Cheap, but not cheap
You and your team of archaeologists are exploring an ancient city when you stumble upon a room that has been locked away for thousands of years. The further you explore, the more mysterious the room becomes. Your goal is to find the ancient artefact before the ruins crumble in on themselves.
Let’s face it – I’m sure everyone probably has a favourite (and not so favourite) theme for the games they choose to play. If I were forced to pick, my favourite theme is probably “something strange or different,” but second on the list is Indiana Jones-style temple adventures. Now I will admit, Headlock Escape Rooms was not a company that I was familiar with, although I gather that’s because they are relatively new. But they had my attention when I heard about The Mystic Ruins, because it sounded like it would be right up my alley.
Headlock Escape Rooms are based in Norwich, but with one unique quirk: Headlock Escape Rooms were designed to come to you instead. However, with the current restrictions in place, the games have instead been moved online to be brought to you virtually, rather than set up in your own home as originally intended. My one experience with portable escape games involved a series of locked crates set up on a table (which we never bothered to review as the game closed before we started blogging). But the Mystic Ruins is a far cry from that experience and had I been unaware of the fact that it was designed to be portable, I would never have known; in fact, our teammates had no idea that this was the case until after we finished the game. The only give away is the bolts that hold the set together, and over a Zoom connection, you can’t easily see those.
The Mystic Ruins begins without much preamble. With the team fully assembled on Zoom, we were introduced to our intrepid archaeologist, “Professor William Puttz”, and quickly received some information on why we were there. As you’ve probably gathered from the tag, The Mystic Ruins is an online avatar experience. In other words, it’s an escape room played virtually with the assistance of a live host who is physically in the space to act as your eyes, ears, and hands. Of course, being portable, the space is relatively small, as it was originally intended to be able to be taken and set up anywhere in the country, including someone’s living room. But the small set comes across beautifully on camera, and the lack of sprawling space is an asset to the online style of play, particularly as Headlock have chosen to skip using any form of inventory or adding a 360 view. This choice was an excellent one, as it ensures that players are fully invested in what is happening in the game, rather than trying to make sense of an inventory system. The lack of inventory does mean that the game feels very linear, however, this in no way detracts from the experience thanks to the multifaceted puzzles that provide opportunities for the entire team to work together. And in the instances where you might want to try to divide and conquer, snapping a quick reference photo is encouraged and works just as well as any inventory system we’ve come across.
It’s always surprising to me to be able to talk about immersion when discussing a game that I play from my sofa but thanks to the beautiful set and some clever use of audio, The Mystic Ruins was surprisingly immersive. Of course, nothing compares to playing in person, but with a plausible explanation for why William is there and we aren’t, it makes it possible to suspend one’s disbelief and just become absorbed in the story and the puzzles. The Mystic Ruins wasn’t heavily story-based, but there was enough of a narrative to make the puzzles thematic, although it was really the interaction with our avatar that made this experience truly special.
Codes, patterns, logic, observation, and a tiny bit of searching – The Mystic Ruins had it all and presented a number of pleasing, thematic, and very satisfying puzzles that resulted in some really wonderful moments of realisation. The puzzles felt intuitive, and while we were confronted at first with a great many things to explore, as the game progressed, it was incredibly pleasing as solutions presented themselves the more we uncovered.
Knowing the game was portable, I expected a great many padlocks. And yes, while there were a number of them (who doesn’t love the satisfying clunk you get from a correct solution in a physical lock though?), puzzles were not simply solving for a code to unlock a padlock, as The Mystic Ruins managed to keep an air of mystery by utilising some unexpected tech to create a bit of magic and add variety to the tasks at hand.
Joel (the owner and operator of Headlock Escape Rooms) played the role of the bumbling Professor William Puttz to perfection. He began with a tour of the space, lingering where he should, and pointing out various locking mechanisms. I never felt as though we needed to ask for hints – whether that was due to how intuitive the puzzles were or subtle cueing on Joel’s part, I’m not sure, but I am certain that had we been totally stuck our professor would have been able to subtly put us back on track.
It’s always a balancing act for anyone acting as an avatar, between being the host and also an extension of the team, and Joel’s commentary added something special to the experience. Not only that, his camera work was excellent, thanks in part to some of the tech that has been utilised to ensure that the experience comes across the screen as intended.
If you’re thinking about trying your first (or even your 101st) online avatar game, I heartily recommend giving The Mystic Ruins a try. It’s a great game, with a wonderful host that is perfect for beginners and enthusiasts alike. Plus, the price point of £35.00 for the entire game makes it very favourable if you’re not sure about how much you may, or may not, enjoy the format. (I’m willing to bet you will though). Or alternatively, wait for restrictions to ease, and Headlock Escape Rooms can come to you.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Number of connections: Up to 6
- Price: £35
- Devices: Desktop or Laptop suggested. Also compatible with handheld devices
- Platform: Zoom
- Inventory: No
- 360º View: No
- Time Zone: United Kingdom (GMT)
|Value for Money|
Team: 4 players
Time Taken: 30:57 minutes
*Disclaimer: we weren’t charged for this experience, but this has not influenced our review.