London, Jul 2019
My heart sank when our gamemaster began the briefing by informing us that, since Haunted was their hardest game, there would be no hints available. There are plenty of companies with a policy of limited hints, though most are wise enough to not actually stick to that policy when a team is genuinely stuck, but I don’t remember any other games I’ve played that said no hints at all were available. I immediately suspected that might not be entirely true, and indeed our gamemaster added that ‘the lights’ might help guide us.
Of Adventox’s three rooms, Haunted is absolutely the most impressive for visual impressions and level of technology. However, extensive use of technology does not in any way guarantee a good experience, and when poorly run can thoroughly undermine an otherwise very decent game – and unfortunately, that was what happened for us with Haunted.
We dived happily enough into the first handful of puzzles, only to come to a screeching halt where the next step seemed perfectly clear but attempting it had no effect. One problem was that the game uses a ‘smart’ torch which changes its behaviour depending where you point it; this is a clever piece of technology that too often doesn’t work as reliably as it should. The result was to make it a lot harder to tell whether or not we were looking in the right place or whether the game was trying to steer us away from that area until a later point. I also had memories of a previous Adventox game involving some very tiny search targets, and so was worried we’d just missed something.
But the main problem was the utter lack of any way to get gamemaster hints. Despite the stated zero hint policy we tried waving to the cameras, to no avail; and long minutes ticked by as we tried everything we could and became increasingly certain the game mechanism had broken. The only option appeared to be the emergency exit button, but we’d been clearly told that pressing it would bring an end to our game. Eventually, having spend over half an hour in futile frustration, we gave up and hit the emergency exit button – which then failed to work.
Once we’d banged and hollered loudly enough to get our host’s attention, he did then ascertain that the room mechanism had indeed failed, and offered both a refund and to let us play on until we finished; which we did, trying not to let the excruciatingly bad start colour the rest of our game too much.
Where Haunted goes smoothly, it could be a thoroughly enjoyable game. Although they warn players of jump scares, these are the mild sort where lights flash and furniture pops open, not anything involving live actors, and the array of effects hits a good balance of keeping you on your toes without distracting from the puzzles. And the puzzle content was decently imaginative and varied.
A single tech failure is not a reason to write off a game, no matter how painful it was at the time – you have to assume that we were simply unlucky that it happened in our game. All venues experience glitches sometimes, no matter how diligent. Much more worrying was the total lack of any way to signal the problem, or any response from the host during the extended period we were trying to signal to him; with better communication set up, the glitch would have been identified and resolved in a minute or two, and would barely have affected us.
And the rest of the game didn’t inspire confidence that tech glitches are rare – there were multiple instances of something triggering before it was supposed to, or with a suspicious delay after it seemed intended to.
So while I’d expect almost all teams playing Haunted to have a smoother time of it than we did, I’m also suspicious that a sizeable number will also have problems, and that the way the game is run means that any problems will have an outsized effect on players’ experience. There was enough that was fun and even charming that you might consider giving it a go anyhow – but I don’t feel able to recommend it without a very large caveat.