404 is an interactive game book originally funded on Kickstarter. Packed with over 65 hidden messages and no instructions, reveal the story as you solve and verify solutions on the website (though you can solve the entire book offline as well)!
Creepy Intro Material (+5)
The first few pages in the book have introduction material from Plato and the mysterious fantasy world it takes place in. You get the feeling that perhaps you’re trying to join some new society or group of people, which requires some amount of jumping through hoops. My copy also came with a secret handwritten note that really tied everything together. The immersion was fantastic for the medium the designers chose.
For the first time, I’m also playing for the story. I think this is sort of the key that you miss when trying to attempt to simulate escape room games in other formats. I would rather take my time, but reading all the stories in those timed games wastes time. I’m competitive in nature and I tend to be okay with skipping the story and just being like, did I get the answer?
Real World Info (+5)
I’ve had to do quite a bit of research to solve some of the puzzles so far and I’m not even done yet! Great learning experiences to be had when you need to put some research into a solution, even if that gets you nowhere. The fact that it compels your imagination in such a way to think outside the box and in turn branch out into new discoveries is a treat.
Online Integration (+4)
While this is definitely more puzzle book than anything else, they did develop supplemental browser and QR interactions. There are even creepier mediums and themes they reach into in the browser, and the “messaging” has good timing to bring about a sense of suspense. From a utilitarian standpoint, their hint system is smooth and I especially needed to use hints even just for validating a thought train for myself.
Join the Quality Niche (+6)
I actually found this on twitter from following puzzle hashtags, and upon discovery up until getting my copy I had been pining after it for a while. This is especially true because of the reputation of the folks on the design team. It had new ways to engage with a puzzle book that didn’t frustrate me. I didn’t find myself saying “Well, that was a waste of time” when scouring through hints. Even in the kickstarter campaign they make a point that they have gone to lengths to make sure you don’t need to guess haphazardly. But, when the hints aren’t enough, their forums are also helpful because folks on there are puzzle enthusiasts that give strong but not obvious help. This is hands down the best puzzle book I’ve played within the past year! lots of love put into this.
_THAT_ Real World Info (-1)
Other than a bit of frustration at reference recognition to get a lead on where to research the real world info, I honestly couldn’t find anything else bad with this puzzle book. I’m still working on finishing this and maybe the horrors await me later (?) I’ll make sure to send an update on twitter when I finish to make sure that this is still a legit opinion.
If my opinion holds that the end of all of this I won’t be really surprised. It’s spearheaded by Dr. Gareth Moore who is known for brain training and puzzle design, dubbed “One of Britain’s most trusted brain trainers”!
Listen, when you’re a brain trainer I get that conspiracies and stories like this are easy to fall back on. This is why I’m only listing this in here as Ugly and not Bad. This is also probably another area where I may be surprised with a twist when I do finish this, in which case I’ll update my response accordingly. But things not being how they seem, warnings being given, requests for compliance and the like… it’s been done! Secret messages that are intended to try and escape from prying eyes, you know the deal.