Location: Your Home!
Players: We recommend 1-2
Nothing good happens underground.
From the Thames and Kosmos website:
Gloomy crypts lie under the city of Paris. The catacombs swallow city light, riddles, and, apparently, also people. After the mysterious disappearance of a friend in the catacombs, you and your team embark on a search party, making your way through the puzzling underground labyrinth. Will you be able to find your friend in time and escape this cavernous world of darkness? This double-sized EXIT game is presented in two separate parts.
It has been well documented that Exit: The Game is one of my favorite tabletop escape room experiences, and for good reason. Most all of their games have been high quality, with twists and turns you don’t quite get from other games available via retail. When I heard the newest box would be a two part adventure, I was instantly excited to see what the designers would do with this new, expanded format! Once we obtained it, we quickly got to puzzling.
A double size box for a double size adventure!
The Catacombs of Horror has easily some of the most tactile and engaging props yet. Several puzzles require players to manipulate the items in fascinating ways in order to create some really ingenious reveals. The initial sections of both halves of the game do a great job of easing players into the game before ramping things up with intuitive and challenging, but not overly difficult puzzles. Some of my favorite puzzles within this box were incredibly intuitive, encouraging players to read between the lines and pay close attention to their in game surroundings in order to pick up on key clues, resulting in some excellent moments of revelation as all the disparate parts fall nicely into place. The two part experience delivers bonus items during the second half that ensure the adventure remains stuffed with original interactions, and several of our favorite Exit: The Game tropes can be found within this box. Puzzles themselves trend towards multi-layered, challenging affairs, and when they’re implemented well, they’re astounding to behold, but sometimes the difficulty veers a bit too far into the realm of logical leaps and obtuse cluing. The theme is much darker for this outing, tying the Paris Catacombs to an ancient evil, and the stakes remain appropriately high from start to finish. Our team of two enthusiasts remained engaged with this adventure for a little over two hours, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, time-wise.
Even more evidence to process than usual!
As noted before, this is certainly Exit: The Game’s most difficult box, even more so than Dead Man on the Orient Express. However, the difficulty is derived far too often from logical leaps and the absence of intuitive clue threads. The connective tissue of several puzzles needs to be beefed up in order to make complete sense, and some of what should be the most climactic interactions in the game become mired in frustration due to deficient cluing. One particular riddle gives fewer clues the quicker you’ve solved so far, and this feels needlessly punitive, a blatant time sink in a series that has so far artfully avoided such puzzles. Another time sink forgoes cluing entirely in favor of a guess and check puzzle that also provides a choke point that will leave any players beyond one waiting around for the moment they can move on. While previous linear Exit games have proven skillful in implementing linearity to the benefit of weaving an excellent story, the linearity of The Catacombs of Horror tends to ignore the story, leaving only choke points and dead zones in the game flow that really kills the atmosphere of the adventure.
While the first half of the game tends to run a bit more smoothly, the second half tends to implement more complicated puzzles which, on its face, is a good idea. Ramping up the difficulty curve is standard. However, the design decisions made in order to present difficult puzzles for the sake of difficulty rather than challenge compounds here, and results in over complicated, red herring filled illogic. This is unfortunately most evident in the ultimate puzzle, which should be a climactic and exciting solve, yet falls flat in practice. In fact, we stumbled upon the solution in a way that is completely opposite to how it was intended to be completed, as integral information was just missing completely from the clues. The experience has two different endings, a good and bad one, and the ending you receive depends on how you solve this final puzzle. Luckily, we pulled the correct card, but I could definitely see a lot of frustration arising from being given only one shot at this puzzle, due to the flawed implementation of the cluing here.
The Catacombs of Horror evolves the Exit: the Game experience, but in other ways is a huge step back for the franchise. While there are many interesting mechanics and clever puzzles to be found, there are also a cavalcade of questionable design decisions and an uncharacteristically uneven game flow. While we ultimately had an alright time with this game, I can’t really fully recommend it, and new players should definitely not try this before any other Exit game. Exit enthusiasts are the definite market for this game, but I’d only recommend checking it out once you’ve finished the rest of the available games. You can pick up a copy from your friendly local game store today. We recommend checking out The Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC, check out their website here!