søndag den 6. august 2017

Faust (Enigma, Prague)

“Faust” is a different take on the escape-room genre than we’ve encountered before. Rather than discovering the story, the puzzles, and the space yourself, you are guided through the whole thing by the titular character of Faust speaking to you from the beyond. Interestingly, in some ways it actually works quite well, but then in others it falls flat to the ground.

The setup to “Faust” is pretty straight forward, although some of the narrative problems start right here: Faust is dead, but his soul is caught in limbo, due to his actions when he was alive. Put simply, he has done something unforgivable, and now God wants to punish him. Your job then is quite an awkward one: You have to save Faust from eternal punishment, while simultaneously uncovering his sins. So, in a way, you help a criminal get away with his crimes, even though they seem to be extremely mundane. The name of Faust might lead you to expect pacts with the Devil, satanic rites and a proper, horror-inspired room. In that case, “Faust” the escape room will never deliver since it focuses on Faust’s simple and somewhat silly love affair with a woman named Margaret.

Set decoration: 6,0 points
The “Faust” escape room is decently decorated. It aims high for the secluded rooms of a priest or a mage – maybe inside an old tower of a castle or a church. There is an array of knickknacks and cobwebs in the corners. The designers have even tried to create a couple of religious stained-glass windows, and they’ve drawn some rune-like letters around the walls of the rooms as well. The lights are dimmed and they will change throughout the game in order to guide your attention and make sure you stay on the strict narrative path you have to follow. All of which is well done.

However, this is also all there is to the room. It never opens itself up to further investigation, beyond the puzzles within these four walls. In fact, you could argue that much of the creators’ attention to detail has gone to the more mechanical and electrical puzzles and obviously the video projections of Faust, who appears inside some kind of mirror in the middle of the room. It’s actually quite spooky when you see him in the very beginning, because he speaks with a deep voice and looks transparent like a ghost. The whole idea that he is following us and guiding us from beyond is actually not bad. But as the game progresses, Faust becomes annoying due to several factors: 1) Faust controls the story, the plot, the puzzle solving. 2) Thereby he ends up controlling your entire experience of the room, making sure that any sense of immersion and accomplishment goes out the window. 3) He’s not good at English: We actually ended up ignoring several of the projections because we couldn’t understand what he said. 4) He is a projection, and the projector is standing inside the room, both clearly visible and very noisy.

Puzzles: 8,3 points
If the set design is just okay, the big puzzles are certainly more varied and fun to deal with, mainly due to the aforementioned technical solutions that have been fed into the game. The different puzzles in “Faust” are linearly designed around Faust’s continued plot narration: According to himself, he will take you on a journey through five chapters of his life – in the end it turned out to be actually just one chapter divided into five sections. But these sections are all constructed around a row of puzzles that have to be solved. After the accomplishment of each of these sections you are rewarded with a “magical stone” that has to be inserted into a pentagram, five stones in total.

In this way, the linearity both drives the plot forward and makes “Faust” an escape room for beginners. Also, because there’s a nice progression in the puzzles – they start pretty simple and end up being more complex, if also somewhat incoherent. The best thing about “Faust” is perhaps the variation: They involve religious references, sound and music, water and moving the furniture around. There are of course also a fair number of padlocks and keys to be found, and there are also more school-like chores to be dealt with. Overall, the gameplay feels playful – it’s always fun to feel the insides of a device click into gear and then look up to find out what was activated in the room. 

Still, by having a pre-recorded actor telling you the story, telling you all about the room, guiding you from puzzle to puzzle – that’s actually a very lazy and easy way to construct a game. And the sense of adventure is hard to obtain for the involved players.

Game Master: 3,5 points
The number-one problem in the “Faust” game room was the language barrier we encountered. First of all, the entire game hinges on the actor playing Faust: He tells the story, he creates the plot, and he gives the hints – almost non-stop during the entire 60-minute gameplay. On the one hand, it ends up being very annoying, and on the other hand you are entirely dependent on this technical gimmick. So, it has to work – obviously – and here it simply does not. The actor’s English skills were so poor that we basically gave up following the story as well as the hints. We really longed for some subtitles or at least just the clues in writing, none of which was to be found in “Faust”.

Unfortunately, our game master outside the room didn’t do much better. She was able to see us, and she communicated with us through the pre-recorded lines spoken by Faust, while we were playing. However, as a game master and a hostess, she was extremely shy – to a degree where she was unable to welcome us or say goodbye. She quickly disappeared behind a wall or behind a counter, avoiding eye contact, staring into some papers, and looking like this was her worst day of her life.  

To be fair: These language issues are probably non-existent in the Czech version of the game: If we had been fluent in Czech and had played “Faust” in Czech, as well, it would probably have made a lot more sense.

Conclusion: 5,9 points
So, in the end, “Faust” is an attempt at making a different kind of escape-room game. The problem is that the driving idea about a pre-recorded actor directing everything in the game doesn’t work very well. Yet, the string of puzzles is a nicely mixed bag – containing a handful of fun electrical riddles. The Faustian over- and undertones are, however, sadly missing.

Room: Faust
Company: Enigma, Svornosti 888/18, 150 00 Praha 5 – Smíchov
Languages available: Czech and English (but we can’t recommend playing it in English)
Game time: 60 minutes
Price: CZK 1200,- for the entire team (2-5 players)

This review:
Game date: 11 July 2017
Number of players: 2 (Enigma suggests that you are 2-5 players, but we wouldn’t recommend more than 3 players due to the size of the room)
Hints: All the way through due to the technics of the room!

We survived, 52 minutes played

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