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Alleys: A Virtual Experience that Might be Better than the Real Thing

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If the thought of virtually walking through a dark alley fills you with both excitement and dread, I might just have the game for you.

Alleys by solo developer Shi-Chi Chen is an immersive experience that throws you into a large-scale escape room. Come through the theme park-like gates and enter an abandoned village – the kind that Sherlock Holmes would feel at home in. To get out, find resources and solve the puzzles to unlock the exit. As you do, you slowly uncover the secret of the town; an intriguing tale that adds to its ominous feeling.

If you’ve ever done an escape room, the concept will be familiar. Collect seemingly random items. Figure out what they’re for. Unlock puzzles that will lead you on to even more puzzles. The obstacles in Alleys aren’t really that difficult, and as long as you have a photographic memory, or (like me) a notebook in hand, I doubt you’ll ever need a walkthrough.

The real magic in Alleys lies in its atmosphere. See, the issue I have with real-life escape rooms is that there’s always a sense of tackiness about it. I have trouble suspending my belief when the guns on the wall look plasticky, or if the room looks like someone just chucked a bunch of $2 shop items in there. Call me a sadist, but I want to really feel the intensity of the task at hand. And for me, Alleys was…well…right up my alley (sorry).

I was on edge from the start. I walked through creaky doorways, encountered grotesque artwork and even had to rummage around in the sewer, all the while expecting a jump scare. I won’t tell you if there is one or not, but trust me, as the story pushes you further in, there’s a part of you that just wants to get out.

Mechanics-wise, the game is a pixel-hunting paradise with stuff stashed everywhere and anywhere. You’ll find yourself looking mostly for keys and check-in boxes because you’ll need a certain amount of either to unlock future zones. I was surprised to find that there were even zones that hinted at future development – possibly for a DLC? There are also cards with graphic riddles, the likes of which probably won’t make sense until you encounter the thing it’s for.

Somewhere along the way, you’ll get a map, which will probably take you a few attempts to decipher. You’ll also get a more-useful card that tells you how many items you still have to find in each zone. Thankfully, unless you have OCD, the completion of the game doesn’t require you to find everything. What was a nice surprise at the end though was looking through the achievements and realizing that there were a few side-quests to explore, even if I had already finished the main story.

Clocking the game at 5 hours and 57 minutes, I think there’s a good amount of game play in Alleys to make it an experience I would highly recommend. If you love a bit of noir suspense, ditch the real-life escape room and take a wander around the creepy and beautiful world of Alleys.

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