Russ Builds: Airlock review
|In the not-too-distant future, on a mission to preserve mankind, Squad 38 are missing in action. Can you save their only survivor?|
|Difficulty level not stated|
|Free (donations accepted)|
|Online (based in UK)|
|Played by Daiman, Paul and Bharath|
|Escaped with 5 minutes remaining, needing 2 clues|
Considering that this was a hobbyist game, the level of theming in a certain sense rivalled that of some physical rooms. The effort that has gone into this game can’t be understated. You’d expect a very padlock-centric experience but, no, Airlock had touchscreen interfaces, joysticks that Russ controlled, and other well-crafted interactions! I guess, in a way, it’s a shame that this wasn’t a physical game. What stood out to me is that some of these parts could have been replaced by padlocks but Russ clearly wanted to take the road less travelled and Airlock is all the better for it.
There’s an accompanying PDF where you perform most of the puzzling and, again, there’s great attention to detail here – you could argue maybe a little too much in that one or two parts distracted us from what we were supposed to be doing! And one last thing where I dropped the ball as did the others, Russ had curated a Spotify playlist, designed to be played alongside the experience. Only with a long wait between us booking the game in and actually playing it, we’d forgotten that it was in there and, not having a Spotify account, I couldn’t play without signing up which I didn’t want to do as the game was about to begin. But please bear this in mind if you are going to play! We had a quick flick through after and it’s a cool selection of synthwave and other tracks that definitely would’ve added to the fun!
Airlock is the follow up to Russ’s debut escape room Endgame. It’s another homemade live remote affair with an accompanying PDF document. But he’s upped the theming this time by also sending an audio file that sets the scene, and a Spotify playlist with atmospheric electronica to set the mood. Fitting the high tech space theme, the physical items have also gone techy with various electronics on top of the usual padlocks and countdown timer. The design of the puzzle-containing PDF is relatively basic, but the spacefaring theme is incorporated well. The physical area is for trying your answers and seeing the results. We viewed this via Google Meet, where we directed Russ, who wasn’t in character himself.
More than most games I’ve played, this definitely played to the different strengths of each player – bring a varied team into this one! Things that I know I’ve got an eye for I was able to work through where others I took a bit of a back seat. I found that the hardest part of this game is getting your bearings. You have a lot of information thrown at you at once and just trying to process all of that cost us some time. At a certain point, it all clicked, and then we made steady progress throughout the challenges with the exception of one puzzle.
This particular task well and truly stumped us but I’ll say that afterward we looked at it in detail and it was probably the most unique of the problems in Airlock. In the heat of the moment, it was beginning to wear on us but in retrospect, it was a clever and fresh puzzle. I think the clueing threw us off slightly, we paid too much heed to where the hint was positioned on the page.
There aren’t that many puzzles, but there’s enough to keep you occupied for the hour. They are logical and observational, ranging in difficulty but remaining approachable. We were told Google wasn’t needed, but I think some will lack the knowledge for one task. The puzzles are good, but we really struggled with one of them. In hindsight, after being told the logic, it was our fault. There are a couple of red herrings though, which I’m not a personal fan of. Russ’s competitive scoring system is in play again. You start with 20 points and lose 1 point for every 5 minutes you take, and half a point for every clue you need. We scored a very mid-table 9 points this time, after requesting 2 clues and taking almost 55 minutes.
This is a good one! Russ has put a hell of a lot of time into this and, as much as I enjoyed his previous game, Endgame, Airlock is leaps and bounds. All I keep thinking about is that there are plenty of sub-par physical rooms out there, run by people who really don’t care and just jumped on the live escape bandwagon, and then there’s someone like Russ who produces these experiences on his own dime and runs many, many rings around these games. Perfect evidence for how essential actual passion is for a subject…
There is one thing however that I wasn’t particularly a fan of – there are a few red herrings in this game and they did get in the way a couple of times. I think the nature of the game being PDF-based means you automatically assume anything that’s written down is of use and that isn’t necessarily the case. But it’s a small matter in the scheme of things!
Although this is effectively a standard PDF puzzle game with a simple design, the live element makes it for me. Having physical devices to try your solutions on feels more real and satisfying. I also liked that he mixed up the unlocking methods so it wasn’t just standard locks. The puzzles were challenging but enjoyable. My only real dislike was the use of red herrings which I find to be unnecessary time wasters. The other negative is there could be a long wait to play Airlock. Ours was almost 2 months, which then meant we forgot about the playlist that was sent to us upfront and so didn’t get to use it!
There’s no set price for this game, Russ runs it on a donation basis. I would look at the price of other games that we’ve played for an idea of what you should pay. I don’t want to put a suggested price here but I have an average in my head based on all the virtual games that we’ve played and I would say that even if paying at the higher end of the scale, this game is absolutely worthwhile. It is a live-hosted game, run by an individual, not a mega-franchise, and is a great, well-designed game to boot – donate accordingly!!
Again, Russ isn’t charging for his efforts, although he does welcome donations to help pay for his hobby and allow him to build further games. Don’t let the fact it’s a passion project fool you, Airlock is a well crafted challenge that actually betters some of the paid-for commercial games I’ve played! This is a no-brainer. Book your game with Russ via the email address on his Instagram page, assemble your team and see if you can beat our score of 9!
Theming - 7.67/10
Puzzles - 7/10
Enjoyment - 7.67/10
Value - 9.67/10