Adventure Gamers Awards
Since its release in 2012, The Room has widely been regarded as one of the best pure puzzlers to come along in years. Strong on tightly-integrated puzzle design and mechanics in a single location, it is equally light on plot, with just a hint of a story revealed via notes as you progress. When The Room Two came along in 2013, the puzzles were better than ever, and a few additional adventure elements crept in, with an expanded environment and the continuation of the mystery teased in the first game. It wasn’t until The Room Three arrived in 2015, however, that the series really came of age as a more fully-rounded adventure game, with ongoing innovation in gameplay as well as increased exploration, deepening plot, and even some character development. With the latest chapter (Old Sins) currently available for mobile devices, and the first three games now available on PC, now seems like a good time to evaluate the series to date.
The first game in Fireproof Games’ series is certainly a solid opening entry, with great puzzles and an atmospheric (if rather claustrophobic) presentation. With no explanation, you find yourself in a darkened room, perhaps an attic of some kind with a single lamp and window illuminating only a mysterious safe-like box sitting on a table. Your task in The Room is to unlock the secrets of this box using the clues and tools provided. Before you begin poking around, an unskippable tutorial walks you through the game mechanics. Initially developed for mobile devices, the interface transfers well to the PC, with a double-click replacing the double-tap to zoom in, move or interact, right-click replacing the “expand” gesture to zoom out, and click-and-drag replacing the swipe movement to manipulate objects or rotate the camera. Hotspots are not indicated so you’ll have to guess which elements might be interactive, but since the play area is very confined this does not prove to be an issue.
The graphics and sound on PC are far superior to the mobile version. The room, box and inventory items are rendered in hi-definition 3D with smooth manipulation of objects and transitions between views. In the beginning, the background music is subtle and soothing, but becomes more ominous as you progress. It never gets repetitive, in part because it does not continue all the time, stopping completely at particular parts of the game. When not playing, there is a sound of emptiness (like the low, faint hum you hear when alone in a closed room that is otherwise silent) which is spooky and adds nicely to the atmosphere. Sound effects are spot-on when interacting with levers, sliders, and buttons, and a unique one plays for specific actions such as equipping a lens, collecting an inventory object, or as hints are revealed. Later in the game you will hear creaking sounds, background voices speaking in tongues, footsteps in the background, etc. that ratchet up the tension level effectively.
Almost immediately you are introduced to a brilliant game device – the lens! Once equipped simply by clicking its on-screen icon, you can view your surroundings through the lens to reveal images that you cannot see otherwise and are essential to solving the puzzles, though it seriously restricts your normal view so you won’t want to wear it all the time. You will also soon learn that while you cannot combine objects in your inventory, you can manipulate them directly, which is also vitally important at times. These two elements are very refreshing and add a lot of fun to the usual puzzle-solving formula. Like a Russian nesting doll, once you have opened the first box, you will discover another box inside that ends chapter one. In chapter two your job is to figure out the secrets of this new box, which contains new clues and puzzle dynamics. Similarly, once that box has been solved, it opens to reveal yet another new box to solve. These ever-deepening levels and different types of challenges keep the gameplay both surprising and rewarding.
The puzzles themselves are quite varied and often multi-layered, so you need to keep track of the clues provided in order to solve them. A good example is where you must open a drawer by adjusting the corner pieces in a specific way. Doing this requires complete examination of the box to find the knobs that need to be turned (and first discovering a hidden compartment for one of them). Other tasks you will encounter include aligning a beam of light, adjusting keys in inventory to the right shape to fit locks, revealing codes in hidden videos, and many more. The sheer diversity of obstacles, all confined to a single area, is truly amazing. While most of them are inventive and well-designed, I found the pattern-matching via rotation of objects (mainly using the lens) to be a bit repetitive, but that is a minor quibble.
Hints can be enabled, appearing after a time delay in the form of a question mark at the top of the screen. Clicking on this icon will reveal the first hint. If you are still working on the same puzzle, an additional hint (if available) will emerge after another short wait. In most cases you will get a nudge in the right direction with the first hint, and if you are still stuck the next hint will tell you what you need to do. This works well, but if multiple hints are available you cannot go back to review an earlier one if you forget what it said. Other clues are far more organic, provided via item descriptions when you click on them. For example, you might be told “It smells of burning,” suggesting that you need an element of fire to interact with that object.
Although predominantly a puzzle game, there are traces of a larger adventure in the form of notes left by a mysterious figure known only as A.S. These messages hint at something called the Null Element, which holds incredible power. This narrative forms an overarching storyline through all three games (so far) and should serve to hold your interest throughout the series, though no answers or closure are provided in any one installment.
Your progress will be automatically saved when you exit the game, so you can pick up right where you left off in the next session. Once you have completed a chapter (there are five in total), you can replay any of them. I spent between 5-6 hours solving the many challenges and really enjoyed my time, but I did not find the need to revisit previous chapters as all the solutions are the same.
While not as difficult as The Witness or The Talos Principle, the gameplay here is original and addictive, so if you love puzzle games, The Room is highly recommended. Almost all of your time is spent in a single room, as its title suggests, but there is a cliffhanger at the end that whisks you off to an unknown location to set up the next installment.
The Room Two
Upon starting The Room Two, a new feature is revealed in which three different profiles can be created, allowing for multiple players. Otherwise, the game mechanics are exactly the same as its predecessor’s, including an unavoidable tutorial to get you started. You will begin in the room you were transported to at the end of the first game, still without so much as an explanation of where you are or why you’re there. This room is also dimly lit, with a square table in one corner and a hexagonal table in the other, each of them with interconnected puzzles to solve. Unlike the single-scene original game, from here you will be transported to several different locations, including a ship at sea, a cave, a temple, a séance area, an island mansion, and finally an inter-dimensional location before escaping the estate of the mysterious A.S. To get to these places you must first solve another wave of innovative and interesting puzzles in each room to activate a portal to the next – a nice transition element.
Along the way, you will discover a number of notes and messages from various sources that will make you want to find out more about what is happening. (In some cases these notes provide clues to the puzzles, so you need to read them all anyway.) A.S. is back, continuing to document his/her efforts to discover and obtain the Null Element – as well as provide some help and encouragement – but you will also learn of a seedy man named Mr. de Montfaucon, a new character hired to obtain an unnamed artifact. There is also evidence of some rather grisly experiments being conducted on humans to deepen the mystery. These story elements elevate The Room Two from a pure puzzler to a lite adventure game, making it more interesting to play from a traditional adventure gamer’s point of view.
That is not to say the puzzles are diminished; in fact it is quite the opposite. Fireproof continues to impress in this outing with inspired puzzles that, while still not terribly difficult, are very fun to play and satisfying to solve. Gone are the boxes from the first game, replaced here with a wide variety of organic-based puzzles specific to the current location. Many require you to align objects to reveal the next item needed (such as a key or an orb), but several are progressive, as in the previous game. For example, you will need to maneuver a model ship through a maze, but in order to unlock sections of the maze you will need to solve riddles exposed as you go along. Of particular note is the laser puzzle that requires interaction with many objects in the room (and solving puzzles in the process) to obtain another lens to find the clues needed to progress to the final escape. Just brilliant!
Accompanying these elements are the same great 3D graphics and sound effects from the first game that will continue to immerse you in the more varied environments this time around. The multiple locations aren’t just for decoration either, as they provide more gameplay options than just a single room, which in turn extends the play time. It took me approximately ten hours to complete The Room Two, and I enjoyed every minute overcoming the creative new challenges. There are several storyline threads sewn in between the many enjoyable puzzles as well, so by the time I was finished I was very much looking forward to the next chapter in the series.Continued on the next page...