Escape rooms are becoming more and more popular, and have found themselves bundled into tabletop games such as Unlock, which we’ve reviewed before now and really enjoyed. So when the chance popped up to take a look at Escape Tales: The Awakening we jumped at it. An escape room-style game but with a stronger storyline? Sounds good to me.
And, as it turns out, it was good. Really good. Unlike when playing Unlock, when I always insist on having some help to help me hit the time limit and figure out the puzzles, I approached Escape Tales as a single player game. With no time limit my thinking was I could take my time solving the puzzles, I could think and explore a little more, and if needs be I could take a break and come back another day; there’s a useful save mechanic built into the game after all. I wanted this to be a little escapism (pardon the pun) from real life, a chance for me to zone out from everything and just engross myself in this story of a guy whose daughter becomes very ill, and so delves into some powerful dark magic to try and save her. The premise of the story hooked me pretty quickly, and as time went on that didn’t ease off at all; I struggled to stop mid-game because I just wanted to know what was coming.
The narrative of the game is delivered via a choose-your-own-adventure style book, which contains numerous paragraphs in a random order that you’ll flick around when instructed. If you’ve ever played Stuffed Fables or This War of Mine you’ll have an idea what this looks like. Each location has a pair of cards that make up a searchable area, with the book telling you how many search tokens you get. Looking in the right place is important for finding the various items or information you need, and whenever you pick an area to look at the map card tells you which paragraph to read. It’s a very effective solution, mixing up play styles from escape games like Unlock, and searching ideas from something like T.I.M.E. Stories, and lets you really think about where you’re looking so as to not need to fall back on the aptly named Doom deck. These cards can be picked up if you’ve used all of your action tokens but still need to search around more. Maybe you’re missing a clue to a puzzle, or need another item that you haven’t found yet. These cards are really mixed in their outcomes. Some just tell you to grab a few more tokens and keep searching, others might have huge implications for your progress in the game. I won’t say too much because it might ruin the way they make you feel if you play this, but the name isn’t over the top – you’ll very soon want to start going straight for the right places without having to pick them up.
The puzzles themselves were very decent, and while I had to use a few hints along the way using the web-based game accompaniment they never felt unfair. Tenuous at times maybe, but always within reach of getting it without needing the clues. Maybe if I had a 2nd pair of eyes I might have been able to get some of them a little quicker, but that was all part of me trying it alone. The lack of time limit helped hugely, and while the storyline lent itself very nicely to having a time limit in place to get the dad done and dusted in time to hopefully help his daughter, the length of the game wouldn’t have worked with a timer. There’s too much to explore, too much content to rush through, and the developers made the right call with leaving that out in my mind.
As you might expect from an escape room style game, there’s almost no replay value here at all. That’s not a problem at all if you know that when you buy it, and being easy to re-sort and re-package you could easily sell it or pass it on to a friend when you’re done, but if you think the numerous possible endings might make you want to play it through several times from start to finish, you might find yourself going off that idea quite soon. I’m happy with the decision I made, and while I’m intrigued what else might’ve happened, I’m not sure I feel the need to do the same puzzles over again for a few hours just to see a different paragraph at the end.
But would I recommend it? Definitely. I imagine it’ll work really well as a 2 player game as well – any more than that might get a little crowded around the board and clues – but even as a solo experience it’s wonderful. A gripping story, well delivered puzzles and a nicely thought out way to actually keep track of what’s going on in the game. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll want this.