We decided to take a break from our usual MMO game scrutinizing to review Agent Venture – a very different kind of multiplayer online gaming experience but one that certainly has the potential to be massive. Agent Venture is an online hybrid of an escape room and a private immersive theatre production. Teams of friends join a Zoom call with a professional actor who guides them (in-character) through a series of cooperative challenges against the clock.

In a year where both actors and those less thespian-inclined are stuck at home with little to do, we thought now would be an ideal time to see what the intriguing format had to offer.

“MMOGames Team, assemble!”

Alex, MMOGames Head of Content & Mission Navigator

While I’d enjoyed my fair share of in-person escape rooms, an online version was an appealing albeit somewhat daunting prospect. We took on Mission One: The Heist – our goal as the CTRL team was to extract files from B.A.D. Corp (in case you hadn’t guessed, they’re an evil corporation). Before we could begin, we first needed to assign roles. Our Agent Venture mission offered five roles: Hacker, Communicator, Researcher, Navigator and optional additional role, Coordinator. Previous to the mission, Agent Venture had provided a helpful quiz to best determine who would fit each role.

My primary responsibility as Navigator was to use blueprints to guide Agent Venture toward his goals. Our actor and host, Gracie, responded to my directions, navigated through security doors, and avoided traps and guard dogs while seamlessly switching between an array of eccentric and hilarious characters.

At first, we felt a bit lost. Unsure when to take over from Gracie and when to listen to her. We had a tendency to overcomplicate our solutions and wasted precious time arguing between ourselves over which elaborate but ultimately foolhardy approach to take. Halfway through part one of our two-part mission, we realized how low on time we were. It was when this tension kicked in that the Agent Venture experience really came into its own.

We laughed, rushed, panicked, and crashed through the challenges – completing the first mission with just fifty-three seconds to go. The second part of the mission, a high-octane escape through trap-laden laboratories and sewers was even more exciting and finished with a highly climactic race against rising waters – we eventually succeeded (thanks largely to some top-class navigation) with just fifty seconds remaining.

Each role receives documents that only they can see. These documents are sent as Google Docs and upon receipt they can feel a little rough around the edges and intimidatingly thorough. However, while the whole experience could benefit from a little fine-tuning, the detail of these documents reflects the depth of the Agent Venture experience. There are multiple ways to complete every puzzle; and this, combined with our actor’s ability to improvise to our whims and weaknesses really helps to make each mission feel unique and intimate.

"Just keep swimming agent!"

"Mission control, this is not the time to be quoting Dory."

I began the Agent Venture mission feeling genuinely unsure as to whether it would be an experience that I would enjoy, I finished it pumped-up with adrenaline and laughter, craving my next mission. 8.5/10

Marc, MMOGames MMORPG Aficionado and Mission Communicator

The pre-mission briefing pack for Agent Venture included a questionnaire to determine which mission role you’re most suited for. I didn’t feel particularly competent to play any of them, and that indecision resulted in me receiving the role of Communicator. The Communicator needs to be persuasive, assertive, and ideally able to act out different types of voices – a prospect which induced a level of anxiety akin to the experience of conducting a real heist.

The skilful roleplaying and storytelling of Agent Venture helped create a tense and unrelenting mission. Our team managed to find a bit of a rhythm with each person contributing in their own way. It was clear from the information available to me that a quicker-witted Communicator could have offered solutions that I didn’t, but the strength of the game is leveraging a team’s skills, and it was satisfying that everyone was able to play their part.

I’d definitely recommend the Agent Venture experience. It’s a great virtual, social game which offers a very different pace and engagement than other online games I’ve played. 9/10

Dr Charlie, MMOGames Guest Writer and Mission Hacker

It shouldn’t really work but somehow Agent Venture manages to come close to capturing the enjoyment of a real-life escape room. By using asymmetric roles, Agent Venture ensure that everyone has an essential role and one person can’t take over the whole experience. In this sense, it even offers advantages over traditional escape rooms wherein less-assertive players can find themselves steamrolled by larger personalities.

What ties it all together, however, is the impressive live acting of the host who improves immersion and, when required, subtly directs players to the correct solution when time is getting tight. Some of the characters that our host Gracie effortlessly switched between were: super-villain, down-to-earth Australian, salt-of-the-earth coffee delivery man, and rather-confused paralegal following our Researcher's misquoting of a phone number.

It’s not perfect, multiple solutions for each stage gives good flexibility but the tight time-limit means there often isn’t much time to discuss these solutions as a group. The game played well with four, but the optional fifth role was a little tacked on, not being needed in the same way as the others. That said, it was a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely be coming back to see if we can guide Agent Venture through Cyborg Island. 7/10

Ollie, MMOGames Chieftain of News and Mission Researcher

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that during the first ten minutes or so of interacting with the various larger than life characters of our mission that I thought that we were being hosted by a group of actors on one Zoom channel. Such was the acting ability of Gracie, AKA Agent Venture herself. From start to finish, it was a compelling and hilarious experience almost for this reason alone. But we also had a role to play.

After jostling for our preferred jobs at the very last minute I managed to secure my place as the team's Researcher. I thought that I would slip right into this role. But in the high-octane situation that suddenly required me to relay where a certain CEO’s fingerprints could be found, it took me an all-too-valuable few minutes to simply read the final line of a magazine excerpt. Luckily for us, we had retained our lifelong nuclear option (putting a fist through the fingerprint detector) to just take us over the finish line. At least now I know how I’d fare in a real high-pressure situation.

During our second mission, however, we were like a well-oiled machine. While there were moments when I thought there was a little bit of handholding from our host (the agent we were supposed to have been directing), it truly felt like a real-life escape room experience. I found myself thinking that, lockdown or not, that this was a perfect vessel to connect and reconnect with distant friends and family - those that would rather not pick up a video game controller, anyway. It was sleek and exhilarating, and I can’t wait to get stuck into the next mission. 8/10

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