How 2 Escape | On the Demo Floor

  • Developer: Breakfirst Games
  • Publisher: Just For Games
  • Expected Release date: 31/8/2023
  • Steam Page
  • Extended demo access provided by Just For Games

There is little that I love more than a good escape room. I mean, I’ve done all but one of the offerings that the escape room facility closest to me has to give and I try to hit up as many others as I can when I have the chance and can get schedules to work out with enough people to make it worth getting a timeslot. In the meantime, though, I do often try to fill the void in my heart for these sorts of things with all sorts of puzzle games that I can get my hands on. After all, I am of the generation that played “escape the room” type flash games back in the day.

There are few games that try to go for a real room escaping experience, though, which is why I’ll always dive on them when I get the chance. Just this year I talked about NEScape!, a game that was emulating the escape room experience in a throwback manner. But now I have How 2 Escape sitting in my lap. So, I grabbed my usual escape room partner (my roommate) and got myself stuck in a train for this demo.

Back and Forth

So, the idea here is that you play this game with two people, one on their phone and one one their computer. The person playing on their computer is navigating a 3D space in the first person, a series of train cars, while the one on their phone is navigating an app in order to provide information and work through puzzles from two different angles. It’s a nice piece of asymmetric gameplay and between the differences in information, the puzzles, and the time limit imposed on players, the thing I found myself most reminded of was Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

We had a lot of fun and I look forward to getting to play the full game, but I also think that there are a few spots that might leave a little to be desired if I’m being honest. So, let’s start there and then we can talk about what was really great.

Passing Information

So, I think one of the major problems is that the game starts off with a spot-the-difference type of puzzle as the very first thing in the tutorial. On one hand, this is a way to get your players talking to each other, but on the other hand… I don’t think this particular iteration was the best way to start off. The issue is that the space we were meant to compare was simply… to cluttered. There is a lot in this first puzzle and with the way we had to talk through the entire wall of objects, it took us a very long time to get through and felt somewhat tedious. We weren’t timing it, but it did feel like it took us in the ballpark of seven to ten minutes and none of that was really puzzle solving, but just describing objects over and over. When we finally did get past it, I didn’t feel clever or like I had solved something, but just that we had managed to talk our way through a whole bunch of clutter. It doesn’t help that you do not have access to hints of any kind during this first puzzle. Yes, we could have just cheated if we really wanted a hint, but that would go against the spirit of things.

Now, due to the way the game is set up, a lot of the puzzle solving is just a matter of relaying information. Which, that’s fine since it’s the whole gimmick of the thing, after all. But at the same time, it does become very apparent once you start to notice it. Once you do notice, you do find yourself starting to crave a little more variety to the proceedings. For instance, there was this one puzzle where I had a map with buttons and my roommate (one her phone) had a story to guide us in the order of the buttons and a key that related the symbols on the buttons to the locations in the story. At that point it was just me sitting there and waiting for her to match things up so that I could input them in the train car, which wasn’t exactly a riveting experience on my end. She was doing everything that felt like the puzzle portion while I was waiting to hit some buttons.

Do I expect every puzzle in this format to be perfect? Absolutely not. I know that sometimes this is just the way that things are going to work out, but I think because I only had a portion of the puzzles to play for this demo, these smaller flaws stood out to me a little more. I do think this is a concept that has a lot of potential, but it also had pitfalls that it needs to watch out for.

The Good Stuff!

I think the pressure of the time limit was really well done in the timed level that I had access to. There was enough time that I felt like we were on a crunch, but it wasn’t so tight that if we got tripped up on a particular puzzle for a while that we were going to have to do things over again. There’s even an option in the settings to relax this limitation, which isn’t my jam, but if you’re someone who feels the need will likely be greatly appreciated.

While I cannot say for sure, I am holding out hope that this game will have some replay value. The game and the app never really directly interface. Things are unlocked in the app by entering in codes to give access and the information is then passed back to the player who is playing on the PC. It’s all verbal passing. It’s not like my roommate pressed a button in the app and then there was a cabinet that opened in my game. I appreciate that since it avoids things like a lagtime between the two due to severs, but I am also holding out hope that there is a good deal of variety in the starting codes for the levels that will lead to different sets of solutions and information (or even different puzzles) so that we could be able to play the game a second time with our roles swapped.

I think the visual design that they’ve gone for here is great. The opening cutscene is done in a pretty dynamic comic book style and the train, while perhaps a little overcluttered, does have this sense of being somewhat lived in between all the puzzle stuff that’s in there. It can feel like I was exploring a space. The app’s design is quite simple, but I wouldn’t say that it was boring either. At the very least, my roommate was fairly able to find what she was looking for, even if it took just a minute to get a handle on. I’m not saying that you’re going to be able to get grandma playing it with you on her tablet, but I do think that someone who only plays things like Jackbox games would definitely be able to get involved in the fun without any issues.

There’s Potential

I am looking forward to more of this game for sure and I had a great time. My major hope is just that the full release will offer just a touch more variety and give me those moments where I feel like I really figured something out, rather than just like I am getting instructions from someone else on where the boxes are meant to go. I admit that I don’t know how feasible that is, but I know that the chaos level is below something like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, which I think can lead to this being a calmer part of game night than something in that vein at the very least.