Things don’t kick off until you let Moriarty know you’re ready, so we had a coffee first in the beautiful Royal Institute of British Architects (is it a spoiler to tell you it’s very nice there? Sorry. It is very nice though) where we’d been told things would be starting.
There was a man in a deer-stalker hat knocking about in the bookshop with his pal. ‘He’ll be part of this,’ we all said very wisely, but he WASN’T EVEN, which I think is the initial and only real disappointment of this whole thing for me – once you’ve thought an old man is going to be playing Holmes opposite a balding, smartly-dressed Moriarty, it’s hard to adjust to just how digital and un-performative the whole thing really is. And I think it’s also fair to say that the Holmesian elements felt a little bit decorative?
Stewart Pringle: That’s the thing. The most Holmes-y thing we saw all day was genuinely that old pair of wrinkled nemeses in the cafe. There was a bit that involved a pipe a little bit later on, but that’s pretty slim pickings. In a way I think we’ve been spoiled by slightly more all-in experiences in the past. I kept expecting, or hoping anyway, that we would suddenly tumble into a room filled with Victoriana, and Puzzles, and Actors, and Gin Cocktails. But, alas, it never happened.
What we got instead was basically an SMS treasure hunt, with some cute lateral thinking challenges, a few simple codes to crack, and only the occasional sense that you were being taken into shops to advertise their Christmas gift selection. This feels like a common problem with immersive shows. Gaining access to pretty parts of busy central London areas surely requires a bit of quid pro quo, which is fair enough, but if I’d stumped up £60 to take a tour of Selfridge’s electronic gifts section I’d feel a little bit put out.
But the flip side of all of this is that, despite the lack of trappings or anything truly theatrical, this digital trail takes you through some parts of Zone 1 that you might not have noticed before. Dipping through unseen alleyways and overlooked courts is a genuine thrill, and even when the clues aren’t much harder to decipher than your average CityMapper route plan, barrelling down unfamiliar streets with a posse of your pals is always going to be a hoot. But is that enough?
Tim Foley: It was enough for me. I’m not sure I was an ideal spy, I was pretty slow and got even slower the more pubs he made us visit. But I reckon Sherlock himself was probably a bit tipsy when he took on the Napoleon of Crime, that’s why he slipped off the waterfall *spoilers*
As a new recruit, I have two pieces of advice. 1) Wear sensible trousers and shoes. That’s great advice for all walks of life, especially if you are literally doing ALL WALKS that exist in Zone One. I did not. If Moriarty had texted us a clue that started ‘move at a pace quicker than a waddle’, we’d have been buggered. 2) Have a clever friend on your team. It’s no fun unless you keep the momentum going, and the clues definitely get trickier. I was moral support.
Maddie Wilson: No you weren’t. Everyone was an integral part of the team, including Tim’s inappropriate trousers.
On that point, though, it’s interesting that there are two quite distinct ways to treat this experience. It could be a leisurely afternoon looking at nice bits of London, with almost incidental instructions sending you on a pleasant walk, or it could be a high-octane time-sensitive mission on which your twin objectives are to thwart Moriarty (or to join his gang? – the actual story could have been a bit clearer) and to get to the top of the leaderboard. Admittedly the fact that Moriarty frequently encourages you to have a break in pubs and coffee shops he’s led you to does undermine the section option a bit. But we put so much effort into being The Best Detectives that we actually arrived at one of our pub checkpoints before it opened, Moriarty presumably not having banked on anybody racing through the first batch of clues before midday. Were we taking it too seriously (probably), or did the game not quite take itself seriously enough? Not just because we beat it to a pub, but because there weren’t REALLY any clues that left us scratching our heads or sent us on wild goose chases?
I think ultimately Moriarty’s Game, clearly full of excitement about its whizz-bang smartphone set-up, tries to be a lot of different things and doesn’t quite hit any of them. It’s slightly too easy to be a real puzzle for gamers, not Sherlockian enough to be a treasure trove for Conan Doyle or Cumberbatch fans, and not dramaturgically cohesive enough to be a great piece of theatre in its own right. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun – or that I’m not really intrigued to see what this text-treasure-hunt medium could achieve in the future with some strong storytelling behind it.
LM: Was it too easy to be a real puzzle for gamers or were we just THE BEST DETECTIVES? We were second on the leaderboard when we finished (we may well have slipped down since then, but I’m going to assume that we Haven’t and Not Check), which I’m going to take as a sign that we are all in the wrong industry. I mean I think there’s a slight chance that actual crime bosses don’t leave you handy little books in pubs and text you codes to look for in them, but if they do we should definitely get recruited by the rozzas post-haste.
I think we took it just seriously enough to be honest – being competitive with our pals at The Stage gave it an extra layer for us, and HiddenCity do give you that option, to enter several teams with your friends and play against each other. I think Moriarty’s Game would really benefit from that, because there’s not quite enough built-in urgency otherwise. That could be seen as a downfall but it’s also kind of its strength – they allow you to take it as seriously or as unseriously as you like. Although if all you want to do is bob about in central London and sit in a series of lovely pubs, I sort of feel like you’d do just as well to get one of those Walking London books from an Oxfam and have done.
SP: Yeah, if there’s any real take-away from the whole thing, it’s that we’re Far Better Detectives than The Stage. Just far better. Different class. Different League. Different, fucking… Just… It’s like, I almost feel sorry for them. I hope there’s never a murder or whatever at The Stage, because they’ll have to outsource, frankly. They’ll have to get someone in.