“Escape the Room” games have been around for years. The quality of these titles hinges upon the puzzles, as they make up the bulk of the experience. The Initiate attempts to blend interesting puzzles with a horror/mystery narrative, however, it fails on almost all accounts. There are certainly some clever puzzles here, but they’re few and far between. Combine this with an unfulfilling story and a lack of any real horror, and all that’s left is an experience that will inevitably leave gamers wanting much more.
At the start of The Initiate, players find themselves waking up in an unfamiliar bedroom with no knowledge of who they are, where they are, or what to do. A voice comes through the intercom system moments after they stand up, explaining that this is a trial in which the player will have to escape the house before something bad happens. It’s short, to the point, and sets up the plot nicely. The voice will continue to speak throughout the game, often jabbing the player for taking too long or congratulating them for completing a puzzle. It sets a sinister tone that pervades the first quarter of the experience, however, it certainly doesn’t last too long.
The Initiate claims to have elements of a horror title, however, this isn’t really the case. The creepy tone introduced at the start of the game doesn’t last, as there’s never any payoff for the tension. It becomes readily apparent that the house is simply a house due to a lack of anything actually happening. There is no immediate threat or danger; it relies on being creepy due to the “unknown”. This may work for some titles, but it doesn’t here.
Part of what makes an experience like this interesting is the anticipation of the ending. What could be waiting for the player behind the exit? Who is behind this mysterious voice? Unfortunately, both endings are extremely anticlimactic and don’t do nearly enough to satisfy the player. This would have been the moment to have the creepy tone really come to fruition, however that does not happen.
The gameplay itself revolves around solving puzzles throughout the house in order to escape. Unlocking new doors opens up new areas of the house for the player to explore, which range from a typical dining room to an underground tunnel. The size and complexity of the house can be daunting at first, but it doesn’t take long to memorize the layout.
There are certainly some interesting puzzles on display here. Some require the player to alter their environment based upon riddles included in a note, others require a path to be traced out on a map. It’s a shame that these creative ones don’t make up the bulk of the experience. Most of the player’s time will be spent examining every nook and cranny for random items that they will need for a later puzzle. It makes the experience feel more like a seek-and-find rather than a true puzzle game. Essential items are often hidden in random drawers and corners, which just ends up artificially extending the length of the game. However, the creative puzzles definitely feel rewarding to solve, especially when they open up new areas of the house.
The last puzzle of the game is easily one of the best, however, there is an error in the puzzle’s directions. Some players will be able to figure it out through trial and error, others will inevitably have to look up the solution online. The idea is really interesting and would have been a lot more fun if the directions were accurate.
The Initiate definitely has the right idea when it comes to an “escape the room” game with horror elements. It’s the execution that ends up falling flat. The horror theme never amounts to anything more than a mysterious voice, the two endings are disappointing, and the puzzles are not consistently good. Fans of the genre may still find something to enjoy here, as there are some unique ideas on display. They’re just too few and far between when looking at the game as a whole.