Athens, Jun 2018
Your uncle used to run a mine in Africa. Now “the Bitter Truth” is hidden inside his flat. Your job is to find it and make sure it’s safe.
The paradox project is an unusual escape game in a number of ways. First, both the reception area (with refreshments) and the toilet are built into the gaming area, which in fact occupies an entire flat. These features are useful because the game is up to 3 hours long; we were asked if we wanted to pause the play and timer half way, and found we needed to, just to recharge.
Secondly, this felt like a room designed for hints to be given, and that you needed to be guided through it. There were at least two instances where outside knowledge was required beyond what I would consider reasonable; one mechanism where the physical setup didn’t align correctly to the markings; an ambiguous colour based puzzle; and also a puzzle where there was a missing arrow that led to an incorrect logical conclusion regarding the order of a sequence. In another room, these would all have annoyed me; however accepting hints were needed meant that when this came up the operator quickly intervened, and so it was just written off as part of the experience.
Aside from the faults above, there was a minor health and safety hazard which both me and my fellow escapee injured ourselves on.
There are no hugely sophisticated mechanics or electronics, and the decor is appropriate for a flat owned by an African ex miner, if not spectacular. The plotline also seemed to be a bit confusing; this may have been due to translation issues, but didn’t impact on our enjoyment.
However this all pales into insignificance because the game itself is epic. This is not a game for beginners! We counted at least 30 separate puzzles, not including the enormous amount of search required. The hidden items were disguised ingeniously but in a way that when hinted we never had a problem.
The play area itself could be regarded as the size of three “normal” escape rooms. They recommend a team of 3 minimum, but I would suggest 4 would in no way get bored, and would hugely help on the search. It’s so big it’s possible for two pairs to play the room semi independently (although I wouldn’t recommend this to avoid missing out). We played with just 2, which is just about possible but like putting a computer game on insane mode.
The puzzles are a relentless, even ridiculous, fun assault on your brain; finishing the game felt like completing a marathon; in the same way, whilst the objective was partly about time, it was far more about crossing the finishing line. We were exhausted, ready to collapse, but with a huge sense of accomplishment. I loved it.
Paradox 2 is in final stages of playtesting and I will be coming back to Athens for it!
Visiting Athens almost a year after Sam was there, playing both Paradox Project’s original game and their newly available sequel was top of my list. Athens is notable for how many of its games are longer than 60 minutes, sometimes much longer, but even by local standards the three-hour Paradox Project game stands out. Of course, length is no guarantee of quality – but in this case the sheer scale of this game is an important part of its appeal.
To set expectations, The Mansion was constructed several years ago and it looks and plays like an escape room of its era. Set in an apartment, its puzzles primarily involve padlock unlocks and physical manipulation of your surroundings. However, it demonstrates an ingenuity and inventiveness that meant a rewarding succession of surprises and satisfying reveals.
Our team of two was one short of the official minimum, but curiously, I didn’t feel rushed; it felt like a game we could enjoy at our leisure. On the other hand, we ran out of time right on the final step, so perhaps the long time limit lulled me into taking too casual an approach to it!
Much like Sam, we found we needed a fairly steady stream of hints and nudges from the gamemaster. Sometimes that was because we were being overly cautious with the game environment, and sometimes of course just because we’d missed things. There’s a repeated emphasis on lateral thinking and surprise solutions which in a couple of cases needed a bit more of an intuitive jump than seemed reasonable, but which was also a big part of what made the game interesting and challenging. And the backstory of the game gave an excellent excuse for how and why we were able to receive help when stuck, which greatly reduced the pain of asking for a clue.
In Athens you have a wealth of very high-tech, visually impressive games to choose from, compared to which The Mansion is quite ‘traditional’ in style. But for its immersive style and many smart surprises, and for its epic scale, it should be high on your list to play. If that’s not enough to convince you though, there’s now an additional reason: because you need to have played it to fully appreciate its amazing sequel.