Help Me Escape! The Puzzle Maker's Office is a really fun virtual text-message escape-room adventure made by Brahn Games that is just a good time in general. It is the same as an escape room, except that you are not the individual locked inside.
You receive a text-message from an unknown number--Wendy (AI), who finds herself inside a locked room, with a cell phone and only one number, yours! She texts you and asks for help. So that is what you shall do.
Through some simple commands, you can tell Wendy to go to the few locations in the room, to look around, and to perform certain tasks. There are some interactive objects available and some others that may or may not become available as you progress through the puzzles.
The puzzles are not easy, in fact, a couple of them may require you to go look up a separate reference. I suppose while you cannot do that in a normal escape-room, who is to tell you that you cannot access outside references? After all, Wendy is the person stuck in there, and you are trying to use everything to help her.
There are some secrets hidden within the game that are red-herring, some that are interesting tidbits of information, and some others that actually help with your task of aiding Wendy on her way to freedom. Some cultural references are there and if you don't get them, you can look them up on your favorite search engine. Or if you feel like lapsing into the time capsule that is the escape room, perhaps you will go visit a library. (Who am I kidding, right?)
The commands that are available to you are fairly straight forward for the most part, such as "go to ___" or "look at ___." Some may be more specific depending on the puzzle that you are looking at or where you are in the game. It would be nice for the developer to give a list of common commands that you may use (spoiler free of course!) so that you can progress more readily into the game. These commands are used to ask an AI character to perform some tasks, and she just does not understand you like a normal person would.
The puzzles are set up in a linear fashion. Progress will lead to further availability of other puzzles. So just because something doesn't function currently does not mean that it will not in the future.
There are a couple of small glitches, though not game breaking. Jerry, the developer, is a really nice guy. He is very responsive to emails and will look into mechanical issues with the game as soon as you notify him of it. By the way, if you type in a command and you get the AI to lock up in the virtual "writing a message" ellipsis bubble, just submit another command, and it should go back to normal.
You can save the game at any time by going to settings and click "Backup Phone." When you fire up the game again, the game starts from the beginning, and you have to go click on "Restore Phone" to continue where you left off. There is only one save slot as far as I can see. It would be better if the game has an auto-save function and loaded each time from where you left off. (This is primarily due to the fact that "Backup" and "Restore" are so close to each other. You can easily hit the other one instead and wipe your whole game from starting the program trying to continue.) Fortunately if you have played through the game up to a certain point, it's easy to get back there.
So speaking on that note, there is very little to be said about replay value of a game like this. Similarly, would you go to an Escape Room Adventure in reality more than once with all of the same set up and puzzles? Likely not.
However, despite the inherent nature of a game like this not looking for people to replay it, it is definitely worth the asking price of $8.99 USD. (Still on its launch sale of 30% discount for a couple more days as of this review!)
Graphics and Music
The visuals are presented in terms of text-messages and pictures from Wendy. The images are well-done for the most part. My biggest complaint is that my game monitor is not huge (21-inches) and there is a lot of filler space on the screen. When you are looking at some of the images, especially the notes, they can be difficult to read, along with the note texture and lighting effects, etc. There are no videos or animations, so don't expect that. It would be lovely for the zoom-in versions of the images to be displayed with little to no negative space on the screen. Music is very nice, different music tracks for different locations in the room for mood. Of course you do not need to play the game with music at all.
This game is for an adult audience due to the complexity of the puzzles. It would not be unreasonable for multiple adults to sit in front of the same screen to ponder the puzzles together. Most escape rooms are meant for multiple people to gather different clues. If you put a young child in front of this game, chances are, he/she will just get bored very quickly and leave the game be.
Pricing and Time
As previously mentioned, on a sale, this is merely a bonus. The game is worth its asking price of $8.99 USD. It's an exciting Escape Room with suspense but no spook. What makes it worthwhile are the actual puzzles, they are quite cleverly designed. It took me about 10 hours to complete the whole thing. (Not going to try to estimate an average time, because if the answers leak, you can finish the game in a matter of minutes. Don't ask me for spoilers, please! It will just ruin your own experience.)
Help Me Escape! The Puzzle Maker's Office has plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied for a while. The puzzles are well designed and fun to think through. It is completely reasonable to get stuck, and expect to be from time to time. But if you are really stuck, you can ask for help through the crisis hotline provided by the developer via email. He is very responsive to questions, concerns about bugs, etc. This was fun and totally worth the time and money. I got frustrated from time to time, of course, who wouldn't trying to tell an AI to do something and she goes to open a drawer instead. But in the end, it was all worth it. I am totally looking forward to seeing what future games Brahn Games will have to offer in the future!
P.S.--Wendy likes knock-knock jokes.
The following is a short YouTube video through a few minutes of gameplay. It does have a couple of minor spoilers that starts the sequence of events, so if you want to do everything on your own, look at the trailer and just give the game a go. It's really awesome!