I have to admit, I sort of stumbled across Mind Factory. Christina and I were exhausted after two unusually long days of work, so I scanned for nearby escape rooms we could do on a weeknight, and voila- Mind Factory presented itself as an option. I am so glad we found it- Mind Factory’s “Breathless” game is one of the most unique and cool games we’ve played in recent memory.
Before the game, we grabbed dinner at the nearby restaurant “The Blind Rhino,” which is easily walking distance from Mind Factory. We split a black bean & queso dip and a cherry-something cocktail, followed by sandwiches. Everything hit the spot, and we wrapped up just in time for our escape room appointment.
The lobby of Mind Factory was very nicely put together. Tons of open space with tables set up featuring a high variety of mechanical puzzles. Christina tried one particularly unique design (a cube intersecting with an unusual star shape) with no luck.
After settling in and signing our waivers, we were ready to get started.
Your team of agents receives a message about a top secret laboratory in which something has gone very wrong. With only a few tips on the nature of the threat, your team is charged with entering the lab and neutralizing whatever hazard lies within.
This is the first chapter of a broader story, so during the game you briefly encounter characters and elements that will continue to play out over 4+ chapters. In chapter 1, things haven’t gotten that bad yet, but subsequent chapters promise to evoke memories of games like Doom, Dead Space, and Resident Evil, as you deal with the ever-encroaching presence of evil aliens from another dimension.
Serious kudos to Mind Factory for striking an ideal balance between storytelling and gameplay. Many escape rooms use the story only insomuch as it justifies having a theme for the room. We’ve done others where there’s a lot of story but the mechanics of the game disincentivize players from exploring the content fully, like when there’s way too much content to sift through, forcing players to skip most of it. Mind Factory does an excellent job weaving the narrative into the puzzles and progressing the story with every little clue.
Little things like “how would X character remember his/her password?” “Why would Y character have been experimenting with this feature?” Weaving in elements like this into the game’s puzzles results in a memorable and satisfying experience, and it makes me look forward to the next chapter.
After the game, the owner/designer shared with us some of his design philosophy. He built the story and space first and then thought through the logic of what players would have to accomplish within the context of the story. From there, he translated the challenges into puzzles that made sense in-context.
This approach worked brilliantly in more ways than one. As I mentioned before in the story section, it’s a great way to get players invested in the story. But interestingly, the approach also pays dividends in creating a diverse set of puzzles to satisfy different team members with different puzzle preferences. Christina likes seek & find elements, whereas communications and logic are the types of puzzle that get me most excited. The room had all three of those in spades, plus a neat variety of story-driven puzzles. The room also had a LOT of content that could be explored simultaneously, which means we easily could have had an additional few teammates without feeling crowded.
The puzzles heavily reward a skill I’d label as “practical thinking,” or the skill behind the ability to troubleshoot real life problems. Because the puzzles are part of a consistent narrative, players can keep their eyes on the goal and strategize toward the ultimate objective. There are a few points in the game in which players can see a clear major objective, and players who slow down to diagnose obstacles and form a solid game plan are rewarded.
Breathless has another way it tests players in an extremely unique fashion- strategic thinking. I’ve only ever done a handful of escape rooms that require some sort of strategy to win, and Breathless may be my favorite example of this. Escape rooms rarely have non-puzzle choices that impact the game, let alone ones that materially change how players approach the room. I wont spoil what element of the game forces this kind of thinking, but it plays a major role for most of the game.
One other detail I’m thankful for is the way Mind Factory manages text clues in the puzzles. There’s a lot of content to explore, but the important parts are marked clearly as to what they do. It’s subtle, but it makes a big difference. I can’t tell you how many Egypt-themed rooms I’ve done where one player is relegated to “journal duty” and spends the whole game flipping back & forth through a big journal looking for key clues we may have missed.
We destroyed the contaminant in glorious fashion and saved the day- for now. The themes for the next two rooms at Mind Factory imply that the story is going to continue and things are only going to get worse before they get better. And I can’t wait to see how it goes.
In shortest and simplest terms, I loved Breathless. I’m not even a story/set/immersion fanatic- I’m a puzzle addict first and foremost- but I truly appreciate the work Mind Factory put into making this game a complete and immersive experience, weaving the stories and puzzles together masterfully. The puzzles have quite a few unique twists that force players to work and think differently, and I really appreciate the opportunity to adapt my style to fit the situation.
Our timing was a little sad- the second room is coming out within the next two weeks, but it looks like we’ll be hitting the road just before it opens. Well, we’ll just have to catch it the next time we’re out this way, and maybe by that time we’ll be able to do a double feature with the 2nd and 3rd rooms!