Unlock! – The house on the hill

The house on the hill is the first game in Unlock!’s second box Mystery Adventures. Having played through all the games in the first box, we decided to buy a whole load more Unlock! games, lo and behold we now have five boxes each containing three games that arrived earlier this week waiting to play. So feeling flush with supply of new games to play we cracked on with game number one!

For the past three days, paranormal activities have increased: apparitions, flying objects, possessed children …. After investigation, it has been uncovered that a group of youngsters who came to have fun in the abandoned house on top of the hill read an excerpt from the Book of the Dead, thus unleashing these phenomena. The mayor relies on your group of experts to get into this house, find the book and put a stop to the curse!

So from the intro we can see that it is not exactly the worlds most unique storyline we’re going to be playing through here. But I find the ‘story’ doesn’t feature so much generally in many at home escape rooms, it just really outlines the objective, so here find the book of the dead and do something to stop the curse. It really is just a cliché Haunted House trope.

Side note: If you are a fan of haunted houses, check out the Betrayal at House on the Hill boardgame!

So onto the game:

As you go through the game expect to see plenty of clichés. And given some kids have just been through how does the place look so undisturbed? For a game using cards as its main base it does a good job with the artwork. The aesthetics of the game are well done, and they play into the theme of the game, even the messages when you go wrong and draw a penalty card are themed to the game. As with most at home escape games the atmosphere created is very limited, though maybe if you played some old school horror theme music in the background this would help you create an atmosphere, or even make a night of it and find a good old house on the hill style film you can watch!

 I found it easy to visualise being at the scene and what you would do with the objects. Some puzzles follow real world logic, but the same kind of logic can land you with penalties in other puzzles, I found this a bit frustrating, but that frustration probably comes more from having 3 minutes added onto our time. When the world allows us to play physical escape rooms we always challenge ourselves to try and beat the room record and we normally end up (happily) disappointed if we don’t make the leaderboard for a room. You can pick up an object early, but to make the object usable you might have to hold onto it for a while, this is something I enjoy in a game, I like needing to keep hold of things and I find it helps games to flow. Some of the puzzles are a lot more simple than they may appear, there were certainly a few we were trying to make it more complicated than was which lost us a bit of time. One puzzle in particular we spent ages starring at the components trying to decipher some 4 digit code on one component, when the component we were so focused on turned out to be very simple directions to using another component. The instructions in this instance were so simple our brains didn’t even think about them as a possibility. We took a hint on that puzzle and there was certainly a facepalm after we read the clue!

We ended up drawing two penalty cards for incorrect object matches which added 6 minutes on (3 minutes each, which does feel like quite a harsh penalty!), and on one puzzle we entered two incorrect codes which gave us another 6 minutes worth of penalties and a hint on one puzzle. If I have one criticism of the Unlock! games it is how harshly you can be penalised for being incorrect. We lost 20% of the total 60 minutes available for being wrong, and not even drastically wrong in the grand scheme of things.

There are some hidden ‘objects’ within the game, and if you don’t find them you could very easily get stuck for a while in a couple of places. Hidden ‘objects’ are usually very well disguised card numbers on the cards which you need to find to be able to take that card, which you will need at some point in the game. So keep your eyes peeled and check the cards thoroughly when you drawn them, and if you can’t seem to move forward carefully check cards again.

It’s very similar to the other Unlock! Games we’ve played so far, an enjoyable evening was had by both of us and once we finish the other two games in this box we look forward to lending the box around our friends to provide them with some entertainment (and maybe even some competition!)

One of the limitations I find with at home escape games in general is that the variety of mechanisms in which to solve puzzles can be relatively limited. With Unlock! a lot of the puzzles are working out how to ‘combine’ two objects to make something happen. Some of their other games have ‘machines’ which are different and more varied, though there weren’t any machines in house on the hill. 

We escaped in 54:10 with 12 minutes of penalties and using 1 hint, the app gave us a rating of 4/5 stars. The house on the hill is self rated 1/3 difficulty, personally we found it slightly more difficult that Squeek & Sausage from the first box which was a rated 2/3. In terms of difficulty we found this to be very middle of the scale, it’s not super easy that we were left feeling unsatisfied, but not too difficult either! We’ve yet to play through the other two puzzles in the box (but keep your eyes peeled for the reviews when we do!) but I would recommend the game to pretty much anyone 12+ (I think some of the artwork may freak out younger kids). As the boxes come with 3 games each in and you can pick them up for between £20 -£30 depending on where you look, I think they are good value for money, especially as you can lend them around so freely, and re-sell once you are done with them!

Overall I’m giving House on the hill 3/5, it’s a fun way to spend an evening and especially in this lockdown world, a good way to get your escape game fix!

Difficulty 3/5 

Atmosphere 2/5

Variety 2.5/5

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