Gravesend, Nov 2017
A man is dead and it’s up to you to gather the evidence and solve the mystery, in the 60 minutes you have before the cops arrive and make a hash of things.
A murder investigation is a tried and tested escape room theme. Defective Detective mixes it up in two ways, most obviously with its use of technology but also with a tongue-in-cheek edge to the design – it parodies its genre, but mostly in a subtle way that players may not notice, at least at first.
More obvious is the way the game uses tech. One part of this is a smartphone given to players to use for scanning evidence. Whenever you discover a fingerprint or other interesting item, you can snap a photo of it with the phone and receive back further information about it a few moments later. An important part of the game consists of piecing together what happened using clues received in this way, and also from video footage that you might discover. In combination this gives Defective Detective a rather distinctive feel, where the emphasis is somewhat less than usual on solving puzzles and more on actual detective-ish skills such as gathering information and making deductions about what that information means.
Still, there’s plenty of more normal puzzle content, with a mixture of puzzles that varies from some with very naturalistic design to others that are very much based on escape room logic. The game felt a little disjointed to both our teams (though considerably more to one than to the other), and I think the variability of puzzle style was part of the reason for that. It’s often easier to make progress in a game once you get a feel for the style of its puzzles, but here the style varied in a way that tended to catch us flatfooted. It’s also a fairly open space containing content that follows a mainly linear structure, which perhaps increased potential for confusion by making it harder to find the correct thread to focus on.
The game contains a great many clever subtleties and sly jokes, and unfortunately they were too subtle for us to pick up on many of them while playing. Having been told more about the game design since, I think I ‘get’ what it’s trying to do more than I did at the time, and appreciate it more as a result. Even so, it’s less obviously impressive than most of the other Panic Room games, and I suspect many teams may not be won over; the game structure makes it easier to feel stalled or frustrated, so it’s less of a safe choice than other escape rooms at the venue. But if the description above sounds like something you might like then there’s a lot to enjoy in the game’s jokes and witticisms and the way it plays with genre tropes.