Sofia, May 2018
When researching games to play in Sofia and when chatting to local owners, more than once I heard Atlantis described as the best game in the city, stated not as a personal opinion but as an uncontroversial fact. The justification for that became clear almost as soon as we entered the venue.
The storyline has you sent into the ruins of Atlantis to retrieve a mystical artefact, Poseidon’s Heart, which is needed for vague reasons to save all of humanity. That’s a plotline suitable for a Hollywood action movie, and the set fully meets those standards too. It begins with a flourish of style and spectacle, and proceeds to perhaps the most instantly gorgeous escape room environment I’ve seen yet, setting a high bar that it manages to keep to right through to the end.
In play style Atlantis feels very different to most escape games. There are few elements that I’d describe as puzzles as such, though observation is important, and cooperation critical. In place of traditional puzzle solving, physical skill-based tasks make up a lot of the content, along with simply making sense of the environment and working out what to do. (Since it’s so physical, players are advised to dress down and play wearing sensible shoes and clothes that can take a bit of dust and smudging.)
Players are initially equipped with a book of clues, which guides them through the game with cryptic instructions. One side effect of this was that I generally had a good sense of how far we’d progressed towards the end. It also reinforced what was in any case a very clear structure of distinct stages, though these were cleverly linked by a common thread.
At points we found the game more than a little frustrating. Since the difficulty often lies in working out what to do, it’s easy to find yourself casting around helplessly with no idea how to proceed. At some points this may even be because it’s not possible to proceed until a different player solves something. One co-operative skill task in particular seemed so over-the-top difficult I temporarily despaired of being able to do it. (The host later told me they have a backup way to rescue teams who simply cannot get past this bit.) In our case we were also feeling the pressure of playing as a team of two and had forgotten that the game’s time limit is 75 minutes not 60, so every moment lost felt agonisingly wasted; and when we were most stuck our gamemaster erred on the side of under-hinting, with five painful minutes of clues that didn’t unstick us before we got past the problem puzzle.
But if I felt frustrated at points while playing, the biggest reason was that I was so afraid of running out of time and missing out on the ending of this gorgeous, amazing game. Each part of it was distinct and memorable and interesting. Each part of it was linked in a way that built up to the finish. Any part of it would, on its own, make a big spectacular end-of-game highlight.
The skills needed to complete Atlantis are a slightly different set to those used in most escape games, and experienced players may find they are at less of an advantage than usual. There’s potential for players’ enjoyment to be spoiled by the frustration of getting stuck, especially if that leads to them missing some of the end of the game. If you prefer intellectual challenges and decor built with refined authenticity over Hollywood pizzazz, it might not be to your tastes either. But nonetheless, Atlantis is a game that deserves strenuous efforts to play it. Between the inventive, ambitious game ideas, the spectacular visuals and its sense of flair and theatre, this is an escape game you really need to play, up with the very best I’ve seen anywhere.
When an escape room’s reputation precedes it, the higher expectations can end up marring your experience. But we arrived in Sofia with few preconceived notions about the local escape rooms, and tackled Atlantis as a team of two with no background knowledge of what to expect.
After playing quite a number of games, Atlantis is one of a handful that left me awe-struck. Throughout the entire game, it felt as though I was going through an exhilarating ride at Universal Studio – by and large one of the most astonishing rooms I have seen! On the other hand, the game deviates from the norm – It’s not just your typical puzzles, it tests your physical skills concurrently. While some people struggle with search heavy games, this game hit my biggest weakness – wordy riddles! We found ourselves baffled and frustrated at one particular moment in the game, with the GM holding back on guiding us. That prolonged agony did diminish my enjoyment of the game, but retrospectively, the anxiety was increased by our strong desire to not miss out on any part of the magnificent room.
If you are seeking intellectual stimulation the puzzles in Atlantis are not its strongest point, but what makes this room unforgettable is the entire experience – which I won’t describe further for spoiler reasons. And precisely because it’s so sophisticated and different to other rooms, I rate it among the very best I have played.