My first thought when playing a new game I don’t know much about, is what else it reminds me of. Access Denied instantly conjures up memories of the multiplayer hoot that is “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”. In that game you have to work together to disarm a bomb. One player uses a physical instruction manual for direction on how to do this, as the other inputs the commands on screen. The look and feel of Access Denied has a lot in common with that game, but do the similarities only run skin deep? Let’s find out, as we access all areas.
Put simply, Access Denied is a puzzle game where you have to figure out how to open each container by using the many switches and dials on the outside faces. You’ll be dealing with binary flip switches, dials, circuits and tiles, amongst others, that will all need to be manipulated in the right way to proceed. The sad thing here, is that you never get to see what’s inside, so when you solve the puzzle in front of you, you still don’t gain access, which somewhat detracts from the satisfaction of solving a puzzle in the first place. Even a token box opening sequence would have made the efforts feel more worthwhile.
Now, just to be absolutely clear, this game falls squarely in the “no frills” category of gaming. You’re thrown straight in with no help or hints, but you’ll get to skip the puzzle if you get stuck for long enough. If you don’t like puzzlers, this certainly is not the game for you. However, if brain teasers are your bag, there’s a decent variation that should hold your interest. See, Access Denied has 36 puzzles to solve in total. And these vary quite randomly in difficulty. There’s no definable curve after the first couple – some will be easy whereas others will have you scratching your head trying to figure out exactly what you have to do. Depending on how good your memory is, you might also want to bring a pen and paper along for the ride, as some of the puzzles can get fairly complex.
In terms of how you control the action, the right thumbstick (or LB and RB) rotates the puzzle container and the left thumbstick moves your cursor. This scrolls your cursor around like a mouse would, however joysticks make things fiddly with some of the smaller switches. It’s a minor but noticeable annoyance, and I couldn’t help thinking that Access Denied would probably work so much better on PC or Switch. Maybe Ratalaika Games could have done something differently for Xbox here. When you do interact successfully, your cursor will shrink and go green, then you can hit A to use buttons and switches. The X/Y buttons are used to zoom in and out. That’s all there is to it. Simple.
There are a whopping 1000 Gamerscore up for grabs in Access Denied on Xbox One, which is great for such a short title. I was awarded 80G as I was making notes for this review, simply because I spent longer than three minutes on a puzzle. I was expecting rewards for solving them quickly, but there are no achievements that encourage you to do this. Rather spookily, there is no music to accompany the action either, just the sound of rainfall. To me, this seems an odd choice. Some tense music, the opportunity to earn gamerpoints for a speedy solve time and a time limit on the puzzle itself could have really dialled up the tension. Instead, things end up as a mildly entertaining, if not pedestrian, experience.
It is important at this point to mention that Access Denied only costs £4.99 on the Xbox Store. However, I can’t help but feel it would have been more at home as a mobile game or on Switch with touch screen controls, rather than as a full console release which seems too ambitious for what the game is. The low price point does go some way to forgiving some of its shortcomings, such as longevity, but it isn’t the “get out of jail free” card some may have been hoping for.
Access Denied is a short, simple and straight up puzzler. It’s a pretty dry game aimed directly at its target audience, something which may instantly turn some players off. However, for all that, there is enjoyment to be had for the die hard puzzle enthusiasts out there.