A Review of The Room
The Room is a secret-box game in the tradition of Room Escapes, Deconstruction games and so forth. It is available on Steam for 4.99 and was originally on iOS game for .99. It has sequels and a light horror fiction atop it’s gameplay.
The Room is beautiful, inventive, and dull as a door-knob. Which is to say not entirely dull, not without charm and interesting little bits and bobs inside that make it tick yet ultimately simple and unmysterious. This is not a puzzle game; not really. It doesn’t ask you to invent clever solutions or solve difficult mysteries. I began the game taking notes, hardened by years of advanture games, room escape games, and so forth. It turns out the game never asked me to do anything unexpected. There were a few genuinely clever puzzles but only a few in a game that is entirely built around this sort of thing. That’s a real shame—I find it’s a bit odd to approach difficulty in these sorts of games because what is obvious to one is not obvious to another; suffice to say what challenge this game does have is primarily observational–it rarely tests your memory or your problem solving or your abilitiy to make hypotheses or logical leaps. Merely your ability to notice. For my part I found it easy and a bit boring. I kept hoping it would surprise me and prove fiendish but the only difficulties I ran into were moments when I knew I just hadn’t clicked the right one of about ten things I knew I could click yet.
It’s a shame because games like this really shine when there are multi-lateral puzzles; multiple paths you can start moving down at once that feed back into each other, sure, and coallesce to a single point but that nonetheless allow you to move back and forth in a slightly less linear fashion, creating both a greater sense of journey and baking in the “let’s take a break and see this from another angle” phenomenon that is so key to solving a puzzle so the player feels invested in the puzzle the whole time rather than needing to yank themselves out of it to gain that perspective. The trouble of course is that one designers leap of logic is another player’s bloody-stupid-“who-the-heck-would-have-thought-of-that-nonsense?-that-doens’t-make-any-sense!”
That acknowledged, I think The Room should have pushed much further into that territory. It wasn’t a challenge and the puzzle was never interesting. The movements and animations certainly were … but there were so many points when it could have used expansiveness to make it’s simple solutions more challenging–but once you leave the large safe you leave it for good, progressing ever forward and never looking back to do intersting things with old, familiar objects. Failing that, I wish it had been a little more weird. A little more “clever” and illogical such that the puzzles felt more difficult to me more frequently. It’s effort to remain sensible and understandable, I feel, undermines it’s function. Forget for a moment the idea of being a puzzle and leave us with exploration–the exploration of the device was not quite alien enough or mysterious enough for the fictional premise. Our guide assured us our intelligence would see us through but all that saw us through was explicit codes written on the box in UV ink (close enough). No clues, no riddles no references as promised by the tutorial sequence. Even taking this game as a breezy secret-box sort of thing rather than a true puzzle, I feel it wasn’t inventive enough in the right way to meet it’s own mini-fiction square-on.
It’s a lovely object but not worth the asking price. For the .99 it costs on tablets and smart phones? Perhaps! It’s quite pretty and certainly outsrips a York Peppermint Patty for entertainment value for me. I’ve played games that walk the lines this game walks in more interesting ways, though, and some of them cost nothing. I cannot, then, recommend it in terms of relative value but in terms of absolute is-this-99-cents-worth-of-cool/fun/whatever I can certainly recommend it at it’s original price on mobile devices.