Review: Hack Forward by Key Enigma

I have tried games like this before. Escape rooms in a box. You have to know, that I absolutely love puzzles. You can not be a magician and not love puzzles. I saw it in passing on my instagram feed. Some person holding a box and telling about an escape room in a box related to hacking. I had to try it. I reached out to the company and they were generous enough to send me a review copy. So here are my findings, after delving several chapters into the story!

Yes, this one has chapters. You don’t start with just solving puzzles without an overarching narrative, there is a story and it is very well executed. Believe me. I have played hacker sims and games like Watch dogs, so I know a good hacker story when I see one. The story leans into hacker narrative, plays a bit like a Philip K. Dick novel if he ever wrote one about hackers.

Everything you need comes into a neat box, with envelopes marked with the chapter number, so you know when to open which one. I will not spoil what you get in the box, but I can tell you the puzzles are ingenious and might be familiar to folks that have done escape rooms before. The puzzles are not brainshattering hard, but you will need to keep focused, so every once in a while it will tell you to take a break, as you can not play this game in it’s entirety in one go. It has 8 chapters and each chapter takes about an hour to complete give and take.

It is true that you will have to use the internet to find things, as you will have to use it to research clues and to go to random websites to find information on certain things from the game, and the game will tell you where to go, or what to look for, so don’t expect hours long browsing to find some obscure fact on the internet.

Hints are provided if you are stuck, and I mostly got stuck because the clues given or the instructions weren’t very clear or rather vague even. When the solution is given, it is slap in the head easy or even so in your face. As a magician I am used to looking deep into things and look for very obscure little things nobody else notices if I want to figure out how a magic effect is done, so easy puzzles will slap me in the face. Key Enigma has taken the maxim “don’t run, when you aren’t being chased to the maximum”.

The puzzles are a great variety. You get all the props sealed in neat envelopes and the game tells you when you need them, otherwise they won’t even make sense (yes, I admit that I opened envelope 6-02 before I was allowed and I don’t know what is asked of me with it).

The puzzles are by no means cheap. The quality is noticable in the props and the execution of the online chatscripts that you need to follow. You need to interact with an AI and when you tell it an answer and it isn’t spot on, but it is close, it will recognize it as right if you were close enough. For example (not a real in game example): you need fish and you type in salmon. It will give it as correct, as you have gotten close enough.

The “chats” you are in, never feel as if you are chatting with bots. You are, but it is done in such a good way that it never feels as if you are chatting with a bot. They have taken great care in crafting a nice narrative, given it a nice visual. Filmed very nice clips for it and packed it all together in one box. One minor point is that some visual effects in certain movie clips could have done better (you will see when you get there).

There are audio clues that might not work for deaf people, but I think, if I am correct, that they also added a visual clue next to the audio clue, so you can still solve it if you are deaf.

One thing I don’t like, is the leader board, as it is obvious that other folks cheated or just asked for the solutions to be first to beat the chapters. That breaks it a bit for me. It would have been nicer to see that I was the only one that finished the chapters, as if I was the only person everybody could rely upon to solve this mystery. The leaderboard takes a bit away from the immersion.

Overall: I highly recommend this product and thanks to seeing the quality of this one, I will certainly buy other products from this company as they also have a murder mystery that really intrigues me.

You can buy it here.

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