If there’s one thing we’ve learned since a very unceremonious reception at Stauf’s mansion so many years ago, it’s that being a “guest” in an adventure game is really code for prisoner/victim/lab rat. Whether the first visitor or seventh, you can be pretty sure that you’re not really a guest but an unwilling captive to a devious host. So it should come as no surprise that this is the case once again in Team Gotham’s The Guest, a room escape-style adventure filled with logical puzzles and an illogical, disappointingly obtuse story.
The Guest’s opening splash screen proudly declares itself a “first-person exploration game”. This is typically the more acceptable term for gameplay-lite adventures than that loathsome label I refuse to dignify by name but rhymes with “mocking stimulator”. The odd thing is that The Guest is nothing like the Dear Esthers and Gone Homes of the world. There is very little actual exploring to do, and a whole heap of gameplay crammed into its seriously confined space. It is first-person, however.
Your name is Evgueni Leonov, a scientist from Volograd who’s come to Boston to deliver a speech at a prestigious conference in the year 1986. At least, you intended to do that, but somewhere along the line your plans (and you) became seriously waylaid. Awaking in a strange room to a ceiling fan spinning lazily overhead and a door inexplicably pounding, it seems you’re a guest (cough) at the Oak Wood Hotel in Belmont, Massachusetts. But it doesn’t take Captain Obvious to explain that this is no normal hotel. Sure, it has a bed and the basic amenities, but it’s also dimly lit and largely adorned with wood antiques and other old-fashioned décor. Oh, and you’re completely locked in. You can’t even get into the bathroom at first, which sucks as that’s the first thing I need to do after a long sleep, particularly when one of the few sound effects is the pouring rain outside the hotel’s small translucent windows.
You’re going to have to hold it for a while, though, as you get used to the game’s mechanics and solve a few basic puzzles. The Guest offers full 3D movement via keyboard/mouse or gamepad controls, but you’ll only ever need to move a few steps at a time before bumping into the nearest piece of furniture or wall. A tiny dot in the center of the screen represents the cursor, which will light up any interactive hotspots or identify areas with close-up views once you’re near enough. Interaction requires just a simple mouse-click, and many items can be picked up for zoomed-in viewing and full rotation.
What’s unusual about this game is that you usually get to choose whether to stash the item you’re holding in inventory or put it back where you found it. There’s no apparent limit to how many items you can carry, so if you’re well-versed in the genre’s “pick up anything that isn’t nailed down” philosophy, you’ll probably be tempted to keep everything just in case. But there’s a reason you’re given a choice: many objects have no use at all, nor is there any obvious means of getting rid of anything you’ve collected. So it’s really up to you whether you want stuffed pockets full of red herrings or not. If you do opt for discretion, as I did, there’s no penalty for passing up something you’ll end up needing. It’ll still be there waiting when you go back for it, at most a mere four rooms away even when the game finally opens up.
When you need an item from your pop-up inventory, you simply middle mouse-click to access it. There you can select any item to view up close again (very helpful for clue-related documents), use on its own, or combine with other stored objects. That’s all fine, but there’s no click-and-drag option here, so you’ll have to completely close the inventory to try using an item. That alone is needlessly clunky, but what’s worse is that any selected item will become the default “cursor” option from that point on. If, say, you just want to open a door while actively holding an inventory object, you’re out of luck. You’ll need to ditch that puppy and go through the process all over again on the other side of the door. It’s not a big deal, but it’s so unintuitive that I kept bumping up against it. Also accessible from the inventory is a “diary”, but this is far less useful than you might expect, as all it does is record the few very sparse text comments uttered by the silent protagonist.
The first order of business is to get into the bathroom, which doesn’t even have a doorknob. You could probably find one, but there’s just not enough light in this gloomy place. Maybe the toolbox will – nope, that thing’s got a combination lock! Did I mention that there are puzzles in The Guest? Oh yes, there are really only three things on this hotel’s room service menu, and that’s puzzles, puzzles, and more puzzles. They start out easy enough, lulling you into a false sense of intellectual security, only to ramp up significantly over the course of the game.Continued on the next page...