Full disclosure: A review copy of A Death in the Red Light was provided by Mystery City Games.
Sorry in advance. This and the other escape room game I’m covering (The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks) aren’t … really photo-friendly games? Escape room games in general tend to elude me because, I mean, I don’t want to spoil the game for y’all; I just want to provide some light analysis and tell you where it stacks up against other games of similar genres. As a result, it’s hard to take photos without revealing puzzles or components or something that might hurt your puzzle experience down the line. That said, this one in particular is hard to photograph because, well, it doesn’t physically exist. Am I morally opposed to online-only escape rooms? No. Am I making a habit of them? Nah, I prefer tactile experiences. But, thought it might be fun, so, here we are. Let’s see what’s happening in A Death in the Red Light.
In A Death in the Red Light, you play a detective who has recently gotten back from being suspended, just in time for a body to turn up under suspicious circumstances. Luckily, even though you’re wildly unprofessional and as a result probably bad at your job, you’re somehow … also good at your job? We all contain multitudes, I suppose. You’re on the case, now, and you’ll have to go all around Amsterdam if you’re going to crack it. Will you be able to solve the mystery?
Pretty much no setup whatsoever. You just need to go to the website, create an account, and log in!
There will be a couple of things to do — one thing is to open the interactive PDF; that will contain most of the game. There’s also a police database included to help you look up some names. Don’t forget to register your team name!
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
For this one, you’re on the case of a dead man in an alleyway of Amsterdam’s red light district. Not the best part of town, but you’re also not the best detective, so, it’s an even deal.
You’re aiming to solve the case by moving around town, asking suspects questions, and getting clues so that you can figure out who the victim is, who killed them, and why. Thankfully, the game mostly takes place in an interactive PDF so you can click on things to go to them and take your own notes. If you need more information, there’s an included Police Database site that will let you enter names to get more about those folks.
You play the game that way until you’ve solved the case. What’s the mystery behind this dead body?
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really major player count differences for this game; you’re all working cooperatively, so, more people is just more help on the puzzle. You can pretty effectively share the PDF around with your group, and we found that doing Google Meet (or your equivalent videoconferencing software) where one person shared the screen of the police database site solved most of our problems. I suppose to that end, you could scale pretty infinitely, but I imagine more than four people might see the game start to get away from you (as players can likely independently solve the puzzles and get ahead of the group). As with most of these, I’d rather not play at one player, but that’s just because it’s more fun, imo, to play with friends. I’m an extrovert; it’s a known problem. I suppose you could play with like, 8 – 10 people, but I worry it might be a too many cooks in the kitchen situation, at that point.
If you’re new to the “Strategy” section of my articles on escape room games, they tend to be shorter because I don’t want to spoil any of the puzzles. Just in case you haven’t seen the EXIT game reviews!
- Take good notes. You’ll eventually need to know three pieces of information, so make sure you keep track of them as you’re going through the puzzle game. If not, you’re going to have to potentially backtrack and remember the places you’ve been. It may not even be a bad idea to print out the area map and cross off locations you’ve already visited.
- Look people up in the database. They will often give you additional information and potentially clues, so, make sure you’re leveraging all of your resources.
- Hints don’t count against you, so if you’re stuck, use them. There’s no penalty or anything, so if you’re not sure you might as well just ask the game for a quick hint. It’s a pretty good incremental system.
- Don’t just click on things randomly. You may accidentally brute force your way through some puzzles, and while that does get you ahead it’s less fun, so, don’t … do it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I was actually really impressed with how well they made an escape room out of a multi-page PDF. It’s surprisingly good, in that regard. I’ll freely admit I was skeptical, but it plays nicely and sits well in the “choose your own adventure”-style game space while still having puzzles. This is a good format! I’d like to see more games experiment with this style, especially because we’re not going to be playing as many games in person for a while.
- This plays super well remotely! It’s very easy to get the PDF out to folks and you can play it without too much additional scaffolding. As long as one person has access to the police database, you’re set on that front as well.
- The game lasts a pretty solid amount of time, for what it is. I thought it was on the simpler end, and it took us about 70 minutes; all in all, that’s a good trade-off. It was on the lighter end compared to some of the EXIT games I’ve played.
- The puzzles are a bit more logic-puzzley, which I appreciate. I do like some logic puzzles every now and then, and there are a fair bit of those in here. They also had a couple good ones with like ciphers and symbols that I liked quite a bit!
- It’s a bit on the easier side, I feel; we never needed to use hints. It was a good warm-up, and I appreciated it. I would call this a great family title, but, you really need to make sure you’re okay with the subject matter if you’re going to play this game.
- Since it’s all electronic, it’s got a very small footprint — all you really need is a notebook of some kind to write stuff down in. I would call that “portable”, but I’m not really going anywhere lately so it’s hard to say that specific phrasing. Perhaps in another time.
- The hint system is pretty good! I think, if I were to offer some suggestion, I’d make it less sequential, but I appreciate that there are a lot of hints between the start and the solution. This is rapidly making me think that the EXIT games need a better hint system; pretty much every other escape room game I’ve played has had a hint system that I’ve preferred.
- They also included a soundtrack! It did a really good job setting the overall mood for the game; very nicely done. I wish more games included their own soundtrack suggestions. I’ve actually been listening to it a bit outside of the game; it’s very jazzy, which I like.
- It would have been nice if the puzzles took a bit more advantage of the online component of the game. I appreciate the database, but having a puzzle that relied more heavily on being browser-based would have been a cool way to add a third interaction type to the game.
- It’s kind-of comically bad that the Police Database is only searchable by a person’s first name. I’m not really all that bothered by it, but, it’s pretty funny. Like, does nobody in Amsterdam have last names? What happens if there’s a collision?
- We lost the thread for a bit, and it was a bit hard to reconstruct the places we had already been. We missed a few clues towards the end, but we had forgotten all the places we had already been, as well. This made it difficult to progress without figuring out all the stuff we had already done and isolating out the places we hadn’t been. Earlier I recommended crossing spots off the map when you felt like you were done with them; that may still be a good idea.
- Oof, this was not my favorite week to play a cop / detective, especially a “bad one”. I could go into it in depth, but honestly, this shit has hit me really hard in the last week. I barely got this review written in time (it’s 10PM, I want to post this in two hours). You may not share my aspirations for radically rethinking the way that the United States does policing, but it was tough to go from that straight into a “you’re a detective” escape room. Tough mindset to get into. That said, my friends and I just made up our own backstory to try and alleviate the tension of it. That happens.
- Since it’s fairly static, it’s not too hard to brute force outcomes. That might be the most disappointing thing about this game, honestly. I think it’s just a technical limitation of the platform, but I assume that’s why other games force you to get passwords or clue phrases rather than just clicking on certain locations; if you do that, you can prevent brute forcing because it’s too hard to guess the right password to advance.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, though, I thought A Death in the Red Light did well! I think I’m being a bit bullish on it because it played so well over video chat, but honestly, it’s probably been the second-best experience I’ve had with gaming over video (excluding Jackbox games because That’s Not A Fair Comparison) during this quarantine. My friends could progress on certain hint lines while I was keeping track of notes and just tell me where they ended up, we could process certain things in parallel, and we were still able to see each other and the database while we chatted. It’s a great experience! I also particularly liked that this one was based on an actual real-life incident that happened; I think that gave it a bit of grounding and made it feel very novel. I’ll freely admit I was a bit skeptical given that it was going to be a PDF, but I think they did a great job with the framework of it! I didn’t notice any particular limitations or flaws beyond the ease of brute-forcing the correct answer, but as long as you agree not to do that, I think you should be fine. My last problem was a bit more situational, but I was already struggling a bit with current events to be as enthused about our detective persona. Thankfully I was playing with two friends from my RPG group, so we quickly just wrote ourselves a new backstory. We might have been doing it while time was running; hard to remember. Anyways, if you enjoy a good puzzle and want to play a puzzley-escape-room style game with friends, I’d recommend A Death in the Red Light! I had fun.