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Red Cloud Rising – Review

After purchasing tickets to what I thought was an interactive theater production called Red Cloud Rising, I received an e-mail confirming my appointment for a job interview at a company called Bydder Financial at the exact time and date as the performance was supposed to happen.  Instead of being directed to a theater, I was given the address of a Wall Street office building where I was to meet a recruiter for this mysterious financial firm.  Before the show had even begun, I’d already been drawn into the world of this Alternate Reality Game.

Red Cloud Rising is a combination of an interactive theater, scavenger hunt, and adventure game.  Upon arriving at an actual office in New York’s financial district I was introduced to Charlotte (played by Gyda Arber), and a fellow new hire at the company.  The other new recruit was a paying customer like me, although neither of us could be sure that the other wasn’t secretly part of the show.  After getting to know each other, Charlotte showed us a recruitment film for Bydder Financial, a spot-on parody of those cheesy propaganda videos that new employees have to sit through during the orientation sessions at huge companies.  The head of this fiction company, Talbot Bydder (Eric C. Bailey) gave us a little bit of information about his family’s illustrious history.  Of course, this was full of clues to be used in the game ahead.

Once through with our orientation, we were sent out to deliver an envelope, yet only given cryptic clues as to whom and where.  Hints and instructions were sent to us by text message and phone calls (a camera phone that receives text messages is required to play).  These clues had my partner and me searching around the Wall Street area, learning about the history of neighborhood, as well as solving riddles.  It felt a lot like the sort of gameplay I’ve experienced in point-and-click adventure games, only in real life at an actual graveyard.

Players who get stumped can send text messages for hints at any time, but my team found the early parts of the game frustrating because we refused to use the hint system for quite some time.  Some of the puzzles were nigh impossible to solve without getting a hint.  Again, this was much like running around clicking on everything you see when in an adventure game.  Less stubborn players who are quicker to resort to the help feature should experience less frustration.

Eventually the riddles were solved and we began meeting other members of the cast.  Much like an MMO we were on the lookout for people on the street who might give us quests.  While no one on Wall Street had a giant glowing “!” over their head, we were approached on the street by a loud protestor (Art Wallace) who was handing out flyers about Bydder Financial, and it turns out that Bydder is not what it seems.  This led us even deeper into the interactive portions of the game as we were recruited by an organization called Red Cloud. 

Once aware of Red Cloud, we followed secret marks through the neighborhood, located hidden letters, met yet another contact (played by Tom Reid) and even picked up mysterious packages from local shopkeepers who were in on the game.  This sort of fetch quest is actually quite fun when it’s in the real world, rather than Azeroth.

We were pointed to several websites over the course of the game.  Both my partner and I had smart phones on us at the time, and were delighted to find that the fictional Bydder Financial has a realistic website, as does the conspiracy theorist group that contacted us on our journey.  This sort of “alternate reality” gaming continued even after the game was finished; I’m still receiving e-mails from Charlotte at Bydder, and I’m told more missions will come my way in the weeks ahead.

There are other theater companies that do this sort of production, but Red Cloud Rising is the first one I’ve experienced that made use of text messages and had a live help feature.  It’s an unusual piece and something recommended for gamers looking to get out of the house, and fans of interactive theater.  It is playing on weekends through the month of July.  Advanced tickets are required, as is a cell phone, and lots of walking.  It’s a part of the Game Play Theater Festival and tickets can be ordered at the festival’s website.


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