Escape rooms and Virtual Reality seem like a natural fit, so we were keen to try out The Atlas Mystery, a brand new VR escape room set in a vintage movie theater from the 1930s. Developed by Top Right Corner and published by TRC DMI, it’s available now on the Quest (through the App Lab) as well as on PC-based headsets through Steam and Viveport. Our experience is based on the Quest version.
While physical escape rooms are often group activities, those who naturally enjoy puzzles were able find similar experiences in games like The Room, which went VR a while ago as well. Virtual Reality has the ability to transport players towards completely different locations, and a one to two hour play session is a good fit for a headset-tied adventure as well. Through clever design, you can even achieve aspects that are hard to do in a physical escape room, so we were curious to see how The Atlas Mystery was going to approach this.
In the game, your job is to get the theater ready for opening night, but you’ll soon discover that the place has a troubled past and that a range of puzzles stand in your way as you try to figure out exactly what transpired here. And while a regular escape room often takes place inside a single room that’s loaded to the gills with puzzles, The Atlas Mystery uses the power of the digital medium to actually let you explore different parts of the building in sequence.
The result of that is that areas can feel somewhat empty and that progression feels more linear, but for a narrative-driven game that makes sense. That empty feeling is strengthened by the fact that a lot of objects in the environment can’t be interacted with either – beyond the puzzles everything you see is of the “look but don’t touch” variety, which in a VR title hurts the immersion factor.
The multi-stage approach works well in gradually guiding you through the story and mechanics though, with a tutorial-type room to start in and new puzzle types that are introduced over time. While some involve turning keys and knobs, other puzzles are word- or sequence-based, so even though some mechanics repeat themselves there’s a good bit of variety here.
A lot of the story progression is handled through notes that you find inside the game, but for immersion and atmosphere it would have been nicer if some of that was handled through audio tapes, things that come in through a speaker system or even live actors. We understand that that’s harder to implement, but for an atmosphere-rich environment like the one you see here, it felt like a shame to be staring at written notes every now and then. We’re not looking for VR escape rooms to be the vibrant social experience that real life versions often are, but it’s nice when the environment comes alive – which it too rarely does here.
Issues aside though, The Atlas Mystery is a solid escape room adventure for the Quest that offers solid puzzle designs and performance inside an interesting setting. It’s a tad on the short side, but if you compare it to the one hour time limit you usually get for an escape room then you’ll find there’s plenty of value here, as it’ll take you quite a bit longer to get through this theater and discover its secrets.