Sometimes you come across a game that’s not doing anything particularly new, but it’s re-treading old ground with such a dedication to quality that it feels new. “I never knew this sort of game could be this genuinely enjoyable.”
Mechanically, The Room is a descendant of the classic “escape the room” titles that were all the rage among browser-based games a decade ago. Through careful examination you discover a sliding panel, which reveals a button, which pops open a container, which contains a key, which opens a safe, which contains a scrap of paper, which details the correct arrangement of some previously-inscrutable switches, which unfastens a lid, which reveals a clock, which you get the idea. In this game you’re working your way into a puzzle box rather than working to exit a room, but it’s the same basic idea. Either way you’re unraveling the work of some obstructionist jackass who has confused obscurity with security, leaving their plans vulnerable to someone with a flair for lateral thinking and lots of free time.
The trick for me here is that it’s really hard to quantify what makes The Room so good. Which kind of sucks, since that’s my job. But in order to sustain my thin veneer of professionalism, let me take a half-assed stab at it…
The problem with your typical escape the room puzzle is that it invariably turns into a pixel-hunt. A room is a big place and you can never see more than a quarter of it at any given time. If you find yourself stuck, you need to crawl all over the room, interrogating each surface to find the one discolored spot or misaligned edge that hints at the next secret. The Room turns the premise inside-out and has you trying to get into a box, which means you’ve always got the entire problem right in front of you.
This focus also makes for more striking visuals. Since THE BOX is always the focal point of the scene, the designer can give us dramatic lighting and striking camera angles. This merger of camera focus and gameplay focus wouldn’t work in a context where our point of interest will jump around the room unpredictably. After all, you can’t give every corner and alcove in the room its very own spotlight.
The other thing The Room has going for it is a really strong sense of kinaesthetics. Instead of making you click on a lever to trigger it, you have to click on the spot where you’d actually grasp it in real life, and then drag the mouse the way you want it to go. It sounds like such a small thing, but it’s amazing how much more “alive” this box feels because of it. The sounds and mouse gestures really give a sense that you’re turning wheels, pulling levers, and spinning dials, and none of this would be true if the game adhered to a simple “click on the thing to make it go” approach to interactivity.
The other thing the game has going for it is a high level of production values. The boxes-within-boxes that you must unlock are incredibly detailed. This box has parts that are made of metal, stone, glass, and several different kinds of wood. Every part looks and feels unique, and the solution to every puzzle feels like a reward, even though in reality all you’ve gained is yet another puzzle.
As of this writing, The Room is just $5 USD and is available on the App Store, Google Play, Amazon, and Steam. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a low-key puzzle game that can be played in short bursts.
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