The team at Coin Crew Games walked into its debut home video game title with one objective in mind: take the concept of real-world escape rooms and place them in a video game environment. Escape Academy (which is not only Coin Crew's first PC/console game, but also iam8bit's first published title) has achieved that goal admirably, challenging players to complete chambers filled with lateral thinking puzzles. The game is so faithful to the idea of real-world escape rooms that it turns out it's a lot more fun to play with a friend than go it alone.
Class is in session
The plot for Escape Academy feels inspired by franchises like Harry Potter. Players find themselves on a massive college-like campus where the idea is to learn the ins-and-outs of what it means to be an escape artist. The professors here are often a little too into their work, putting students' lives at risk with things like memory-erasing nerve gas and debilitating poison, but they mainly mean well. Nobody ever said being the next Houdini would be easy.
Structured as a first-person adventure, players take on individual escape room-like missions that last about 15 minutes at the start and go nearly an hour by the end. Where to start isn't always clear, encouraging players to poke around and interact with everything around them. While many of the objects in an area are useless window dressing, eventually escapees will find a collectible object or a puzzle like a combination lock.
Solutions to these puzzles aren't always obvious, but by meticulously searching its surroundings, the answer will eventually start to come together, much like a real escape room. To proceed, players will have to crunch numbers, break down an image, or crack some codes. The key is to write as much down as possible, something the game explicitly urges players to do over the course of their experience. That's largely because time flies in Escape Academy. Getting a few answers wrong or spending too much time lingering in one area will quickly lead to the countdown clock hitting zero, especially because eventual success means a lot of backtracking and running around back-and-forth.
Clues will often come through collectible items, which is why it's great that Escape Academy has a pin feature that allows players to keep the clue on-screen while they interact with its corresponding puzzle. Although it's not so great that a pinned item will sometimes obstruct the player's view. Answers to specific puzzles aren't always obvious, but the game's hint system is a friendly one. It gives players enough of a push forward without, in most cases, giving away the answer.
That did lead to one of my gripes with the process — while it is possible to pin collectible items to the screen, there's no way to reference a clue from the other side of the stage without manually walking back to it. One example involved a statue puzzle, where I had to deduce how to position a door based on an optical illusion. However, the clue with the answer was in a totally different area and I couldn't reference it without heading back there, wasting precious seconds. This is where it's handy to have a partner.
Escape Academy's best feature is that it can be played with a local or online co-op partner. This is great for many reasons, primarily in that it adds to the authenticity of the escape room experience. Hardly anybody experiences real-world escape rooms by themselves, so it feels naturally better to have a second person handy.
From a mechanical standpoint, it's a godsend. A second person can stand in front of some of the more visual clues, such as ones that involve using ultraviolet lighting or decoding an image, while the first player can try to maneuver the lock, door, or switch that those clues are attached to.
While I feel like Escape Academy would benefit much more greatly from a four-player co-op experience, online specifically, it's not like it's totally impossible for friends and families to participate. Over the course of my review, I was running through the game solo while family members would occasionally come in, keep track of the puzzles, and try to crack the clues on their own. They were still able to feed me the answers without ever touching a controller. The presence of family and friends adds a lot to the experience and it makes me want to take them to an actual escape room once this review is out the door.
Can you escape?
Escape Academy is a marvelous cooperative experience and a fun time family activity. The story didn't do much for me, nor did the simple-minded characters, but they didn't really have to. The main attraction is the escape room format and the daisy chain of lateral thinking puzzles. They're ingeniously implemented and are best enjoyed with a group of people, mostly because they'll often see something that you can't. Seeing everybody's approach to these puzzles is a lot of fun and I can only imagine how much more fun it would be if three other friends could join me online.
As it is, Escape Academy is still one of the best cooperative gaming experiences I've had this year and a great start for both Coin Crew Games and new publisher iam8bit.
This review is based on an Xbox digital code provided by the publisher. Escape Academy will be available Thursday, July 13 on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox for $19.99 USD. The game is rated T.
- Captures the escape room environment
- Fun and brilliant puzzles
- Great activity for family and friends
- Friendly hint system
- Forgettable story
- Can't snapshot or take certain clues with you
- Would be even better as a 4-player title
- Minor cursor issues when on controller
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Escape Academy review: I'll need a volunteer
looks fun, could use another local co-op game
It'll be on Game Pass if you want to give it a shot.
Online reviews are saying that the Series X is getting 15 fps or so. Did you see major perf issues when you played on console?