Puzzles and Beer: A Match Made in Heaven
In a worldwide first, our local escape room company, Deadlocked, have fused beer and online escape rooms together to create an epic alternative reality virtual online escape room, ‘The Cyphstress’, exclusively for Siren.
The team at Deadlocked Escape Rooms have been hard at work these past few months after the launch of their first Play at Home game, The Insiders. James and Charlie revealed that they had big plans, and to expect exciting things to come when the pair set up a live-stream as they hosted an epic Insiders competitive playthrough in May. Teasing us with little snippets of what was to come, I have to be honest, I was not entirely certain what to expect when it was revealed that the project was a collaboration between Deadlocked Escape Rooms and Siren Craft Brew.
It’s not uncommon to see escape games appearing, either as pop-ups or fully fledged experiences, to help promote something; last year a weekend experience appeared in a tiny pop-up bookshop, A.Z. Fell & Co, in Soho, coinciding with the release of Good Omens, and of course, the sprawling epic that is Sherlock: The Game is Now are just two of the games that spring to mind. And while these examples are TV promos, one thing that they have in common is a larger emphasis on the thing that they’re there to promote than on puzzles and amazing gameplay. Because this was a collaboration with a non-escape room company, I will admit I had the preconceived notion that the game would be lighter on the puzzle side (perhaps just a half an hour or so of lighthearted content), heavier on the Siren promotions side, and had no idea how beer might fit into it.
Oh how wrong I was, and really, after The Insiders, I should have known better. Deadlocked don’t do things by halves, and The Cyphstress is a work of art, with beautiful design, clever and complex puzzles, a strong narrative, all subtly blended with the mythology behind Siren Craft Brew.
Some digital games are online puzzle hunts, some are videos or images with puzzles and passwords. Others are point and click, and still others are cooperative communication challenges. The Cyphstress was all of these things, and more. Like The Insiders, The Cyphstress is an alternate reality game,but unlike The Insiders, The Cyphstress is entirely browser based, with no print and play elements that are required to reach the finale, and instead incorporates elements from many of the other styles of virtual escape games, constantly keeping players on their toes as it morphed from an interactive point and click style, to something else entirely, forcing you out of the digital world, and then back in again, with the entire internet at your disposal.
It wouldn’t be a Deadlocked game without a strong narrative and some character interaction, and The Cyphstress doesn’t disappoint on that front. The evil Wexell Corporation, normally a cornerstone of any Deadlocked game, was only mentioned once, and the story instead draws its inspiration from the myth of the Siren. The game began with one of the most beautiful openings I have seen in a digital game, followed by an equally beautiful first puzzle, complete with a soothing theme song, and we were quickly drawn into the story, with videos, voicemails, additional audio, and of course ‘chatting’ directly with the cast of characters we make contact with. Deadlocked have learned from The Insiders; when we played shortly after its launch, the employees of Wexell were played live by James and Charlie. The Cyphstress instead makes use of an impressively conversational bot.
The Cyphstress has two chapters, which provides a nice place to hit pause if you’re not up to playing a potentially three hour game in one sitting, and I have to admit, the opening of Chapter Two was a bit of a “wow” moment for me, as the game, yet again, completely changed form. But despite the constantly shifting style, the game flowed easily from task to task, with the narrative pushing you toward the final puzzle and ultimately a video conclusion to resolve the story, and revealing just how Siren Craft Brew fits into all of this.
But it’s not just beautiful design, engaging story, and great gameplay. Deadlocked have thought about the accessibility for their players, adding subtitles for the audio, and even ensuring any colour based puzzles could be completed without the use of the colours (although it will be harder). There are probably even additional things I haven’t noticed that ensure The Cyphstress can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
It’s difficult to talk about the puzzles because they were so diverse, forcing players to draw on all their skills: listening, observation, spatial relations, logic, word games, pattern recognition, and more. And just when you think you’ve got an idea of what to expect from the game, it changes, and tasks become increasingly more complex, with multiple steps and layers for each puzzle, culminating in a few really lovely “ah-ha” moments. Even when we found ourselves completely at a loss, and in need of a clue, the solution was ultimately so fair that we were kicking ourselves for not thinking of that.
If you’ve played The Insiders, you’ll be familiar with the infamous machine. (If you haven’t, you’re missing out.) The finale of The Cyphstress isn’t quite as rage inducing, but once again, it turns players’ expectations for what comes next on their heads when presented with an impressive feat of design that becomes an epic challenge to your teamwork and communication, with an almost frenetic pace as you put your multitasking skills to good use. Fans of Enchambered’s Alone Together series, or Tick Tock a Tale for Two are going to love it. But the best part is, even if you choose to tackle The Cyphstress alone, you can still complete the game with the solo play option.
Deadlocked have always aimed for total immersion, with the goal of making things magical; how players receive help is one of the main areas of a game where some of the magic can be lost, but Deadlocked have thought of everything and the clues were just as beautiful as the rest of the game.
Hints are always available, and as immersive as possible, but how you receive hints varies depending on which part of the game you need help in, but one of the standouts were the clues early on that were available directly from “T.” These were the result of some very clever programming of the automated chat bot, but felt more conversational, and intuitive, particularly if you first relayed an incorrect answer, with subtle guidance back in the direction you needed to be.
The other standout moment for clues appeared in the final, epic task, as the characters you’ve met throughout the game become an extension of your team for the finale, with hints delivered as though you were bouncing ideas off of another teammate in a live escape game.
We’ve completed enough play at home “escape” games now that we should probably think about compiling a list of our Top Ten, and when that happens, The Cyphstress has earned a place on my list. Oh, pro tip: make sure you sit through the final credits, it’s worth the wait.
- Desktop/laptop computer with an internet connection (and sound turned on)
- Materials for notetaking
- Optional secondary device
- Optional Printer (we didn’t need one)
|Value for Money|
Team: 2 players
Time Taken: 2hrs 20 mins
*Disclaimer: we weren’t charged for this experience, but this has not influenced our review.