Star Wars Unlock! is something for the lovers of both Star Wars and escape games. It is a cooperative board game in which the players need to solve puzzles to accomplish their objective.
The box contains three scenarios plus a short tutorial (essentially one room to teach the players the game mechanics). Each scenario is set in a familiar and evocative Star Wars setting. In one, the players take on the roles of a group of smugglers whose ship gets detained by an Imperial patrol. Other is set on Hoth and the players get to patrol on tauntauns, look for Imperial probe droids and finally escaping the Hoth blockade. In the third scenario, labelled as more advanced, the players take on the roles of Imperial agents sent to the moon of Jedha to track down a stolen cache of kyber crystals.
The basic rules are fairly simple and you can start playing straight out of the box. Each of the scenarios has a deck of cards associated with it that tell you what to do as you progress through the game. You usually progress by combining cards and finding cards with proper numbers by solving various riddles. The game also uses an app that you need to download (for free) into your mobile phone. Many of the tasks are completed using the app.
Easy To Solve, But Difficult To Implement?
Each scenario takes between thirty minutes to an hour to complete. There is a time limit and the app also counts how much time you have left. The game is fairly accessible even to complete beginners in the area of escape games and not too difficult to complete. Indeed, for veteran escape game players, the scenarios may seem too easy.
While the game provides a very faithful Star Wars atmosphere and it can be fun, there are some pitfalls, starting with the puzzles – not their difficulty, but the way some of them work. Veteran escape game players will probably have their own preferences regarding the style of the game. I, personally, have found the Unlock! game mechanics both less variable and more confusing than for instance the approaches used by the Adventure Games’s studio. The Star Wars Unlock! puzzles tended to oscillate between “this was so obvious that it was boring” and “the right answer did not make any sense and we succeeded purely by accident”.
More than once we got stuck, then pressed a “give us a hint” button in the app (which is there for such occasions), only to get a hint describing something we already knew. The problem was more often not knowing WHAT to do at all, i.e. how things operated, rather than not being able to figure out some puzzle. Similarly, there were two distinct occasions when we did something the game rather clearly hinted us NOT to do. The first time we did it because we had tried everything else, and of course we got penalised for doing something we had been warned against. The second time we also did what the game implies we should not do, but it worked. These occasional inner inconsistencies are what make the game not necessarily difficult, but sometimes rather annoying.
A puzzle game, in my opinion, should operate first and foremost on logic, but Star Wars: Unlock! sadly sometimes does not. Despite that, however, I reiterate that even a beginner should be able to complete the scenarios within the time limit.
The Mobile App: Necessary But Superfluous?
Another thing to mention is that while the mobile app provided some extra value and perhaps one or two really cool moments or mini-games, I am not a big fan of it. That is once again personal preference, but I believe you could easily have made an equally good game using just the components that you could put inside the box.
At the same time, I must acknowledge that if anywhere, here the mobile app actually fits the atmosphere. For one, it adds vaguely Star Wars-like music playing all the time in the background (even though you could supply that yourself by putting Star Wars movie soundtrack on). Otherwise, for instance at one point you get to use your phone as macrobinoculars to scan for enemies, and that was pretty cool. Even better – and possibly the best part of the smuggler scenario – was using the app to simulate communicating with a droid. But even that could with a bit of imagination be done without the app.
If I am to rate Star Wars: Unlock!, I would ideally rate the three scenarios separately. The first two, An unforeseen delay and Escape from Hoth, were mediocre at best and I would give them two to three stars out of five. On the other hand, the third and supposedly most difficult scenario, Secret mission on Jedha, was absolutely amazing and easily worth five stars. It was not really that difficult; in fact, I would call it less difficult as it had far fewer of those illogical moments that I have mentioned earlier, and that are most detrimental to the first scenarios. The puzzles in the third scenario were also much more variable and fun. The highlight was definitely the (paper!) map of Jedha that gets used at a certain stage of the game – an item that could just as well have been put in the app, but this is a good example how using a tangible item will do the trick equally well.
On the average, we are left somewhere around three stars out of five for the whole product. It is a pity that there are not more Star Wars themed scenarios, especially more difficult ones for those who would really welcome a challenge. This way, Star Wars: Unlock! means in total three hours of Star Wars-themed escape game experience which ends just when it was starting to get interesting. Perhaps fans will have to start making such games for their friends and not rely on the limited opportunities offered by the market.