Escape Academy review — School of clock

Escape Academy review -- School of clock

Who doesn’t love a good escape room? A timer ticking down, tricky puzzles to solve, items to juggle; I dig ’em all. Setting things in a school is a bit of a different approach that’s ripe for fun tropes, too. Escape Academy is a fairly short yet well-made collection of escape rooms that does a great job of scratching this particular itch. The environments are interesting, the themes are varied, the gameplay and UI aren’t overly complex, and the plot moves at a steady pace. All of this adds up to one of the better escape room games you’ll find.

Despite being based around escape rooms, Escape Academy actually has a plot. The game begins with your character visiting a low-rent escape room. This level pokes fun at that very idea. For instance, there’s a broken clock on the wall with a post-it note on it telling you what time it’s supposed to read. And that doesn’t make sense; it’s always supposed to say the same time anyway. The clock being broken wouldn’t matter, but I digress. After leaving the room, there are more puzzles to be found in the lobby outside. After solving these, we discover a secret pathway underneath the facility.

 

The room completed, you meet the headmaster of Escape Academy who wants you to take the test at her school. On passing, you’re admitted and you set out to collect all 10 of the school’s badges and finish up your first year with top honors. There’s a lot more to the plot than that, however. I don’t want to go into spoilers, but there are multiple characters and a fair amount of intrigue, which helps give the game even more of an identity. The character designs and their portraits are surprisingly good, which surprised me.

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And we’re off

Escape Academy is played from a first-person perspective. Each level, of which there are 13, drops you into an area filled with puzzles. These typically take about 20-30 minutes each. The different types of areas are very creative and clever. One level sees you frantically search for an antidote, another has you defuse a bomb. I was eager to see the next level, as the game doesn’t rest on its laurels and always has something new and interesting around the corner. There is a timer, but you don’t automatically lose when it reaches the end. Once the timer hits zero, you can get an extension that lowers your grade.

As for puzzle difficulty, I’d say it’s just right. Even if you’re not great at solving puzzles (like me), Escape Academy‘s hint system is good enough that pretty much everything is solvable. Overall, I didn’t get stumped that often. A lot of the puzzles are fairly clear and self-explanatory. I did hit a wall several times, though, especially on the game’s final puzzle, which I had zero idea how to solve. Thankfully, the final hint gives you enough information to kind of guess your way through it. I suppose a lot of playtesters had the same problem I did.

You won’t find the same level of interactivity here as in, say, Escape Simulator, but that’s far from a bad thing. While you can’t open everything and pick up every item, the game does a great job of making you feel like a sleuth. Much like the aforementioned game, you can pin documents to your screen to make your job easier. There are plenty of padlocks, door codes, and the like, but you’ll also be doing occasional bits of chemistry and using multiple objects to open the way forward.

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Not much on campus

When you’re not in a level, you can click around the campus to see the occasional optional bit of dialogue from the game’s colorful cast. The campus is a single map screen that allows you to click individual areas. Naturally, this means there isn’t anything to do outside of the available levels unless you want to play them again for a better grade. Then again, there’s no reason to do that unless you just like speedrunning escape rooms you’ve already completed. You can play the game in co-op, too, if you’re so inclined. However, the idea of trying to solve a puzzle with other people sounds nauseating.

Visually, Escape Academy is solid. The game has a cartoony art style, so it doesn’t go overboard on textures and has a small install size. It will also run well on most hardware due to this. The game allows for play at high refresh rates, which I consider mandatory in first-person games. They really benefit from all that additional smoothness. There is some voice acting here, but it’s mostly limited to a few sentences from supporting characters in the levels. All of the dialogue during story sections and optional conversations is silent.

Short and sweet

Since there are only 13 levels (and one of those is so short I hesitate to even call it a level), Escape Simulator only lasts about five hours. Granted, it’ll take more time if you refuse to use hints or if you’re prone to getting stuck a lot. I do wish the game was a bit longer, but even Escape Simulator‘s main levels didn’t last all that long, either. Escape room games are more about quality than quantity, and I’ll take the roomy, unique areas here over tiny spaces any day. The game ends once you finish your first year at the school, so there’s obviously room for sequels if this one does well.

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Escape Simulator may not be long or all that complex, but it’s a satisfying escape room game with a lot of entertaining, unique puzzles. I’ll probably play it again after I’ve forgotten the puzzle solutions so that I can escape the shame of having used the hint system as much as I did. At least I’ll be able to look up how to do that final puzzle soon, as I had zero idea of what any of that meant. But I’d sure as hell never get invited to an escape school, that’s for sure.

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