Real-life escape rooms are awesome but the pandemic stuttered them all with only a few returning of late. Which meant virtual reality (VR) gaming provided the perfect outlet for a bit of sequential puzzle-solving without having to leave the house. If you’re into virtual escape rooms then keep reading, as developer Top Right Corner has just released The Atlas Mystery: A VR Puzzle Game for PC VR headsets as Meta Quest 1 & 2 via App Lab, and it is the latter that gmw3 has been scratching its brain over.
The Atlas Mystery (as it’ll be called from now on) is part murder mystery and fully escape room focused. There are no other characters to interact with, no cinematic cut scenes or other distractions, in fact, it’s quite sparse as you wander around a creepy Hollywood theatre.
Giving context to all the puzzle-solving to come, the entire videogame takes place within The Atlas Theatre during the early 50s. During the previous decade, it was a luxurious Los Angeles movie palace playing host to all the latest Hollywood pictures, but a tragedy took place which soured its reputation. You’re now the new floor manager, needing to explore and get a better feel for the place; first of all, you need to find a way out of the office.
You’re left to your own devices when it comes to the narrative, learning more about what went on by reading various letters strewn about the place. Or not, it all depends on if you like a nice narrative to flesh out the experience. There didn’t seem to be any puzzle and narrative correlation, so there’s no need to worry about missing a clue by not reading every single piece of paper.
Being observant and not missing a hint is another matter entirely as The Atlas Mystery doesn’t really start things off simply and ratchet the difficulty up. In actuality, the entire puzzle experience keeps the gameplay challenging throughout, mainly because you’re given no direct clues – or if you get stuck a nudge in the right direction – rather light hints such as a blinking light or paperwork in a drawer. These can easily be overlooked making for an escape room experience that’s definitely built for those who love a real test.
There were points where I became completely stumped, the lobby concession stand early on was one area that really had me stumped, going over what seemed like the plausible answer only to find in my haste I’d missed the obvious. However, there were times in The Atlas Mystery where the puzzles simply became repetitive, matching colours, finding codes to safes or combination locks, for example. It was only during some of the supernatural elements that the game got truly inventive.
As an App Lab videogame, you don’t expect a highly polished experience and there are some refinements that can be made. The Atlas Mystery can be twitchy in places when it comes to your hands, they quite often got randomly caught on something or end up inside the glass of the awards which shouldn’t have been accessible. They disappear when picking up keys which always seems strange. The backpack also seems like an unnecessary item most of the time. It’s easy to forget you have it due to everything being in fairly close proximity, only a couple of puzzles really required storage.
Wandering around alone in the theatre The Atlas Mystery serves up plenty of creepy atmosphere without it being scary – this is a puzzle game after all – but it could almost do with a little more darkness. All the puzzles were suitably interactive so that there was always something physical to do, with red herrings like the hammers that didn’t break anything thrown in to play with. Clocking in at around two hours The Atlas Mystery provides an entertaining slice of VR puzzling if you’re looking for a one-hit title. There’s nothing else to uncover should you want to step back in.