A stunning, well thought out game that is amongst the best I have played
Some years ago the Cheney Manor potash mine shut down unexpectedly and the site was evacuated. Despite much speculation, the reason for closure remained obscure. Financial troubles… resource depletion… or worse, some kind of mining accident?
Out of the blue, you and your team of investigative journalists receive an anonymous tip-off. The caller claims to work for a scientific research company that – until very recently – was using the mine to carry out a series of experiments that could have dangerous consequences…
You’ve only got a small window of opportunity to sneak inside the mine and figure out what has been going on. This could be your chance to expose something huge, so what are you waiting for?!
Our entire team was thoroughly impressed by Co-Decode’s first room, Professor Dunstan, but sadly Sub Terra was a few months away from being ready when we visited; so of course as soon as it was announced that it was open, we set about planning when we should make our way back. When we discovered that Swindon was only a short detour from the planned route of our holiday, there was no question we would be stopping off.
Once again we found ourselves in the strange indoor complex, complete with street names in the hallways, standing outside the beautifully themed door. Inside, it was the same, with a comfortable couch, and excellent conversation with Alex, the owner and our GM for the day. (It seems Gord and his yellow shoes have quite the reputation.) The rest of our team arrived, and we were led to the door to the mine to set about our task of exposing the secrets within.
Puzzles throughout Sub Terra were varied, logical and flowed well. Each aspect was perfectly on theme with each task fitting in perfectly to the story, and the variety of tasks incorporated communication, teamwork, observation, logical deduction, as well as physical interaction with the set. In other words, there was something that suited the various skills of everyone on the team. Co-Decode’s previous game was full of ingenious mechanisms, but Sub Terra seemed to focus more on the use of technology, although there were still a few notable moments that were simply very cool.
When we had previously played Professor Dunstan, we were asked to select a difficulty rating, with extra puzzles being added for the more extreme difficulty levels, which was a nice way to balance the game for both the uninitiated and the experienced players. I was expecting the same again, but Sub Terra took a different approach by providing two objectives that must be completed to be successful, and then offering a plethora of bonus tasks.
This is one of only two games I have played where it is possible to succeed, despite not completing all tasks, and I suspect teams will either love or hate this aspect of the game. However, this approach means that smaller/inexperienced teams can still be successful, while larger teams will never find members left out of the action, as the game is set up in a multi-linear style, allowing larger teams to split up. Of course this does mean that some players may completely miss aspects of the room, or teams could be left feeling frustrated by an incomplete puzzle when the time is up, but ultimately, I thought it was a genius idea for balancing the core market of new players, and the growing number of enthusiasts, without completely changing the game for each team that comes through.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the set for Sub Terra is simply, “WOW!” When speaking with Alex prior to the start of the game, I gather it took nearly a year (or more, I can’t quite remember) to complete, but it has certainly paid off. The attention to detail not only in set design, but also puzzle design, has resulted in a stunning, well thought-out game that is amongst the best I have played.
The set is gorgeous. Everything fits, nothing is out of place, and on top of the great decor, the game flows well, taking players on a journey as they make their way through the mine. Everything from the decor to the puzzles, to the timer allows this to be a fully immersive experience, and I found myself completely absorbed in the game and tasks at hand. One thing Gord loves about a room is a nice, clear, ending, and Sub Terra didn’t let us down on this point; with a team of five enthusiasts we completed the main tasks and all bonus materials with a little time to spare, triggering the finale of the game, and providing a wonderful, clear ending with a bit of fun. If the time runs out before all bonus tasks are complete, other teams may experience this differently.
It’s a small thing, but at one point I was close to asking for a clue due to a search fail; however, there were subtle nudges provided by the room itself that meant this wasn’t necessary. It was a nice touch to realise that if you were paying attention, there were elements in the room that would set you in the right direction without receiving an overt clue. It was an inspired choice, and while I only noticed it in this one instance, I’m sure there were other points where something similar happened, but it was so subtle it was overlooked and simply just accepted as part of the game.
Clues and the time are displayed on a screen in the room. However, the design of the screen allows for these to be fully integrated in the story. The wonderful thing about the timer in particular is that you only have a vague idea of how much time is remaining until you complete certain tasks throughout the game. Once you have done this, you will have an exact time, something that only served to enhance the immersive aspect of the game for me. Everything throughout Sub Terra flowed, and just clicked with us, and as such, we didn’t require any clues, but I have no doubt they would have been delivered swiftly if we had needed help.
Sub Terra was a delight from start to finish. With a strong story that’s reenforced by a fantastic set, and great puzzles, it has firmly secured a place on my list of Top Ten Escape Rooms (to date). If you haven’t made the trip to Co-Decode yet, what are you waiting for?
Team: 5 Players
Address: Unit 35C, BSS House, Swindon SN2 2PJ