Review: Unlock!

Unlock is the latest game from Space Cowboys, the same developers who came up with the excellent, but largely non-replayable TIME Stories and its various scenarios. Using nothing more than a deck of cards Unlock takes you on a tricky task of escaping from a room that you’ve managed to find yourself locked in to. You’ll solve puzzles, crack codes, and fight against the clock to try and escape within the 1 hour time limit. It’s fantastically made and enormous fun, but let’s dive straight in at the question that most people will have once they find out how Unlock works – is it really worth picking it up for £25 when you can only really enjoy each scenario once? After all, the puzzles won’t change, it’d be like trying to do the same crossword twice.

There’s a simple answer to that question: Yes. Very yes. A one-off experience it might be, but it’s a very impressive one.

Each of your three scenarios (or four if you include the very handy 10 minute tutorial mission) starts in more or less the same way; you’ll turn over an initial card which shows you your starting location. This card will have numbers on, telling you about various items or other areas of interest in the room. To see these in more detail you need to flick through the deck of cards to find the card with that number on the back. The cards aren’t in order so it can be a bit tricky to find them sometimes; this is by design, and the instructions make it crystal clear that you’re not to spread the cards out to make it easier to find them. It’s all part of being up against the clock, so we tended to have a person finding the cards and passing them to others to look at, at which point they could place them on the table and start working out how they might help us.

No spoilers here, this is just the brief tutorial scenario!

When it comes to using one item with another, many of the cards have either a blue or red number on. Combining a red and blue item means adding the two numbers together, then finding the card with that total on. To use a fairly generic spoiler-free example there might be a key with a red 9 on it, and a locked box which has a blue 24. You decide to try the key in the lock, so look for card 33 in the deck (since 24 + 9 = 33), and this is where things get really clever. You might not find card 33, in which case you know you’re wrong, or you might find card 33, turn it over excitedly to see what’s in the box only to find it was the wrong key, but the game was ready for you to make that mistake. It might just be a message with a clue, or it might be a time penalty which knocks a few minutes off your escape timer. If you’re right, then you’ll get a card showing what’s in the box, possibly with another number for you to find in the deck giving you more information about what was inside.

Without giving anything solution-related away in the review it’s tricky to explain fully, but essentially the game knows various possible combinations and has cards ready for you to screw up, and the accompanying app (which keeps track of clues, time, penalties, secret codes and so on) will make you painfully aware of how time is trickling by, waiting for you to make one final mistake.

Time to go and find card 46…

There’s variety too – all three scenarios are very different in style and setting, and one even has your team split in half to start with, working as two separate groups at the same time, but again I won’t go into too much detail; the very purpose of this game is the surprise, the tension, and the most-definitely-not-knowing-what’s-going-to-happen. It’s a little like TIME Stories in that respect, no surprise when, as I mentioned earlier, this has come from the same developers.

So don’t be put off by the price. If you’re looking for a little replayability take it to a mate’s house who hasn’t played it and watch as they try and escape with their family, or drop it back on the shelf and tie your parents up in knots with it when they come and visit. I imagine watching others playing this would be entertaining in its own right, so it’s certainly a consideration if you’re struggling to justify it. But the key reason not to be put off is just how brilliant the game is; it’s smart, it’s challenging, and it’s extremely nerve wracking as the timer heads towards zero. My wife and I finished the first scenario with 9 seconds left on the timer, and it felt brilliant.

Enough of me. Just buy it, you won’t regret it.

Available Now, RRP £26.99
Find your local stockist here

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