Escape Games Canada – The Missing Will [Review]

“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.” – The Shunned House

Location:  North York, Ontario Canada

Date Played: May 1, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.98 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: There is a toy gun in this experience.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Missing Will was a confounding experience. It opened with a strong pregame show… and then it tumbled downhill from there.

This licensed Mansions of Madness experience came complete with Lovecraftian style and art & audio assets, characters, and plot points from the Fantasy Flight tabletop game.

Gerald's silhouette in a window high up above the gated starting area of the game.
Image via Escape Games Canada

The crux of this game was that we were in a manor’s dark basement solving some maddening puzzles. I like Lovecraftian horror just as much as the next nerd… so I get that Lovecraftian horror demands some darkness, and I assume that the obnoxious puzzles were meant to represent the Mansions of Madness mechanic where losing sanity points is one of the ways that your character can die.

But… creative spotlighting is the way that you make a horror environment dark and still fun to play in. We had a whole talk at RECON 21 about this. It’s on YouTube for anyone who wants to learn how to do this well.

The gameplay felt like a gallery filled with puzzles that most anyone will understand how to do, but not want to solve. The two times where The Missing Will had Simon puzzles that were set too fast felt emblematic of what I found so distasteful in this game. There are ways to make a puzzle that makes me feel like I am losing my mind in a narrative way… and then there are ways to make puzzles that make me feel like I’m agitated.

To top this all off, the last act felt laughable. It was the weakest segment that I have ever seen Escape Games Canada produce, and this is a company that I have long held in high regard. This final space was the only room in the game that didn’t need good lighting; it was over-lit, making the key set pieces feel hokey and childish when they should have felt imposing and scary. Then there was the touchscreen puzzle sequence that made absolutely no sense. The biggest mystery in this game was how this final puzzle sequence found its way into the finale of a game made by Escape Games Canada.

There are plenty of strong elements in The Missing Will including elegantly designed and built set pieces, and some neat moments… but overall, this felt subpar for Escape Games Canada. This is a company that I have been recommending for years. I always look forward to playing their latest and greatest. Maybe I am expecting too much of them, but I’d recommend anything else in their building over The Missing Will.

Who is this for?

  • Lovecraft fans
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Exciting early-game moments
  • Cool set-based interactions
  • A lot of time consuming puzzle content

Story

Following the death of Vince Millar, we had been summoned to Millar Manor to investigate his death and the strange happenings of his estate. The requirements of our investigation were clear: tell no one, especially the authorities. We could not imagine the horrors that we would encounter within his home.

Setting

Dark, foreboding, and with a really strong opening sequence, The Missing Will, looked like an ominous and strange Lovecraftian estate, or at least a few rooms of one.

The space was filled with tech-heavy puzzling stations, and generally looked good, except for a couple of key-late game set-pieces that felt a bit corny.

Closeup of a large metal boiler door set into a brick wall.
Image via Escape Games Canada

Gameplay

Escape Games Canada’s The Missing Will was a score-based escape room. There were some essential puzzles, and the rest were all bonus puzzles.

Before the game began, each player chose a character and received that character’s medallion necklace. This necklace enabled them to make one puzzle in the game easier.

The team was scored based on number of puzzles solved and number of players. Using the medallions did not impact the score.

The Missing Will had a high level of difficulty due to volume of challenging puzzle content (although to be fair, much of this was technically bonus content.)

Gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and solving puzzles.

Analysis

βž•/βž– Before we entered the manor, we met a pivotal character. The effects in this introduction were incredible. However, the video screen was positioned uncomfortably high to view, undermining the rest of the scene.

βž– We chose our characters blindly. There was no way to strategically make certain styles of puzzles easier as a result of this choice. This was also a “rich get richer” mechanic where if you brought more players, you could make more puzzles easier.

βž• The set was spectacular. From the opening moments, and through most of the spaces that followed, it was atmospheric and detailed.

βž– The lighting was unnecessarily dark… except in the scene where it really needed to be dark for dramatic effect… and the lack of darkness there made it hokey. A lengthy searching sequence in a dim room was simply not fun.

❓/βž• Gameplay consisted of many challenging puzzles that solved independently of one another in largely nonlinear fashion. If you like to battle a strong collection of puzzles, there’s a lot here.

βž– It was hard to track our progress on the assorted puzzles. They didn’t “turn off” or otherwise clearly indicate when they’d been solved. This created an environment where players were regularly trying already solved puzzle stations.

βž• We enjoyed the puzzles that made use of the set pieces and gamespace.

βž– The puzzles lacked variety. There were two variations on “simon” and multiple logic puzzles.

βž– A lot of the more difficult puzzles were just obnoxious. One puzzle that we deliberately skipped was the kind of challenge where we knew exactly what to do, and that accomplishing it would take a lot of time for next to no payoff. Something is wrong when you find yourself staring at something and saying, “yeah, I get it… but why would anyone want to do that?”

❓/βž– With each interaction, we were writing our story in the form of text on a screen. This was a neat premise, but it was too much to read in an escape game. Nobody wanted to stop playing to go read it, and thus we didn’t follow the story.

❓/βž– As players, we had multiple opportunities to impact the story with our choices. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up making these choices knowingly. At one juncture we made a “decision” before realizing there was a choice. In another, our choice was thwarted by a glitchy input mechanism.

βž– The final room included a touch screen with shocking latency (creating the aforementioned glitch). We accidentally made a narrative choice because of this latency. Also, a puzzle on a screen felt hilariously out of place in this manor, tech glitching aside. This whole sequence seemed like a bad joke.

βž– The entire final sequence felt hokey. The puzzles, the interfaces, the lighting, the characters… it felt like we’d stepped through a portal into a game made by someone less talented.

βž–/βž• The experience lacked an ending. When you win (solving all the main puzzles) you can choose to stay and solve as many bonus puzzles as you have time for. This is great for the puzzle lovers and completionists. That said, depending on the order you solve the bonus puzzles, you can reveal a prop too late to use (a real let down!) or simply solve along without a narrative purpose until time runs out. This petering out of puzzles deflated the ending. The net effect was that the narrative and excitement arcs of The Missing Will faded out. It didn’t feel especially Lovecraftian.

❓The works of HP Lovecraft are in the public domain, and Mansions of Madness is a great game… but I found myself wondering why this Lovecraft game needed to be licensed? Aside from some character names, character portraits, and some symbols… I just couldn’t figure out why the license mattered. Lovecraft-based tabletop games and expansions are so common that the game Smash Up literally has an expansion titled, “The Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion.”

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape Games Canada’s The Missing Will, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Games Canada provided media discounted tickets for this game.

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