Adventure Gamers Awards
The Room Three
In The Room Three you find yourself on a train, unsure of where you are going. Without warning, a shadowy figure appears for just an instant and then disappears to reveal a mysterious box on the table in front of you. Once you solve that challenge, you are taken to the game’s main location: Grey Holm, a mansion on some unknown island. Here you learn of a new character, The Craftsman, via more mysterious notes scattered about (as well as a brief glimpse of him through the slot in the door to the main hub area), and are challenged to collect five pyramid objects to unlock the mysteries of the Null Element. The Craftsman is continuing the efforts of A.S to solve this mystery, and you are quickly drawn into his/her scheme whether you like it or not.
Once you solve a few more introductory puzzles requiring you to interpret riddles on a triangular table, a new feature is introduced: an additional lens for your eyepiece that allows you to actually explore inside various objects. The lens lets you enter miniature areas of the environment (highlighted by a sparkling light as they are uncovered) to solve puzzles specific to that location. This new ability is used extensively throughout the game in place of the traditional lens from the first two installments and adds a fresh perspective to gameplay.
Another welcome change is the ability to review previous hints if there are multiple tiers. This may seem like a small thing, but the hint text disappears fairly quickly, and in previous games you were not able to revisit them unless you quickly wrote them down. In addition, a visible timer (not present before) now counts down to the next hint, a cool feature for the impatient gamer like me. One curious difference is no longer permitting players to replay completed chapters; you are able to restart the current chapter, but you cannot go back to earlier ones. It’s an unusual omission, but perhaps in keeping with the increasingly adventure-oriented nature of the gameplay this time around.
When I first arrived at Grey Holm and figured out how to enter the main lobby of the mansion, my initial impression was that there was much to explore and so where to begin? Alas, the series’ penchant for linear progression persists, in that you need to unlock a specific door first, then solve the puzzles in that area before you can open the second door (which is itself pre-determined) and so on. While I would have much preferred the freedom to choose where to go in the order I wanted (in “true” adventure game style), each of the five parts of the island is unique, beautifully rendered, and meticulously crafted to provide a great gaming experience.
You will need to repeat the same steps to open the portal to each region, but there is sufficient variety in the way this is done to not feel too repetitive. Once in a new location, you’ll find a lot of diversity in terms of both scenery and gameplay. The first place you visit is an impressive topographical model of the island with many sections to explore and solve. This one puzzle makes up the bulk of chapter one, with ever-expanding areas to interact with as you gather the necessary items. Conquering this challenge requires interaction with a typewriter, which provides an object to access a spot on the map, which in turn grants passage to a Stonehenge-type area accessible via the new eyepiece, and so on. Once you have solved what you think are all the puzzles, the table rises to an attic area where there are even more varied puzzles to solve.
After you complete each area, you will receive a pyramid that must be placed on the altar in the lobby to unlock the next chapter’s location. Each of the five chapters provides not only a new location but different gameplay as well. In “The Clock Tower” you will need to solve many puzzles to set the clock to the correct time, while “The Forge” sends you to a foundry where you must forge three different keys to unlock the next pyramid. The remaining chapters are similarly diverse. While these areas play out independently, the purely mouse-driven game mechanics and process for moving on remain the same in each.
Once again the puzzles are for the most part addictively engaging. Having said that, the developers did manage to sneak in a maze – the bane of countless adventure gamers everywhere – in the final chapter. It has a twist that makes it less of a chore, but still! In addition to the game’s hint system, notes from The Craftsman can sometimes provide useful guidance in the right direction, along with expanding the story and deepening the plot.
Upon reaching The Room Three’s default ending, you will encounter Mystical Maggie, a mechanical fortune teller with whom you will need to interact as your character is trapped in an eternal labyrinth. After that the “Change your Fate” option appears in the game’s main menu, enabling you to explore three alternate endings. Here the game gets a bit tricky in that hints are no longer available; you are on your own to solve the remaining puzzles. I must confess I needed to consult a walkthrough to complete all of the endings, as some of the puzzle interactions are hard to detect. For example, in one particular place is an object on which you need to use your mouse in a specific way, but the effect of this interaction is so subtle it’s easy to overlook.
The alternate endings are varied and interesting, each revealing a bit more information about The Craftsman and other characters mentioned in earlier notes, but two of them left me wondering how the next game in the series would continue. And while I very much enjoyed these alternate takes, I did not appreciate the need to repeat the end-game puzzles each time I arrived. They are not difficult, but proved to be a tedious experience to solve multiple times. Perhaps this was designed to pad the gameplay, but at a solid 10 hours already for a single playthrough, it really wasn’t necessary.
While still highly streamlined, it is clear that with The Room Three the series has finally come of age as not just a puzzle franchise, but as a full-fledged adventure series in its own right, with no signs of stopping any time soon. The added elements endeared this third game to me even more than the already impressive first two, and made me care about what happens next. The introduction of The Craftsman and his motives hints at much more than meets the eye and really piqued my interest. The fourth installment has already been released on iOS and Android devices, and I can hardly wait for it to make its way to PC so I can continue this thoroughly entertaining puzzle-filled journey.