The Cambridge Geek

3D Escape Room: Frequency

This is one I've been interested in listening to for a while, as it's a rather novel experiment with the form.

The idea is that it's an escape room, with the different audio files corresponding to various puzzles through which the listener must progess by solving them. This is set up by having 40 tracks, only 10 of which are relevant, with the other 30 being decoys.

First, a bit of plot. Lenny has summoned Madds and her friends to his trailer in the woods, in order to tell them about a secret message he is trying to keep safe from the government. So far, so traditional forest-dwelling hillbilly craziness. A strange twist then when he sneaks outside, locks the door, and tells them he will only let them out if they manage to solve a collection of puzzles on, say it with me, cassette tapes.

The team (actually you), have to listen to each of these tapes, which primarily consist of interviews with experts on the paranormal, and find the codes that will lead you to the next file, with each puzzle solution being the name of the next track (either a numerical code or a word). Ending up on the wrong track gives you a sneaky bad ending (though not quite as gruesome as the Choose Your Own Adventure ones. Due to plot reasons, that I won't spoil here, they (you) only have 60 minutes to solve all of the puzzles and get to the end. The game helpfully suggests you use a stopwatch to time this.

The puzzles and the plot are interwoven to make the story flow, while still providing the necessary information to allow the listener to follow the game. This does unfortunately result in some repetitive elements, where each puzzle track begins with a slightly heavy-handed callback to the previous track, just to ensure you're in the right location. The dialogue also follows this pattern, with the team slowly getting more and more explicit in their consideration of the tapes they're listening to, so that each puzzle track can end with the solution, just in case you get stuck. (Note, if you listen to each to the end, you will obviously exceed the time limit.)

The types of puzzles you can do with purely audio are naturally limited, but I was impressed both in the end by the amount of variety they achieved, and the way in which additional information was provided. There was usually a nice "ah-ha!" moment when the solution of a puzzle presented itself to me. The form has definite weaknesses however.

Firstly, moving around between files can be awkward. If your media player doesn't track where you've got up to, and you need to return to a previous file when you complete a puzzle incorrectly, you're dependent on separate notes. Notes are also required to be able to solve the puzzles yourself, in that you need to be listening with absolutely no distractions, and pen and paper poised. Audio is almost entirely used as a secondary medium, something to listen to while you do other activities, so teaching yourself to actively listen requires some time. It also makes it both very easy to miss a vital clue, but also very tempting to hit the rewind button to listen to it again. The equivalent of the old CYOA thumb.

The puzzle tracks are designed to avoid that temptation, with their progressive reveal of the answer, but the urge to go back is incredibly strong. I would be tempted to suggest that a gentle reassurance to the listener that they'll never need to do that would be useful. The transitory nature of audio, compared to a traditional escape room where you would typically have solid clues you can pick up or look at makes delivery all the more important.

It was a more difficult listen than I expected, because of that need to be so focused, with a medium where I usually allow a certain amount of distraction (couldn't listen to this in the car, for example). The optimal play scenario might be to do it in a pair, or maybe three at the most, matching the team in the game, as this would add a more social aspect, as well as a level of shame if anyone dares to try and rewind.

It's an excellent effort, and I'd love to see more of these, but I can see grounds for improvement. Hopefully those will be worked on. Don't let me put you off trying it though. It's definitely one to experience.

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Drama Cast Dramatised Puzzle Standalone