So You Wanna Save the World – Episode 0 [Review]

Who wants to save the %#(@ world?

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 2019

Team size: Unlimited; we recommend 1-2

Duration: Variable; probably 2-3 hours

Price: Free

REA Reaction

So You Wanna Save the World is envisioned as a monthly puzzle subscription service intended to replicate the feel of playing an escape room. The monthly package hasn’t launched yet, but this free prequel episode offers a taste of what the creators have in mind.

Considering the online setting, Episode 0 felt a lot like a puzzle hunt, but with more of a story focus. The secret agency backstory provided a clever meta-explanation for the physical mailer format. Using websites, videos, and phone calls upped the fun factor.

The gameplay itself felt uneven at times, as some moments of insight came significantly more easily than others. Trial and error played a role as we determined which components fit together. The puzzles ranged from delightfully challenging to frustratingly opaque.

Logo with text reading "So You Wanna Save the World: An Online Escape Room Experience."

The tone of So You Wanna Save the World was edgy bordering on aggressive. Players who prefer a more welcoming, supportive atmosphere should probably look elsewhere.

So You Wanna Save the World made big promises of being cinematic and game-changing. Episode 0 delivered a slick and entertaining game, but with some rough edges. Producing fun, balanced content every month isn’t easy, but with lots of playtesting, future installments could live up to those promises.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The puzzles
  • The edgy, roguish vibe
  • To banter with a smart-mouthed AI

Story

We had been recruited by the Mail Marshals, a secret government agency embedded inside the post office. Two Mail Marshals agents, along with an experimental AI, provided evidence and secret messages for us to decipher in order to prove our worth and catch the bad guy.

Two agents sit at a desk labeled "Mail Marshals" in front of a giant screen showing a close-up of a globe.

Setup

So You Wanna Save the World used websites, phone numbers, and videos to present a series of puzzles enmeshed in a secret agent story. An online account saved our progress in a Case Notes section, complete with writeups of our progress so far. We could confer with other players via the Recruit Network (a Facebook group) if we needed help.

In future installments of So You Wanna Save the World, each episode will start with a physical mailing sent to players’ home addresses. This introductory episode began with a digital version of one of these mailers.

A mailer for Anderson and Sons Plumbing, with additional marketing text and a man in a jumpsuit giving a thumbs-up.

Gameplay

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 was an online puzzle game with a high level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation and cracking codes.

The puzzles varied in difficulty and usually involved aha moments. This meant some puzzles took just a few moments to figure out and others took far longer.

The puzzles were presented in tandem with a story about the case we were working on. The tasks mostly emerged authentically from the story and the puzzle’s medium (video, audio, or graphic).

Analysis

So You Wanna Save the World integrated websites, phone calls, and physical mailings. The puzzles felt natural in all of these habitats.

➕/➖ The website, videos, and other materials went a long way towards making the experience immersive. The production value was slick and professional, but the characters lacked a sense of urgency. We found ourselves wishing the videos had expressed the intensity that saving the world would ostensibly require.

➖ Our interactions with Tachyon, our AI helper, were persnickety. We sometimes had to experiment to find the specific wording that would get her to react. When she didn’t understand, she berated us with insults that quickly became repetitive.

A chat window with a robot avatar saying "Oh look, it's Recruit Willson here to waste my time."

❓ Speaking of Tachyon…So You Wanna Save the World was explicitly not for children. The cursing was gratuitous and unabashed, and the story included descriptions of violence. This may limit the potential audience somewhat, particularly for families interested in puzzling together.

➕/➖ So You Wanna Save the World presented bonus evidence and Easter eggs concurrently with the main storyline. We enjoyed searching for the extra hidden content. At times the bonus puzzles stood out more than the ones on the main branch of gameplay, so we accidentally forked away without realizing. Further playtesting might help even out the difficulty of the branches.

➕/➖ Solving puzzles and determining which components to combine often required trial and error. Many of the stand-alone puzzles provided satisfying moments of insight. When we needed to choose which clues fit together to make progress, the lack of structure made things more challenging, and occasionally frustrating.

➖ Because we didn’t know what style or caliber of puzzle to expect, we had trouble getting our bearings at first. We spent almost an hour on the first puzzle before the insight necessary to solve it dawned on us. An easier start or some form of onboarding would give players a better idea of what sort of challenge awaited.

➕ The Case Notes section of the website recorded our progress and included recaps of previous puzzles. This helped us keep our findings straight and reorient ourselves after stepping away from the game. The Case Notes also helped show how a puzzle was solved when we weren’t quite sure how we’d done it.

➖ The first-person format of the Case Notes became jarring when the notes expressed attitudes opposed to my own. Late in the game, Recruit Willson praised a character whose actions I would never support in real life. Seeing my actual name on this entry was unsettling. A more neutral stance in the notes would preserve immersion.

➕/➖ The Facebook group was a creative in-game way to get hints. It was tricky to describe where we were stuck, since the puzzles weren’t linear or explicitly named. The other recruits’ posts were helpful, though we had to dodge spoilers for puzzles we hadn’t reached yet. Also, the group could become more or less useful in the future as the community grows or shrinks.

➕ The Mail Marshals backstory explained the purpose of the physical mailer components cleverly. Episode 0 started online instead of via snail mail, but searching through actual junk mail for secret messages in future episodes sounds like fun.

Tips for Playing

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 requires an internet connection and a US phone number. A pencil and paper will come in handy, but otherwise you don’t need any special equipment.

Playing alone or with one companion seems ideal, since the puzzles aren’t particularly collaborative. If you typically like approaching puzzle hunts and similar games solo, try this one by yourself.

And ignore Tachyon when she tells you you’re a useless $*@%. You’ll show her.

2 thoughts on “So You Wanna Save the World – Episode 0 [Review]

  1. Just tried it out, and I find myself agreeing with a lot of what’s listed here. My personal pros and cons:

    + Some of the puzzles were really clever, and figuring them out led to some of the most satisfying “aha!” moments I’ve had in this sort of thing.
    + I enjoyed the idea of having the Bonus Ending and the Easter Egg there for those who choose to go the extra mile and solve everything the game has to offer. This tickles the video game completionist bone in me.
    + The overall concept shows a lot of potential down the line – certainly moreso than most “monthly puzzle adventure delivery” games – which is especially impressive seeing how this whole operation is seemingly run by a whopping two people.

    – Oh my good Lord, the writing. I understand that they’re going for a more adult audience, but they can easily accomplish that without having to resort to gratuitous swearing and forced edginess. I suggest the writers go back and binge 24, since it’s pretty clear that’s the ultimate vibe they’re going for.
    – Having real actors would do this a world of good. As it stands, the immersion is next to zero when what are supposed to be two tough, battle-hardened secret agents constantly sound like they’re delivering the monthly budget report, and I’m getting cussed out by Siri (as much as Tachyon insists that she’s not).
    – The whole experience was just way too short. I finished the main storyline, unlocked the Bonus Ending, and found the Easter Egg all by myself in under two hours, and that was with the second puzzle stumping me for a good 45 minutes or so.

    Overall, though, I understand that this was more or less a beta test made on a shoestring budget, and that most if not all of those issues will be addressed once they actually have some decent cash to play around with. Despite my quibbles, I still ultimately enjoyed the experience from start to finish. I see a lot of potential with this concept, and I can’t wait to see where they take it in the future.

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective! It’s interesting to see we had some of the same feedback, and I agree that it’ll be very interesting to see where they go with future episodes.

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