Refreshingly different (and beautifully assembled)
A Christmas like no other. Festive spirit is at an all time low. The toy factory has ground to a halt, the sleigh’s gathering dust in the garage, and everyone’s looking glum. Can you help Holly and the other elves save the day?
Neither Gord nor I had heard of Fast Familiar until we saw a few posts on the Online Escape Room Enthusiasts Facebook group announcing their new project, National Elf Service. Now, this is probably because Fast Familiar “make artworks which are participatory, playful and political. [They’re] a group of artists from different backgrounds who design audience-centric experiences which often utilise ‘digital technology,’” and Gord and I tend to stick with escape rooms or traditional theatre, typically shying away from interactive theatre, which looks like it was the primary focus of Fast Familiar… At least until 2020 happened.
Like pretty much everyone else, Fast Familiar have found new ways to adapt their art in these challenging times, and National Elf Service is the company’s most recent offering. Although their earlier shows involved puzzles of some description, National Elf Service is the first that is closest to a digital escape room, rather than interactive theatre, and unlike the interactive theatre shows, National Elf Service isn’t hosted, so can be played in your own time. Thus, on a rainy afternoon, we lit the fire, got cosy, and prepared to save Christmas (again).
Fast Familiar themselves have said, “National Elf Service is a cross between a puzzle game, an online escape room, and an interactive audiobook,” and I have to say, I don’t think I could have found a better way to describe exactly what you’re getting into. This is not a game to be raced through, but rather one to savour, whether you play with just your household, or gather the whole extended family virtually. Should you utilise the second option, the game’s interface will allow multiple users to log in using the same code, and even provides a chat portal that you can use to both talk to each other, as well as relay information to Holly and co. We would recommend that remote teams still use their preferred option to actually speak to one another, but just make sure you mute your mics or have headphones during the story portions to avoid feedback. (Not that you need me to tell you this after the events of this year… No wonder festive spirit is at an all time low.)
Once the team is assembled, the game begins with an SOS from Holly at the Toy Factory and takes you on quite an adventure. National Elf Service is linear, making it ideal for families (or anyone else) to work through the challenges together, and massively story driven, presented as an audio play accompanied by beautiful illustrations and puzzles. Fortunately for those of us that tend to be more visual, there is an accompanying subtitle track for all of the audio files.
National Elf Service is not our first foray into the digital escape games that are audio-led, but it is one of the ones we enjoyed the most, and often had me in stitches, as we listened to the story unfold. Given the origins of Fast Familiar, it’s no surprise that the story is wonderfully written, and the audio performances are top notch. I often find my attention wandering during audio books, and podcasts, but not once did National Elf Service lose my attention as we solved the mystery of who was sabotaging Christmas.
I know our fellow blogger, The EscapeRoom-er has also commented on this, but I, too, would like to commend Fast Familiar for the diversity of the characters we met on our journey and making the game inclusive. I will admit that I benefit from a certain amount of privilege and have never really had to contend with a lack of representation in various forms of media (well written, strong female characters notwithstanding), but others cannot say the same, and it is so, so, important to make things that are relatable to everyone, and National Elf Service has done this beautifully.
National Elf Service isn’t especially puzzle heavy as the emphasis is so strongly focussed on the narrative. But that doesn’t mean that the ones that are there aren’t entertaining, thematic, or fun. The puzzles were the typical sorts that we tend to see in online (and real life) escape games, with observation, logic, spatial relations, and some cyphers and codes. But the game also takes you into an alternate reality, out of the interface into the World Wide Web – don’t worry though, you won’t get lost. I will admit, there was one logic puzzle that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, despite the fact they are typically my favourite style, but it wasn’t especially frustrating.
Players should also be prepared for one or two tasks that are sure to boost your Christmas Spirit and have nothing to do with festive puzzles. If you’ve seen Elf, you will probably know exactly what I mean…
National Elf Service is about so much more than just the puzzles, but nothing would be more frustrating than not being able to progress because you simply aren’t getting something. The puzzles are generally quite well sign posted and the characters you meet throughout the game do their best to give you some guidance, but fortunately, there is also a cheat sheet to help you get back on track if you really need it. National Elf service bucks the trend of providing gradual nudges for each puzzle, however, and the cheat sheet just presents a breakdown of the questions and the solution, so be careful if you do need to look at this, as there’s no way to avoid spoilers for the next puzzle if you keep scrolling.
National Elf Service is an interactive Christmas audio adventure, perfect for a holiday celebration unlike any in recent memory. Bonus points if you gather your team and play on Christmas Eve, as I really can’t think of a better way to get into the holiday spirit, and save Christmas.
- PC or Tablet running Chrome or Firefox
- A device capable of scanning QR codes
|Value for Money|
Team: 2 players
Time Taken: 1hr 20mins
*Disclaimer: we weren’t charged for this experience, but this has not influenced our review