“The Wexell Corporation has a problem right now. There’s a mole in the company, working against us with some very sensitive information and we need YOU to find out who’s been sneaking around where they shouldn’t.
Go solo or gather your closest confidants to take down THE INSIDERS before they go world-wide.”
I played Deadlocked Games’ The Cyphstress on a lazy Sunday afternoon and had such a fun time with it that I decided to play The Insiders the very next evening. This was a more expansive game than The Cyphstress, running about 90 minutes longer than that game. The Insiders combines ARG and more traditional puzzles to make a unique puzzling experience, in a similar style to The Cyphstress. Unlike that game though, The Insiders has several pages of print-and-play components and—unlike games like Lost Temple or Floor 13—there’s no option to print the components out ahead of time or to have the components mailed to you. So, fair warning to those of you who don’t have a printer at home.
The first two-thirds of this game were a lot of fun and did a great job of making me feel like a clever hacker, trying to penetrate a corporate website, while coordinating with my person on the inside. However, the third part of the game felt like hitting a brick wall. There was a really novel puzzle idea that just didn’t work for me, followed by a very long process puzzle that, though it may have been more fun with a partner, seemed to stretch on far past the point of “okay, I get it, I’ve demonstrated that I get it, can it be done now?” The final puzzle of The Cyphstress was also a process puzzle that nearly wore out its welcome, so I do worry that this might be a signature Deadlocked flourish.
Much like The Cyphstress, Deadlocked has done an excellent job of crafting an interesting narrative here, featuring several fun twists and turns that feel earned, rather than arbitrary. They do an excellent job of raising the stakes throughout the game, using the puzzles and rewards to make you feel like you’re a hacker uncovering a grand mystery.
The characters you interact with have personality and a unique voice, which, along with the ARG elements, lend to the immersive atmosphere of the game world. That is something that really impressed me about both of the Deadlocked Games I’ve played so far, they are excellent at narrative craft and creating fun stories.
The puzzles for the first two thirds of the game were top-notch. Much like The Cyphstress, they blend traditional escape-room style puzzles with ARG and well-crafted click-to-play web elements. The puzzles provided several “Aha” moments and held back just enough to make me feel clever most of the time. I was feeling pretty good about everything until I entered the third act of the game.
It will be hard to talk about what was frustrating in the third act without revealing a little bit about the nature of the puzzle that I found to be so vexing. It’s not much of a spoiler, but I’ve hidden the text for those that want to go in completely blind. The puzzle requires you to use Google Street View, and sends you to several major cities around the world to follow a series of location-related clues and find the solution. At first, I thought it was a really cool and clever idea, but it proved frustrating in the execution. All of the hunts took place in densely-populated major cities and many of the landmarks I was supposed to be looking for were often hidden behind buses or construction scaffolding. I don’t know if the street view changed or if it was intended to be as difficult as it was, but the whole experience felt less like a puzzle and more like getting secondhand directions from a tourist, leading to a lot of backtracking and starting over. Overall, the experience was more frustrating than fun. I think this could have been easily improved with more playtesting or by using less densely-populated cities.
That somewhat frustrating experience was followed by the very long process puzzle I described above, which could have been halved in length and been a good cap to the experience.
Hints were available from the various characters you interact with in the game. They wouldn’t have helped me with the issues I had in the last third, as I had figured out the puzzles but had issues getting them to execute properly. So I can’t speak to how helpful they are or how much they give away.
One puzzle requires you to distinguish between red and green, so if you’re red-green colorblind, you may need the assistance of a friend. The colors were on the computer, and it was obvious that I needed to distinguish between them, so I was able to use my trusty macOS Digital Color Meter tool to help me out with it.
Unlike The Cyphstress, this one is harder to recommend quite as full-throatedly. If you’re interested in seeing what Deadlocked Games has to offer, I’d definitely recommend starting with The Cyphstress first. If you do play this one, I strongly recommend you do so in a team of at least two or more; soloing the final process puzzle is rough.