Please note: This review is technically for two “different” games, but they are in fact so similar that it made more sense to include them inside a single post. As such, we’ll begin with separate key ratings and results – one for each version of the game.
UFOs ARE REAL
RATING: 1 Key RESULT: Win REMAINING: 8:54
UFOS ARE REAL 2: Alien Autopsy
RATING: 0 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 12:26
Who remembers the days of video stores? You know, the place you’d go rent your favorite VHS tapes and then watch them fifteen times just to find out which one you should watch next?
In UFOs Are Real, 2-6 players have 60 minutes to finish a complex VHS puzzle hunt in our authentic 1990’s video rental store – follow clues hidden on each tape to win a unique prize.
So, with regards to set-up, UFOs Are Real doesn’t actually have a backstory per say, but it definitely has a clear mood which we actually found to be quite kitschy and rather fun. From the moment you enter the UFO Video store, it’s impossible to not feel as though you’ve been transported a few decades into the past – into not just a world of the VHS tapes that physically surround us, but one over-flowing with tin foil hat-style conspiracy theories about alien invasions.
(And to be clear, we’re not taking a stance one way or another on whether we “believe in the possibility of other life in the universe;” The observation here is that there are those who wonder about the realm of scientific possibility, and those who are, well, potentially a little bit crazy.) UFO Video wonderfully embraces the latter, making this world feel as much like an old video rental store as a secret meeting place for conspiracy theorists to present their “evidence.”
The very best part about UFO’s Are Real (and its subsequent sequel game, UFOs Are Real 2: Alien Autopsy) is its environment. As we sort of touched on about in the story, it captures every bit of kitsch that you’d hope to find in a setting themed (perfectly) to be an out-dated, hole in the wall-type video store. From the moment you walk in the door, you’re instantly immersed. It’s this weird déjà vu of a bygone time – and, assuming you’re old enough to even know how to operate a VHS cassette, it will become instantly recognizable.
From the parking lot, a modest sign in the window announces UFO Video (and it’s actually fairly easy to miss as the business marquee directly above their entry door is not for the venue.) Once in the lobby, you quickly realize that in actuality, there really is no lobby. The small first room is literally lined ceiling to floor on all sides with VHS tapes – actual, authentic, legit, (holy hell am I now old enough to say “antique”) VHS tapes. Every one of them is real, and every one of them works. And as we’ll touch on in the game play, you’ll soon find that out repeatedly.
The store’s back room, which is also very much part of the game, is sort of a mix of a 1980s rumpus room and a make-shift private screening space for the tapes. Again, the setting of the scene is quite successful and it really does create a tangible immersive mood. A projector hangs from the ceiling, connected to an old school VCR, which may soon become your natural enemy.
Both versions of UFOs Are Real start off in a truly compelling way – you enter the video store, and the clerk behind the counter hands you a tape he keeps secured out of reach. You take that tape into the back room, insert it into the VCR and hit play. What begins is footage from vintage, real UFO documentaries, before the tape glitches to give you your first clue. The set up would be an amazing way to start an immersive theater attraction of some sort. It really does pull you into its world.
So – about that game play. Each version of UFOs Are Real is broken into three “rounds.” Each round ends with you being given (blatantly) a numerical code to unlock the corresponding box on a table. Inside that box is your next tape, and a bunch of rocks. Each round consists of five “puzzles,” and all puzzles in a round are of the same style.
Round one is a game of pictures – where an image will flash upon the screen and you need to deduce what movie it could possibly connect to in the store. You then run down the hallway, find that tape, bring it back and play in the VCR. The images are clear enough that for this step, you do not need any prior knowledge of movies. Having it will give you an edge, yet even without it, you’ll still be able to essentially match the image to something you see on the tape’s cover art.
We won’t go into quite as much detail about the subsequent rounds, but simply say it would help you to brush up on anagrams and pack your thesaurus. (And to be clear, you are openly allowed to use your phone to google or use any app you might find beneficial during your game – if that’s how you like to play escape rooms.) Just the same, in the first version of this game, you don’t particularly require any prior knowledge – though at times it dangerously skates the line.
Now that’s the first game – but the even bigger issue comes in the sequel; here, without prior knowledge of people (and specifically the ability to identify them simply by a headshot without caption) or such a vast enough knowledge of movies that you’d be able to identify a title by arbitrary key words that might appear somewhere within the film, you literally will be unable to continue playing through. Even with your phone in play, these just aren’t really the sort of things you can google to any great success.
But here’s an even bigger issue than all of that – each version of UFOs Are Real is nothing more than an exercise in repetition, and truthfully, doesn’t ever really have a single puzzle in the purest sense of the word. At its core, these games are just watch fifteen tapes in a row to find out the next tape to watch, which ultimately will give you the code to open the final box.
UFO Video is lucky to have its unique environment, because its gameplay is incredibly tedious and offers players no sense of reward along the way. (Although at the end, we did receive an equally kitschy custom trophy that we were invited to keep – but sadly we’ve been told that although that was once standard practice for every group, it’s no longer the case; they did it for us as a special occasion.)
But as much as we find ourselves praising the vintage kitsch, we keep circling back to the gameplay which, at its core, matters most. There’s not a single “ah ha” moment, because in essence, it’s just a constant “go fetch this, now go fetch this, now go fetch this!” I’m not sure that Montu – Escape Authority’s VP, Dog Relations would even be compelled to play fetch this many times without some sort of stimulating payoff for him.
To be clear, we really admire UFO Video for daring to be different. Unfortunately for us, it just doesn’t pan out. While there’s certainly no question that you’ll likely never find another game like UFOs Are Real, we’ll leave it up to you to determine if that’s a pro or a con.
Venue: UFO Video
Location: Gainesville, FL
Number of Games: “4”
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 6 people
Group Type: Private / You will not be paired with strangers.
Cost: $15 per person (Monday – Thursday) / $20 per person (Friday – Sunday)