Are robots capable of developing feelings? Will they ever be able to replace humans?
These kinds of questions have been endlessly discussed and explored at least since the dawn of computers. It is reflected in many works of fiction, depicting artificial intelligences and man-made sentient beings that often either become human-like or end up rebelling to take over the world. But for now, we merely wish to make our lives more convenient with the help of these advanced technologies. The titular robot of Rumu is one such creation, a smart vacuum cleaner that was created by his inventors to keep the house clean of spills and crumbles. But with every mess Rumu removes, we discover that there’s a lot more to this family than just spilled coffee on the floor. With its heartfelt narrative, slick presentation and simple point-and-click gameplay, this game manages to take players to the depths of emotion through a pair of thinking machines, with all the highs and lows that come with the full range of the human experience.
Playing as Rumu, we are guided by an A.I. called Sabrina in doing our daily tasks. Rumu has just been activated and is excited to meet his humans, while Sabrina is the more experienced (and definitely more responsible) smart home assistant. Sabrina acts as our source of narration, as she converses with Rumu and tells us all the things we need to know about the house. David and Cecily are away a lot, and Rumu is left with their clutter to take care of: socks on the floor, ants from the pantry, or that long-lost flash drive behind the couch.
Navigating between household objects and listening to Sabrina comment on them is mainly how we get to know about the home owners. What’s lovely about Sabrina and her dialog is that, if you pay enough attention, her observations actually run deeper than cautious warnings and light jokes about how forgetful David is. Voiced by the talented Allegra Clark (Dragon Age Inquisition), Sabrina shows that she cares about the well-being of her humans, more than just an act of duty. She’s eloquent and oozes emotion in her charismatic robotic tone, while Rumu can only reply to her with the phrase: ‘I love…’, such as: ‘I love Sabrina’, ‘I love cleaning’ or repeating whatever Sabrina mentioned last.
At first it seems that Rumu isn’t built with any extra intelligence. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the only thing limiting Rumu from voicing more thoughts is simply that his linguistic programming is not as advanced. But Rumu seems to understand every word Sabrina says, and Sabrina can even interpret Rumu’s purely mechanical utterances and respond to him just fine. They’re like R2-D2 and C-3PO, home appliance version, which can be quite adorable from time to time.
Each room is presented like a discrete section of an open dollhouse. With an isometric view of the whole room, you can pretty much see every available object and path that Rumu can explore. You can’t zoom in, as the camera is fixed, but sometimes when encountering a note, reading an e-mail or examining a certain item, an automatic close-up will occur which you can then zoom back out when you’re done. That’s pretty much the limit of the camera feature, but you can toggle Rumu’s front lights on and off to see in the dark and sometimes reveal hidden messages on the walls.
Moving Rumu is very simple with either the arrow keys or the mouse, though I used the latter throughout the game. All I had to do was hold and drag my pointer, ‘pulling’ Rumu to wherever I wanted him to go. As a vacuum, cleaning a mess is done just by making Rumu roll over it, almost like removing marks with an eraser tool. A percentage of each mess is displayed while Rumu is cleaning, so you don’t have to worry about not scrubbing the floor hard enough. If disposing of a mess is part of a particular task, it will show up on the list of objectives anyway, providing another way you can tell if the job is finished.
Sometimes Rumu is able to push objects around, which you can usually tell by the holographic arrow that appears when you approach the movable object. For example, when the arrow points north of a box, left-clicking the box will slide it one step in that direction. If you circle Rumu around to push it from the right side, an arrow pointing to the west appears. This mechanism is usually part of a mini-maze where Rumu is trapped among messy clutter and has to find a way out.
Clicking directly on Rumu checks three things: Journal, Inventory, and Objective. Journal represents a collection of David and Cecily’s notes that can be found sporadically around the house, whether fridge notes, post-it reminders, or little things from different rooms that Rumu seems to be fond of. Inventory holds all the objects that can be picked up. They don’t always have any real purpose or impact the main storyline, but Rumu can be a little bit of a hoarder, as I figured eventually. Your objectives will probably be the most-viewed option even without clicking Rumu, since it pops up every now and then whenever a new set of tasks is unlocked.Continued on the next page...