I enjoy co-op puzzlers and escape room games, especially the ones that emerged from the online versions created during the pandemic to keep the popular team-building activity going. Escape Academy is one of those games that I admire a lot, because it has a strong narrative that makes each level and puzzle meaningful and not just thematic. It also has a lot of humor that makes it fun and engaging.
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The only downside is that both the main game and the first DLC, Escape From Anti-Escape Island, end with a disappointing final puzzle that is too hard and too different from the rest of the game. It feels like a cheap way to increase the tension by giving you only a few minutes to solve some obscure word or math problem. I failed both of these puzzles and felt frustrated by the endings. I was worried that the second DLC would do the same thing.
But I was pleasantly surprised by the Escape From The Past DLC, which has a much better ending than any other escape room game I’ve played. It’s a murder mystery-themed expansion that takes you back in time to when Escape Academy’s headmaster was targeted by an unknown assassin. You and your partner play as two professors who were students at the Academy back then, and who got involved in the case while learning to become master escapers in the first four levels. The fifth and final level is a clever twist on the game’s usual puzzles, where you have to interrogate all the suspects and figure out who the killer is, like in a courtroom drama.
This expansion has some amazing puzzles that revisit old locations from the main game and show them in a different (or older, since it’s a flashback) light, but the last mission is Escape From The Past’s masterpiece. It starts with all the suspects in the Headmaster’s office and you can pick any of them to blame for being the assassin. You’ll then hear their story and need to examine evidence to question their version of events and poke holes in their alibis. There’s a clear Ace Attorney vibe here, until the whole thing changes into a more typical escape room situation. At this point, you can move around to all the puzzle locations from the previous levels to look for the proof you need to identify the real killer. What makes this level so brilliant is that it’s actually three levels.
Depending on which of the suspects you blame, you’ll have a completely different courtroom sequence. Each of them has their own story with their own evidence to sort through, and you’ll only get to see these scenes play out if you replay the level three times. The second half is always the same, sadly, and it’s always the same killer in the end, but being able to direct the story through the first part is still a novel way to connect the narrative and the puzzles.
Of course, there’s still a last-minute moment at the very end, but it isn’t nearly as annoying as the other versions of this. You only have a few minutes to disable the murder weapon before it explodes, but each step of taking apart the weapon involves solving logic puzzles, matching patterns, and decoding symbols – not trying to do fast math or word games while the clock counts down. It’s a natural end to both the story and the level that adds just enough tension without trying to do too much. The final level is a huge three-act story with each act taking a unique form – but they all feel consistent with each other and the larger game. This is the best story experience I’ve had with an escape room game, and I’m excited to see Coin Crew Games raising the bar with the expansion. I also managed to disarm the bomb before time ran out, so obviously this is the best Escape Academy yet.