Online, Jul 2020
Making an escape room available for remote play has, for many companies, involved little more than giving a gamesmaster a GoPro. Plenty now also use a separate web-based inventory system, which is invaluable for many games. The Box has gone a great deal further, not just tweaking their heist game but substantially reinventing significant parts of it to turn it into a specifically online experience.
In this game you’re committing a diamond heist, guiding your avatar and designated fall guy Bob. The character of Bob is one of this game’s strengths – loquacious, naive and cheerful, he bumbles through the game at your direction, and even if you sometimes want him to just. hurry. up!, he’ll wring a laugh out of you through sheer persistence if nothing else.
While the game is primarily based in the physical room, viewed through the livestream, it adds in extra web-based elements that go way beyond a simple inventory page, to ARG-style puzzles that you’d more often see in an unhosted online game. Wisely they’ve extended the game’s run time to 75 minutes, and we were also given a few minutes to familiarise ourselves with the online bits and pieces between the briefing and the game start.
I really liked the novelty and innovation of this approach, and the way it tied into the premise that we were the support team providing information and guidance to the man on the ground. At the same time, it did start to feel like dealing with all the browser tabs began to take focus off the main game. On reflection, I think the main point of friction wasn’t the custom interfaces or the ARG elements, it was the inventory system, and specifically the fact that the inventory used Google Drive.
As an inventory management system, Google Drive has several flaws. You have to manually refresh to get updates, it doesn’t easily allow you to open items in separate tabs, and each picture is slow to load, making it slow and cumbersome any time you need to compare multiple items at once. The Box also take the approach of sticking anything and everything into the inventory list, which means there’s all the more to sort through. The company’s clearly got the technical expertise to use something more user-friendly, and upgrading the technology used there would be a definite improvement.
The physical room is a sophisticated lock-free design (at least, if you don’t count electronic keypads as locks). It includes some physical tasks that would normally be better when playing in person, but which became material for some of our avatar’s more amusing bits of slapstick.
What players will likely remember most of all about this game, for better or worse, is a particular section of process-heavy puzzle solving. When I realised what the game expected us to do, my initial reaction was appalled disbelief. In practice, it turned into an adrenaline rush that was one of my favourite parts of the game. However, how you find it will depend on how you feel about high pressure number crunching, and I can absolutely see this section putting many players off, leaving them feeling bored or sidelined or overwhelmed.
Thanks to its hybrid style Casse Du Siècle is both unusual and unusually good, though with two potential frustrations: the sometimes frustrating inventory system and that puzzle. Those will put some players off but others won’t mind those at all, or will actively enjoy them. Either way it’s a game worth trying, for the interesting game design and solid gameplay; plus guiding Bob adds a layer of extra entertainment at all stages.