Great fun in the Lab
An old laboratory. A dusty suitcase. A long-hidden secret.
The bad guys want what’s inside, and they’ll stop at nothing to get the answers.
Can you uncover the truth and smuggle it out safely before they arrive?
Remote play, live avatar, virtual escape game, live-stream – whatever you call them, the concept is simple: Your GM holds a camera and through a video call, you and your team direct them to investigate the items within the room, controlling them as you would an avatar in a first-person viewed videogame, although hopefully in a polite manner. There are a number of variations on this theme, with some games being designed specifically for this purpose, and other companies modifying existing games to make this possible. I have to admit, when we first saw that venues were planning to live-stream their games to allow players to continue to experience them remotely, I was sceptical; how could this possibly be as much fun as playing in person? But that thinking aside, the beauty of this style of game is that it opening up the possibility of playing some really amazing games from all over the world, that we might otherwise never get the chance to experience.
The Laboratory is one such game. Escape One Algarve is located in the south of Portugal, and the game is playable in both English and Portuguese. We were invited by fellow bloggers, ESCAPETHEROOMers, to join them in taking on the Laboratory. We were sent the details for our Zoom call, and at the appointed hour, we joined ESCAPETHEROOMers, Norbert from Up the Game, and David, one of the owners of Escape One Algarve, and our host for the game, on the call.
Once we were all assembled, and it was confirmed that everyone’s sound was working correctly, David gave us our briefing outside the room, even weaving into the story the reason why it was necessary to do this over Zoom, making the entire scenario plausible, and adding just a touch of immersion by drawing us into the story. With our mission firmly in mind, David changed the view on his camera and stepped through into the Lab.
The Laboratory is one of Escape One Algarve’s physical rooms that has been adapted for this style of remote play. We discussed some of the changes that had been made with David after the conclusion of the game, but aside from removing one puzzle that would have been impossible to complete with a remote team, and cutting/modifying one or two others for the sake of time, The Laboratory played out as it would have if we had been able to play in person. These modifications were necessary, as, by nature of the remote play design, the search element of the room takes more time than it would for a team of four in-person; after all, there is only one GM, and it’s important that all of the team are able to understand exactly what is being shown. However, had we not been told that the game had been modified, I would never have guessed, as the gameplay was seamless.
The search element was aided by the 360 image of the room, giving us an idea of what we may not have investigated yet. When we played, this was a static image that we could access at any time, open in a separate browser tab, but we weren’t able to interact with it. In the time since playing and writing this, the 360 view has been modified slightly; it’s still not live, but players now have the option to click on important things within the room to get a closer look (padlocks, for instance). I imagine that this speeds up the search process a fair amount, and helps players to know what sort of information they’re looking for, i.e., four-digit combinations, etc.
The Lab played out in a linear manner, with each puzzle unlocking the information for the next, and keeps to the traditional format of escape games, with no outside knowledge required, and everything needed to solve the puzzles contained within the room. As for the Lab itself, the set was well-appointed, at least as far as I could tell from a video call, and the game had a nice flow to it. In fact, it’s one that I would have enjoyed playing in person immensely, but the remote play experience was flawless, with a clear conclusion that left little doubt in my mind that we had succeeded.
A great escape room has a variety of puzzles on offer, and The Laboratory was no exception, with tasks that ranged from minor searching to a bit of logic, incorporating some minor maths, a bit of decoding, and a bit of lateral thinking. Observation, teamwork, and communication skills are paramount to success in the (remote) Laboratory. No challenge was overly difficult – in fact, we only ran into trouble when we tried solving puzzles without all of the relevant information – and I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest this game to escape room newbies (virtual or otherwise), as the puzzles were fair and fun.
One of my favourite puzzles was something so simple, and yet, if you weren’t observing closely, it could have easily been overlooked, and presented a bit of a mystery. As it was, it was incredibly satisfying, even from a far, and so very clever.
When playing a live escape game, I find that often our GM can either make or break our experience, and after playing The Laboratory, I can say for sure that that is even more true for a remote play game. David was a wonderful GM/avatar. Our briefing was delivered in character, and he remained in character throughout. David struck the balance just right by pointing us in the direction of things to investigate, while still waiting for us to ask him directly to explore, and although I’m sure he was thinking to himself, “Really? Come on guys, that’s not it,” at a few of the things we tried throughout the game, he simply waited patiently for the team to come to a consensus about where to go and what to try next, and I enjoyed the humour he brought to the game with his commentary as he guided us through the game.
We never actually had to request any clues but had we needed them, I’ve no doubt that they would have been delivered in the same humorous tone as his commentary, and with just enough of a nudge to get us back on track.
Nothing is ever going to be quite the same as playing a physical escape room in person, but the virtual version of The Laboratory came close, and was everything I could ask for in a game: good theming, clever puzzles, and a great host. I’m only sad that I won’t get to play it in person.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Number of connections: Up to six
- Price: 50€ (flat rate)
- Devices: We suggest computers (desktop/laptop) for the best experience
- Platform: Zoom
- Inventory: No
- 360º View: Yes
|Value for Money|
Team: 5 players
Time Taken: 47:00
*Disclaimer: we weren’t charged for this experience, but this has not influenced our review.