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When Black Mirror’s interactive episode, Bandersnatch, launched in Netflix, people were abuzz about how new and exciting it was. It was interactive fiction, with complex, twisting timelines, with even seemingly minor decisions launching the viewer on wildly divergent paths.
That episode, then, was a less ambitious version of the story told in the Zero Escape series, then.
Consisting of three games, all currently available on digital storefronts such as Steam for PC and PSN for PlayStation 4, the series is significantly more complicated than the Black Mirror episode, though it takes on the same themes, with the ideas of choice, free will, intricate interlocking timelines, player interaction and so on all playing into the over arching story.
Except beyond just telling a story, the Zero Escape series is also, at its heart, a puzzle game, if a macabre one. Your character goes into escape rooms, paired with other characters. Often, the choice of which character you pair up with is what leads you on a different path, sometimes leading to another characters’ demise. Then, when you’re in the room, you have to figure out how, exactly, you’re supposed to leave it. It’s a lot like real life escape rooms, and like a well-designed one the puzzles are challenging while also often having unexpected solutions.
The mix of inventive storytelling and creative puzzle solving makes the Zero Escape series an unexpected delight, and while the game has been a fairly niche product, it’s interesting to see something like Black Mirror do the same thing, just not as well.