Hellraid: The Escape is a clever escape game that breaks away from the tired room-escape constructs seen on almost every tablet game of the same genre these days. Granted, there are rooms that the player is required to leave immediately, and only after completing at least one puzzle, but that’s where the similarities end. Shortbreak Studios has released an escape game set in the fantasy world of Hellraid which leaves the player stranded in a demonic prison with no information; your only way out is quick thinking and puzzle-solving. Oh, and try not to get stabbed, shot, trampled on, or axed by the bloodthirsty demons while you’re at it!
The narrative has a fiendishly clever way to snap you into the right frame of mind for the game. The opening few seconds make it clear that you are trapped, and offers you the hopeless chance to stay alive. Even knowing the premise of the game, I found it impossible not to struggle anyway. The scattered notes tell the story from when you “awaken,” leaving plenty of mystery and interest, but strengthening your desire to escape and meet your magical correspondent. Shortbreak allows the player to construct the story piecemeal without any obvious nudging towards expected conclusions. I had my theories and enjoyed the way new notes or information tidbits made me question my confidence in guessing the true narrative. The sprinkled story acted as an almost reluctant lure: I needed to know the truth and push on, but a lifetime of games with a tattered tale warned me I might not like what I discovered.
The gameplay required no instructions; it was smooth and intuitive, which left my brain free to handle the puzzles. In each chamber, there was one challenge unique to that room, as well as a variety of mechanics specific to that puzzle. From projectiles that actually acknowledged the laws of physics, to terse tilting segments that responded to you moving the iPad with the perfect degree of sensitivity; everything simply did well. In escape games, you may often know what needs to be done, but can’t quite make it happen. Developers often solve this quandary in two ways: either baby-step you through the whole thing, thus removing any premise that it was a challenge, or leave you at the mercy of the world wide web to get out of the godforsaken room. Shortbreak have done neither, and instead provides you with everything you need to succeed, including optional hints. Everything, that is, except an actual solution: don’t go into Hellraid expecting flashing arrows and polite suggestions to aid your escape. It’s not that sort of game.
The design detail, right down to the spiders that I squished (just because their fluid movement gave me the creeps) was fantastic. It was clear which objects were interactive and part of puzzles, instead of the indecipherable gloom customary with other games of this genre. The rooms were unique and varied, and the puzzles were a surprising mix brought together expertly. Hellraid: The Escape suits someone such as myself: I love impending doom, coupled with demons and an atmosphere that’s dark and twisted. Shortbreak ticks all the boxes by keeping the intensity high while throwing challenges in your face and ensuring you never quite feel safe. This takes Hellraid from the rabble of escape games on the app store and makes it something that deserves to be experienced, not rushed and cheated through.
I have to admit, the refined graphics were a nice surprise; which are not common with either this genre, or mobile games in general. Each of the demons gave me such a feeling of unease when I started a new room that I’d have to breathe and remind myself it was a game of brains, not brawn. The eerie sounds were engulfing and gave life to the hellish arena: The disembodied grunts and guttural growls made turning every corner into a test of courage for someone such as myself, but it was still incredibly entertaining not knowing what to expect. By far, the best sound effects were those damn chains; I had a mini panic attack every time I bumped one, fully expecting an axe-wielding psycho to take off my head. The only negative aspect of the presentation was in the form of a necromancer: his jarred, almost comical movements disrupted the flow of the game; at least until he killed me, of course.
Hellraid: The Escape is utterly dripping with atmosphere, or with the blood of the tormented; I’m not game enough to ask which. As a paid application, though, you’d hope for some replay value, but the truth is that unless you’re a completionist that has to have every crystal to unlock the extras, there isn’t all that much to go back to. I’d still recommend the game, however; whether you like puzzles, escapes, chills, or something to do on your coffee break besides read the tea room’s staple copy of Women’s Day from 1997, again. The game is best when putting on some headphones, and allowing yourself to sink into its bizarre world – only to then relish escaping from it! As the game only takes two hours to complete, its likely best enjoyed in short bursts during those anti-social lunch breaks, rather than in a single playthrough. You may only get several hours of entertainment out of it, but for an iPad game, that’s a pretty impressive feat – so long as you’re prepared to jump at imagined clinking chains for several nights after.
Please Note: This review was based on the iPad version of the game, and provided to us by the publisher for the purpose of review.