50 Clues is an immersive puzzle game that offers the experience of an escape room, but in a format that can be played at home. You combine objects, solve puzzles and decipher codes to complete the story. A smartphone or tablet keeps track of the solutions and provides multistep hints if the need arises. Starting in Part 1, Maria is locked up in a psychiatric ward and must escape finding her son before it’s too late. The other two parts continue this murderous trilogy.
Box Comes with a Trigger Warning (+6)
Trigger warnings are helpful, and this game comes with one unlike other escape rooms with not-so-family friendly content. When you’re looking for immersive puzzle games you definitely want to have an idea of what you might encounter. This is especially true if you are perhaps playing with friends who do have topics that are uncomfortable for them or if you are spending time with a younger audience.
Linear Puzzles Fit the Story Feel (+5)
For the most part, regardless of whether the game presents more than one piece of information to you at a time, the puzzles are linear. Much like the rest of how life progresses and especially with how being in sticky situations go, it’s one step at a time. You’re mostly reacting to the information presented to you and are short-term planning.
Clever Uses of Outside Knowledge (+6)
At some point in each of the parts in this trilogy, you’ll interpret data and information with what I assume is perhaps grade school or high school knowledge. Topics can cover sense of direction, perspective, chemistry and the like. It’s quite satisfying to dig into the archives of one’s mind and say, “Yes, I definitely remember what it is I’m looking at”! One of my favorite mechanisms in the game is combining something and then checking in the web app to see if it did anything. There also seems to be a recurring trope about finding a getaway car, which can involve anything from identifying keys to hot wiring.
Sustainable Design (+6)
I will also commend this game’s ability to create puzzles without the use of extra materials or destroying cards. I’m not sure who I’ll be sending this off to, but whoever gets it next will not need to provide anything additional nor will I need to recreate any game materials to “refill” it.
Trigger Warning is Not Specific Enough (-6)
Despite having a trigger warning that says “Warning! Contains graphic violence” it is certainly not enough now that I’ve actually played the games. Having graphic images show up is one thing, and it’s another thing to bear witness to the reasons why an image came about. Your mind, if it’s similar to mine, will involuntarily fill in the blanks with unpleasant scenes to make sense of it.
Ambiguous Details in Graphics (-3)
The way you interact with some objects in this game are inconsistent and therefore you are never sure whether what you’re looking at is just for style and looks. At times it will indicate in a different color to stand out but that isn’t always the case to cross-reference (i.e. sometimes the puzzles are self-contained and other times it is not and it can really impact your progress). One thing that makes a great puzzle game is the ability for the puzzlecrafter to be able to explain something to you without giving you the answer. Therefore, when you read the lead-in message and then execute it’s actually satisfactory. Bad puzzles require you to think like the crafter. Good puzzles in and of themselves should make sense based on context. This game rarely does this.
Lazy Puzzlecrafting (-6)
To me, there are ways to try and avoid violence. Period. It’s extremely lazy puzzlecrafting to force the player into committing acts of violence for the sake of a storyline or for unlocking things. At least allow room to try not to be violent and keeping it at a last resort. Several puzzles in the game have violence as a first solution. I do not agree with this at all. The fact that I was forced to think like a violent person made me feel sick. In addition to the act, the game also includes POV reasoning and dialogue to further provide justification for the violence. Life or death as a puzzle is not fair.
Order of Appearance (-1)
Despite the linear nature of most of the puzzles, some of the information presented to you can trick you into thinking that it has to do with the current puzzle when it really doesn’t. This speaks even more to the way that this game is inconsistent.
Story Tropes (-0.5)
If you are more of a puzzlecrafter and not a storyteller, please just get someone to help you write a story to back up your puzzles or vice versa. I’m really over seeing tropes in puzzle games. I know you’re trying to build some kind of reason around spending an hour or more playing the game but it doesn’t need to be tropey.
Timed Exercises (0)
Others may enjoy timed exercises, but I really don’t. If you like time limits, there are quite a few opportunities to test your wits against the clock in here. Thematically, some time constraints do make sense so I’m keeping this in the Ugly section and not the Bad section.