Answers Lost in Time: A Review of Assassin’s Creed Escape Room Puzzle Book
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Stealth, combat, parkour, and puzzles have all been staples of Assassin’s Creed since the first game, but more so since AC II. Clay Kaczmerek was the first puzzle master that we unknowingly followed as we solved his clues to find “The Truth” of the Isu and the core of the Assassin’s Creed story. Solving the various glyphs that were sprinkled around Italy brought a logical aspect to the games that players hadn’t experienced in the first instalment. With each release after AC II, puzzles of some sort have been included to reward the player with additional stories or physical rewards (in-game) that we could use with our character.
Influenced and crafted by the mind of Escape Room artist James Hamer-Morton, comes a new experience for puzzle enthusiasts and fans of Assassin’s Creed titles 'Assassin’s Creed Escape Room Puzzle Book.' A new adventure that traverses previous locales of the games as the reader follows an original character Joey through the ages, solving puzzles to stop an impending vision of the future, where a mysterious new villain uses an Isu Artifact to control the masses. Through the use of various puzzle types, readers of this book will pull at the threads of the interwoven story and have an experience similar to that of an escape room themed within the AC Universe.
“James Hamer-Morton is one of the masterminds behind UK boutique escape room chain 'Deadlocked' - the pioneering powerhouse behind hit episodic online escape rooms 'The Insiders' and 'The Cyphstress'. He was created in a lab specifically for the world of immersive experiences - whilst cutting his teeth starring in art house films and moonlighting as games level designers, he soon turned their hand to the world of 'alternative reality games' -devoting his life to transporting their audiences into the centre of their own artisan adventures. From this he came up with the 'Escape Room Puzzles' series, of which there are now four books.”
(Quote provided by the author)
I learned during a chat with James that he was approached by Ubisoft as they wanted a similar book for the Assassin’s Creed series to that of his previous works; something he was very excited to do being a fan of the series himself. Having a chance to write an original story for Assassin’s Creed and injecting the pages with puzzles, guiding the reader from one era to the next via the use of the Animus, is a dream for any author and fan of the series.
While I will be breaking down the contents of the book from the story to the dificulty of puzzles, I must start this review with a note for anyone that is planning on picking up this unique entry to the transmedia line; the book has a handful of editing errors that resulted in a broken progression half way through the book. At the end of the third chapter, the Assassin that Joey is controlling within the Animus is provided incorrect information by the target of the confession room. This incorrect information, which is a puzzle itself, provides a list of numbers that are clues to the letter placement of the various identifiers of the target “My name 4, my location - 3,...” This will lead readers to a collection of letters that do not solve the puzzle, in turn stopping them from progressing without looking at the answer section of the book, or turning the page and disregarding the error. The answer section is the correct answer to the puzzle but due to a change of Editors and the publishing of a draft that James had provided to show what he would do, before making the actual puzzle (which changed the order and numbers used in confession), the book in the English version was printed with this broken experience.
James shared his annoyance with this issue as, before I reached out to him about it, prior to our chat he was not aware that his latest work was released with such an error. He shared his process of how he will write the story of each chapter and decide the puzzles he wants to use before sending them to the puzzle checkers and editor to make sure that they will work in all translations. For example, if the phrase “Leaving something up to chance” is said for a puzzle that uses directions such as up, down, left , and right, you can’t use that clue as in another language the key word “up” would not translate in the context that he was using. This is why puzzles that use names or deliberate translations are used. So when he was sent the copy for the test read, it was the correct version, but unfortunately the printing did not follow that same copy and was released incorrectly. He also informed me that he did not write the Answer section of the book, but thankfully the answers are correct so the reader can progress with its assistance. So knowing this, please keep in mind that the current English publication has this error, but can be solved via the Answer section or by just continuing to read the story.
The story is a great read and worth purchasing the book for this alone. It fits well within the confines of the series’ lore without damaging anything. Both the author and myself consider it canon, but there isn’t a hard yes to the question of if it actually is. When asked about it by another fan, Aymar Azaïzia (Transmedia and Business Development Director for Assassin’s Creed) stated in his response, "It’s a puzzle book! It’s full of riddles inspired by our lore and characters. It’s definitely not bi[n]ding and would not affect our games with crazy twist that would jeopardize the universe" (Source)
The story follows a new character Joey (an easter egg to fans of the game Tunneling Through Time, another Deadlocked creation), a museum security guard that notices an artifact having moved when watching the CCTV feed. What is really cool about Joey is that the author deliberately did not gender the character so that the reader could give their own choice to the protagonist much like how you can choose your gender in some of the most recent titles in Assassin’s Creed. This leads to the book’s first puzzle (a letter organization puzzle based on the sides of dice) and the introduction of the Isu Artifact (a double bladed dagger) which the adventure is shaped around. In this prologue, and the following first chapter, Joey meets the Assassin’s Brotherhood and begins to learn about the opposing Templar Order and the use of the Animus. From here, each chapter takes place in both the modern (day for story progression) and a genetic memory for the bulk of the puzzles, as well as exploring the mystery of the artifact that Joey found. The Animus revisits Ancient Greece, Egypt, Viking London, Damascus, and Venice, with cameos of main characters such as Bayek and Altair, but also supporting characters like Leonardo Di Vinci and fan favorite Markos from Kefalonia. With this and the addition of a new Isu who influences Joey and acts as a sort of AC III Juno (another Isu) with each page turn.
Each memory fits within the timeline of their respective game which provides the story the possibility of being canon. However in certain chapters such as Chapter 4 where the Animus Avatar and Masyaf Assassin, Faisal watches Al Mualim give his speech to the attacking Templar forces as his three Assassins take their Leap of Faith from the fortress above (the opening scenes of the original Assassin’s Creed), to then read that Faisal is assisted by a horse riding Altair is a bit confusing as the time frame of making said jump and getting to the gates seems possible but out of place. However the speech Al Mualim is giving is cut directly from the game; another point towards the book being canon in my opinion.
The puzzles progress in difficulty and as the story moves forward and each will provide solutions for other puzzles in the chapter. So while in the first chapter, the reader will find a solution to every puzzle when they complete it, later chapters won’t give clues for a puzzle right away, but the solution to a later one will provide what is needed to complete said challenge. This is clearly explained in the “How to Use This Book” section in the opening pages. The reader is directed to read the story up until a labeled stopping point and then review the content of the story up until that point to gather what is needed to solve the forthcoming puzzles. However, the story does not have false answers, or dead ends like similar books of this type that would make the reader restart an area in the chapter. This is something that I shared with James, about being a cool idea to improve on replayability. We also discussed how some of his earlier books had suggested time frames for puzzles, but that was not something the publisher wanted going forward. Additionally, some of the puzzles can be answered just by knowing the history of the games and which genetic memory follows the current one depicted in the chapter the reader is on.
If the reader still has issues figuring out a solution, the answer section is broken up into 4 levels of hints and solutions.
Difficult Hints for inspiration on how to approach the puzzle.
Medium hints provide pointers for those that are stuck.
Easy hints provide help to those that are truly lost, and the final section contains the actual answer to the puzzle.
I myself had to reference all of them at some point for individual puzzles either due to being stuck, just wanting to see what the hints would be for a puzzle, or due to the unfortunate misprints in the text. So every level of puzzle lover should get a fun experience from the book and the challenges it presents.
Discussing the physical book itself, I mentioned the fact that while only a $15 USD book, being informed that certain pages would require you to cut out sections to make things like a cipher disk or sliding items into place to get a phrase, is hard for myself and a lot of other collectors who do not like to damage their items. I had made suggestions on adding additional pages that are left blank on one side or even having sliding pieces like those used in a children’s book would be nice. Understandably though, this would add to the production cost of the book and raise the cover price. James shared that in his other titles, a QR code is provided for all of the pieces that need to be removed for puzzles on a printable document so the reader didn’t need to do this to the book itself.
When reading, I used a combination of a document software on my phone, a notebook, and scraps of paper to make what I needed to solve the puzzles without making marks or cuts. It was also mentioned that Jame’s bio or “About the Author” page was not included in this book unlike his previous releases, which is sad as it would be a great insight into who this author is to the series, learning that he is a master at his craft in escape rooms and puzzles. Luckily, the publisher is aware of the various errors I brought to his attention and will hopefully print a revised edition in the future. An addition that I will easily repurchase to have a complete and working copy of this enjoyable experience.
I hope we get a sequel to Assassin’s Creed Escape Room Puzzle Book as I loved this entry to the series and, now knowing the level of care the author puts into his work, makes me want more. In addition, compared to the VR Escape Rooms that Ubisoft has released in the past, this is something that requires no physical and expensive hardware which means anyone and everyone can pick up a copy and “play” this title at their own pace no matter where they are. For fans of the series and those that enjoy the escape room experience, this is worth picking up and spending an afternoon with. Currently the book has only been published in English (from what I can find) and is available from various bookstores at an MSRP of £14.99/$16.95.
About the Author
Mike Smith is a collector of all things Assassin's Creed and a major supporter for the transmedia platform for the series. With nearly a full library of Assassin's Creed media, he is exploring the universe in order of Genetic Memory and waiting eagerly for the next story to be released.
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