Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Review: 'Jekyll / Hyde' at the Vault Festival, 25th February 2020

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

Last summer I spent a seriously enjoyable ninety minutes running around Covent Garden during Fire Hazard Games' 80 Days - A Real World Adventure. The show combines technology, puzzle-solving and orienteering, inviting audiences to immerse themselves in a story that plays out on the streets of London. Now they're back with Jekyll / Hyde, so how has their "high energy street game" style been refined over the last six months?

The skeleton of the project remains the same. You register a team before the event, then access a personalised web page on your phone on the night. This, in combination with a paper map, funnels you around a neighbourhood as you solve riddles using the powers of observation. For example, you could head to a location and be asked something like "I have a crown, a sceptre and what else?". You would find an object nearby that fits the bill, examine it and input the answer.

In 80 Days you were competing against other teams to purchase equipment for your trip, with your choices contributing to the eventual success of your journey. In Jekyll / Hyde you're trying to figure out what happened to you last night after you consumed a mysterious serum, following a trail of destruction around the city. So, basically a Victorian gothic take on The Hangover.

Fire Hazard has hit upon a winning formula with the format. I love the way their games encourage you to pay attention to the urban environment, guide you to unfamiliar places and make you see things in a new light. Their attention to detail is astonishing, the quality of the writing is top-notch and they have near-perfectly nailed combining narrative and puzzle-solving.

However, I can only compare this to 80 Days, and it feels like there's been a conscious effort to simplify things. For one, the system of collecting money in order to buy items has been completely ditched. In Jekyll / Hyde you simply answer riddles and then pick a multiple choice answer that contributes to a very simple psychological profile. 

Similarly, you no longer get a summary of how your decisions affected the story. As the show finished I was anticipating an 80 Days style run-down of what happened to me based on what I'd chosen to remember. Instead, you get a collection of newspaper headlines that felt pretty generic.

Finally, the teams are no longer in competition with one another. This isn't clear from the start, but there are no rewards for the team who completes the most riddles and covers the most ground. I'm naturally competitive and knowing that I'm facing off against other people gives me the impetus to solve things as quickly as possible. Realising that I'd been wasting my time dashing everywhere in an effort to maximise my points and beat the clock was disappointing.

Finally (and this is a little more nitpicky), beginning the show in the Leake Street tunnels makes for a bad first impression. For one there's so much visual overload from the graffiti that it makes the opening 'tutorial' riddles much harder to solve than anything that follows. For another, being in a subterranean tunnel meant the phone signal needed to play the game kept dropping out.

It feels like Jekyll / Hyde was put together in response to criticisms that 80 Days was too complicated. But, for me at least, it feels like the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

Don't get me wrong, I (and my plus one) had a great time traipsing around Waterloo solving riddles, but surely there's a satisfying middle ground between the complexity and competition of 80 Days and this?

Jekyll / Hyde is at Vault Festival until 22nd March. Tickets here.

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