Amelia’s Secret: still searching for the horror
Tim introduced me to escape rooms back in January 2019.
He was the first blogger I met in person after joining the WordPress community. After realising he’d be in Birmingham for Kitacon while I was at the NEC for Rezzed in March 2014, we arranged to meet in a pub for a drink and few rounds of Cards Against Humanity.
Since then, Pete and I have visited Tim and his partner Jake a couple of times each year. We couldn’t do so during the COVID-19 lockdowns but we’ve been making up for it in 2022, first spending a weekend in Bristol in March and then renting a house near Bicester for a festive break this month. Friend-of-the-blog Phil came along too, and we spent several days chatting and playing various games.
One of these was Amelia’s Secret by XD Productions. It came onto my radar after seeing the ‘escape game at home in augmented reality’ (AR) advertised on Instagram earlier in the year. We’d been to a few escape rooms together during our annual visits since our first in 2019 and had enjoyed them, so it seemed like something fun to do during one of the evenings while we were away.
The game’s story begins after Elizabeth Vonleaken moves into a grand mansion in the Scrapson Forest with her six-year old daughter Amelia. The building is the focus of sordid and horrifying tales, but it has woken up since the pair’s arrival and large banquets are held regularly. On Friday, 13 November however, the small family is rocked by the disappearance of Amelia. It’s up to you to figure where she has gone and escape the mansion before you’re trapped there forever.
The box advises that Amelia’s Secret is suitable for people aged 12 and above but those fingers looked like they were doing something unsuitable for children.
The box contains a short user-guide which gives a brief overview of the storyline and explains how to set up the game. Around 14 display marker cards need to be placed around the area you’re playing in, and the instructions printed on them show the type of object they represent and how high they should be positioned. Many of these items were available in the house we’d rented in for the weekend so we took the opportunity to display the relevant marker near each one – but this isn’t a requirement, and you could play in a single room.
Next came the tutorial. Phil had brought his tablet along with him and screen-shared to a television so we could all see what was happening. Holding the camera over the ‘tuto marker’ revealed a disembodied hand which wanted us to play Rock-Paper-Scissors, and it was unfortunate that this ended up being more funny than scary. The box advises that Amelia’s Secret is suitable for people aged 12 and above but those fingers looked like they were doing something rather unsuitable for children.
We were then invited to scan any of the display markers to see what they revealed once we’d beaten the hand. Each revealed a 3D item on the screen above a couple of sentences, usually providing information about Elizabeth and Amelia’s connection to it as a way of providing more of the limited backstory. Some of these images contained puzzles that we were able to solve immediately. Others contained clues such as passwords or symbols, which would be needed for the solution to future challenges.
Here’s an example for you. After figuring out a puzzle and being given a sapphire ring as a reward, we realised this needed to be added to the hand-shaped jewellery holder along with four more. To get the correct order for these though, we first needed to check the display marker for the jewellery box which revealed an ornate golden box with five coloured gems on top. A timer in the corner of the screen ticks down the hour to create a sense of urgency, but you probably won’t need the full period to reach the game’s conclusion.
The biggest problem with Amelia’s Secret is that it’s likely to be far too easy for most players. Escape rooms are fun because you never know whether you’ll make it out within the hour. But here, the clues are never difficult to come across or decipher. For example, the answer to one password challenge is blatantly noted in the item’s descriptive text so it feels like you’re being hit over the head with it. And the clue for another puzzle is given in multiple locations, despite it being impossible to miss in the first.
As mentioned above, the box recommends players are aged 12-years and above. I think the game would be appropriate for kids in this bracket and perhaps even adults who aren’t so familiar with puzzles – but Amelia’s Secret isn’t as suitable for five adults who have completed their fair share of escape rooms and video games. None of the puzzles had us scratching our heads and, even though hints are provided in-game if you need them, I can’t see many people reaching for them.
In fact, the only difficulty this game seems to provide is in the form of its app. It crashed at least six times while we were playing, forcing us to restart from the beginning twice before realising that the frozen white screen could be cleared by coming out of the app and then going back in. Seeing the AR images appear on the screen was initially a novelty. But they’re so incredibly shaky regardless of how still you hold the tablet, the whole experience starts to become a slightly nauseous one.
The element which could have pulled it back would have been the atmosphere. After placing the display markers in various rooms around our rented house, we should have turned off the lights, grabbed a couple of torches and turned up the ambient sound on the tablet. Instead, we set up the game before leaving go to the pub for a Sunday roast, then felt too lazy to do it when we returned with full stomachs. We decided to pick up the markers and to play from the comfort of the living-room sofa.
Amelia’s Secret is never going to be a particularly scary game, but I think we would have enjoyed it far more if we’d tried to create the right setting.
This wasn’t the best option and is totally our fault. Amelia’s Secret is never going to be a particularly scary game despite being advertised as a ‘haunted house’, but I think we would have enjoyed it far more if we’d stuck to our original plan and tried to create the right setting. We got the impression that it was an experience suitable for an event like a teenager’s birthday or Halloween party, rather than a weekend away for a group of friends who enjoy completing escape room together.
The other thing to note is that no trigger warnings are printed on the box or displayed in the app, despite there being a couple of scenes featuring suicide. These aren’t very gratuitous or drawn out but the way they’re handled isn’t very tactful. After the scene shown at the end of the game while players are given a vague explanation as to what actually happened to Elizabeth and Amelia, you’re immediately greeted with a congratulations message which seems strikingly out of place and inappropriate.
For all its negative points, what we appreciated about Amelia’s Secret was how it presented the potential of AR escape rooms. It inspired us to start talking about how it could be improved and, as is usually the case when you’re with friends after a few beers, what we’d do if we were creating our own one together. The game unfortunately missed the mark for us – and we’re still not sure if we managed to figure out Amelia’s secret.