Definitely not one for the kids!
We’ve done a few play-at-home experiences (Journal 29, Exit Games, and Unlock!) and found them to be a great way to spend some time when we can’t get our traditional escape room fix.
The Cult Experience had our attention as although it was still a play-at-home game, they’d pitched it as much more of an immersive and character-driven experience, with more than just a book.
When the package arrived on our doorstep it contained The Cult Experience book (with a suitably creepy cover picture). Instantly we realised what the first challenge was; finding 2.5 hours that we could set aside to play it.
When we finally managed to get some free time, we cracked open the book and began the experience. The first puzzle was very simple and once that was solved we were able to login to our Cult Experience account and get started.
Unlike most play-at-home games where you can pause or take breaks, The Cult Experience has a countdown timer that starts as soon as you login to the system, and there’s no way to pause it.
The story is driven by the website and the accompanying book. The premise is simple, you watch a video online and then try and pick up clues from it to answer the puzzle. Once that’s done you move onto the next video and keep following the story. The book is integral to the game and you need to use both to move forward.
We found that the puzzles lulled us into a false sense of security. We blitzed through the earlier puzzles and thought we were going to finish in no time at all. Then we hit a wall. One puzzle, which in hindsight made perfect sense and was clear, stopped us for over 20 minutes and we were close to quitting. We actually found the book just added to our confusion for this puzzle. But that is where we found the first issue with The Cult Experience, the clue system. There is one hint per puzzle at the back of the book, but if that doesn’t help then there is nowhere else to go. Because the countdown clock doesn’t stop you just had to stare at it in frustration until you get a moment of inspiration.
The puzzles themselves ranged in difficulty but everything you needed to solve them was contained in the videos. Well, I say that but one puzzle you did actually need a basic level of knowledge in foreign language (or the ability to use Google Translate). One puzzle (involving clocks) made no sense to us at all and despite the creator giving us an explanation, we still don’t fully understand it – we pretty much guessed the answer and got lucky.
The answers to the puzzles have to be entered in a certain way and each one is different. There was good signposting to help you know what sort of thing you needed to enter (code, directions, words, etc).
The quality of video production was very good, ok there are some questions that are raised from it (if they are using discrete button hold cameras, why is everyone looking directly at it?), but that really is minor.
The story was bloody creepy and had an eerie soundtrack attached to it. This is a horror experience and that comes through very well in the videos!
We found it hard to know when to change pages in the book and how many pages we needed for each puzzle. So we actually ended up guessing some puzzles because we didn’t know we had pages in the book we were supposed to use.
Not being able to pause the game was a bit frustrating. 2.5 hours is a long time to give your attention to something like this. We’d have liked a few pre-determined breaks built in for bathroom breaks etc.
We did this using a MacBook running safari and had a few unresponsive buttons that meant we had to enter things multiple times. As there is no reset option it became a bit frustrating.
Speaking of frustrations; the last puzzle hits you with a ten minute penalty of you enter an incorrect answer. Because of this, and us not realising we were supposed to use the book, we failed. ‘Frustrated’ isn’t a suitably strong word to describe how we felt. We left it a couple of weeks and went back to try again just so we could get closure (and we did).
That ties nicely on to the ending. The entire experience is immersive and the videos sucked you into this creepy world that really you couldn’t wait to escape from, but the ending just popped up some words on the screen that didn’t really mean much to us. A stronger ending would have been much more fitting to the story.
We’ve spoken with the creator of The Cult Experience and a number (if not all) of our concerns are already being changed, including the help system. These changes alone would have made our experience very different, especially if that damned clock puzzle now makes sense.
If you’re a fan of horror experiences and have 2.5 hours to spare then it could be worth giving this a try. It’s very different to the Exit Games and we found that if we didn’t mark the book then the experience is reusable (assuming there’s not a lock down on only registered buyers being able to log in?). At £30 it’s not the cheapest of play-at-home games, and you don’t get cool little cards or cardboard tools to play with. But what you do get is your own little horror movie playing out in front of you.
Laptop/Phone with decent internet connection
Paper and pen (if you want to reuse the book)
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