Present-ish, in May & June 2021, were: The Ant, Aunty Ant, Lioness
I’m always slightly cautious about games based on real-life specific tragic events – Titanic, Jack The Ripper, JFK. Personal catastrophe repackaged as entertainment doesn’t feel right. Why I feel a little queasy about these, but am fine with a WWI/II or Civil War game, I’m not sure. Time and distance obviously play a bit part – so in theory the much more recent events of the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster should be a hard pass for me. But with my obsession with all things Soviet, I’ll admit I was intrigued by the release of the online Chernobyl Puzzle Septology series.
Intrigued, and also slightly intimidated. Looking at a tester puzzle or two for the main game, I got the impression this was a challenge for way more intelligent people than me. With a time frame promising days of puzzling rather than hours, it also felt like a large commitment. However, the style and format of the game was both exciting and reassuring that the topic was being handled sensitively.
Google Earth provides the fascinating modern day pictures of the abandoned Chernobyl region – known as the Exclusion Zone, the Zone of Alienation, or simply The Zone – a one thousand square mile area around the power plant. Each puzzle in the game has a geo-link, with a real-life location to explore, and the surroundings provide clues, complement or structure to the Wild Child-designed conundrum. Rather like the Spirit Seekers online game, it is a creative and atmospheric use of an otherwise impossible site – the difference being that the photos here are not in any way adapted for the puzzles, rather the other way around.
As I haven’t played the main Septology, I can’t really compare, but the Light Volumes 1, 2 and 3 were created as easier, bite-sized versions of the original game, ideal for the 60 to 90 minute challenge of the EGOlympics. And the structure is pretty straight-forward, six missions per volume (borrowed from the 55 in the main game) taking in different areas with the aim of decoding a simple word or number combination to solve each mission. Some sites you have to travel around and find various items, others you might just be looking for one specific thing to power the puzzle. One or two of the missions are pretty much solvable without even visiting the Google Earth location – others are highly dependent on a successful exploration. It makes for a fascinating, occasionally frustrating, mix.
How much you enjoy it may depend on your proficiency and patience with the Google Earth interface. At some points, each of us managed to end up trying to view the images from somewhere near the Moon, which added considerably to the difficulty levels. Manoeuvring around each site also has to be done with some care, and a decent pc spec is required to handle the load times. But it is definitely worth engaging with images to appreciate the thought and care that has been put into creating puzzles inspired by this unique landscape.
One thing I really loved about the games, and wish we’d had more time to digest (perils of trying to be competitive in the timed EGOlympics) was the info slides provided after each mission, explaining more about The Zone and its history. It’s all done in a peacefully sympathetic and educational way, and added a compelling layer to the activity. Much more of an informative cultural tour than prurient rubber-necking of this strange, sad, haunted place.
- Storyline: None as such, separate missions are just to solve each puzzle. The real-life history is the narrative behind the game.
- Theming and Virtual Set: Mainly as provided by Google Earth, with the attending pros and cons. The puzzle pages are well-made with attention to detail.
- Googling: Apart from the obvious Google Earth, we did also use search engines for some puzzles.
- Puzzles: Observation, maths, logic, codes. Each volume has a mix, some definitely more challenging than others. *Note, if you have played the Septology, you will have played these puzzles.
- Physicality: None.
- Scare factor: None, it has a humane rather than ghoulish approach to the subject.
- Age suitability: Any age with the right mindset could tackle these, but they are tricky, so generally adult help recommended.
- Timed?: Yes, a time given at the end.
- Requires: PC/laptops with decent internet, plus additional comms. Pen and paper helped, printer would help with some of the puzzles.