape rooms, and only subsequently realised that prior art existed for his idea. Despite many similarities to ‘normal’ games, the game has a very different feel, as if it falls into a slightly different category of interactive experience. For a start, it’s a 90 minute game instead of a 60 minute one, but that’s a relatively minor point.
Up-front instructions tell you that the game consists of eight rooms, each of which has a single purpose or item to find; and moreover that you’ll start in darkness and need to find a way to get the lights on.
Hearing that a game uses darkness makes my heart sink, since it’s too often a lazy way to make puzzles harder, or – where the first step of the game is to get the lights on – an unnecessary starting task unrelated to the rest of the game, which often comes down to blind luck in stumbling across a light switch. That wasn’t the case with Labyrint, and it’s among the most successful uses of darkness I can remember. We fumbled around plenty, and worried a little about bumping heads, but it successfully gave the game a greater sense of immersion at the start, and an effective sequence of figuring out our environment and what was going on.
There is no story, and essentially no decor. Once the lights are on, your surroundings turn out to be a patchwork of wooden panels. It looks bare and unfinished and raw, but is simultaneously impressive due to the scale and construction of the game.
Almost every escape room briefing tells players not to use force. That’s true with Labyrint as well – some of the construction is fragile and wouldn’t be hard to damage – but even so, it involves a much higher degree of physical exertion than other games, as well as some crawling and clambering about. Expect to emerge dusty, and also exercise a little caution especially in the darkness, since there are a couple of sharp nail points and potential trip hazards to catch the unwary.
The increased emphasis on physical activity goes with a decreased emphasis on puzzle solving. There certainly are puzzles, but only a few of them, and some of those are essentially the same puzzle repeated. But that’s the style of the game: where another game might take an empty space and fill it with clues and puzzles, here the surroundings are the puzzle. It’s a little bit like a giant version of a wooden puzzle box, which you solve from the inside out.
It’s not at all a normal escape room, and if you go expecting one you may be disappointed. But if you approach it as something new, it’s both refreshingly different and also great fun. We emerged happy and would have happily plunged straight into the venue’s second, 2.5 hour game had it not required one player more than we had in our group.