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The Experiment: Escape Room Review


OnSkull Development are a Greek independent studio that have, for a few years now, been putting out video game escape rooms. They’ve been trying to capture the immersion of an escape room through virtual reality, and the social aspect of them through multiplayer modes. Until roughly two months ago, their games had been locked away on the PC and HTC Vive, but it’s safe to say that they’re truly multiplatform now. We’ve had five of their games hit the Xbox in the past three months alone. 

OnSkull started by releasing escape room compendiums in the form of Escape First 1, 2 and Curious Cases, but are trying something new with Escape 2088 and now The Experiment: Escape Room. These are single escape rooms at a tempting £3.29 – just enough to purchase without feeling the twinge of guilt. 

The Experiment: Escape Room is emblematic of OnSkull’s escape rooms, in that you can free-roam around. Escape 2088 had you locked in place in the middle of a room, but The Experiment: Escape Room gives you free rein over its puzzle space. There are five rooms, unlocked sequentially, and you are going to be moving from one to the other quite regularly. 

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There must be something in the Greek water, because almost all of OnSkull Development’s Xbox escape rooms are dark, dingy and horrific. We’re used to physical, real-life escape rooms mostly being about Cleopatra’s fortune, or a ticking bomb in a spy bunker. But, to the last, the OnSkull escape rooms look like the inside of iron maidens. You expect a Licker to appear on the walls at any moment. And The Experiment: Escape Room is perhaps the darkest of the bunch. 

You start in a laboratory where presumably you have been experimented on. There’s a blood test machine on one wall, and a dentist’s chair in the middle, because nothing says ‘horror’ than some fillings. Soon, you will be opening doors to find an animal testing facility, a mortuary, a storage cupboard and the doctor’s office, full of mahogany furnishings and ornate decorations. There’s no Tomb of Tutankhamun to be found. 

We blame Escape Academy, which has thoroughly spoiled us – and spoiled most escape rooms that have followed – because we craved some of its humour and colour. While The Experiment: Escape Room is cooperative, we didn’t fancy bringing a partner into its walls, simply because it’s so depressing, and it’s oppressively dark, to the degree that the simplest details can’t be seen. 

A torch is found about halfway through The Experiment: Escape Room, which would have helped matters. But you can only carry one item at a time, so it’s constantly in the way. We soon abandoned it in favour of being able to pick up keys, statues and documents. At least we could solve puzzles. It’s a half-hearted attempt to solve the drabness of The Experiment: Escape Room, and it doesn’t really work. 

Escape rooms are all about the puzzles, and The Experiment: Escape Room is drowning in them. But they are a thoroughly hit and miss affair. The animal testing laboratory is a good example of a room done right. It opts for a ‘search everything’ approach to puzzling, with drawers containing empty slots where toy bananas and plastic hearts should be. You quickly realise that they are hidden in other drawers and lockers, so it’s a game of Finders Keepers as you empty everything onto the floor. The room has a discrete theme, a clear objective, and can be completed without a guide. 

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But for every strong example, there’s a poor one. Take the mirror in the storage cupboard, which showcases everything that’s wrong with OnSkull escape rooms. It’s congruous in the extreme, looking like any other decorative item. You’d be lucky to spot it in the dark, let alone think that it’s important. Hover the cursor over the mirror, and that cursor doesn’t change shape or give feedback that, yep, the mirror has a role in the game. Tap A button, and there won’t be a message or hint about the mirror being dirty. But what The Experiment: Escape Room wants you to do is find a roll of tissue paper in the cupboard (again, looking completely unimportant, like the hundreds of other background decorations) and use it to wipe the mirror. A number appears on the mirror, and you can punch it into a nearby terminal. 

This is what grinds our gears about OnSkull escape rooms. There should be breadcrumbs to puzzles, and breadcrumbs to solve them. A good escape room winks and nudges at you, using shorthand like audio cues, text hints and flashing ‘look here’ signs to help you along the way. Otherwise, you are trying to interact with everything, and that road leads unto madness. 

The Experiment: Escape Room doesn’t believe in any of that handholding nonsense. It gets its environment artists to create rooms with dozens of drawers, lockers and cupboards, and then fills them with precisely nothing of use. It throws decorative items around like confetti, filling the space to make it believable. And then it says ‘have at it’: try to find that needle in the puzzle haystack. 

So, you’re opening drawers and tossing items on the floor, in the hope that something will be of use. Soon, you have a carpet of scalpels and vials. Items disappear, falling into the cracks of the code, and you’re left to press a ‘reset puzzle’ button that does its best to return items to whence they came.

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Rooms like the mortuary become a challenge, simply because you can open everything in the room, which means you can barely move. The Experiment: Escape Room can’t decide whether stuff should block you or not, and more often than not, you’re spending time shutting things so you can actually pass. You begin to realise why Escape 2088 locked you to a single point and didn’t let you move.

We love escape rooms, we really do. We have the deepest of love for Escape Academy, the best escape room on the Xbox by several leagues. We have spent too many stag dos locked in rooms with our mates and stale hangover breath. There’s something intensely satisfying about working together to push out the boundaries of a puzzle. Gaining parts of yet another puzzle as a reward is a major joy.

But The Experiment: Escape Room does its damnedest to strip out all of those joys. You’re not going to enjoy an escape room if you can barely see it, and you’re not going to feel the satisfaction of completing a puzzle if you are forced to use a guide. The Experiment: Escape Room is that murky, and that obscure. 

We’ve reviewed and played Escape 2088 and now The Experiment: Escape Room, and we’re genuinely scared that three more of these games await us to review. Please, let us escape.

You can buy The Experiment: Escape Room from the Xbox Store

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