What if the Necronomicon was a puzzle box? The beauty of The Room on the iPad
Imagine being alone in a dark room with a single box. You have a letter that says something interesting, and possibly dangerous, is inside. It’s going to take much thought and experimentation to dig through the layers of puzzles and brain teasers in order to see what’s being hidden, and the journey is going to make you question whether you’d like to continue. This is a game that comes close to horror, and it does so through environment, sound design, and the minimal amount of details. The Room is what happens when Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft get together, make sweet unholy love, and then create a video game.
It sounds simple in text, but the team behind the game have done everything they possibly could to put the iPad to good use. There isn’t a title that is hindered by touch controls as much as its set free by them; you can spin the box, poke at the edges, push buttons, turn screwdrivers, focus light… it feels like you’re moving and playing with real, physical objects. There is a tactile sense of interactivity in everything from turning a dial to open a combination lock to sliding a drawer out of its hiding place.
It took me around 3 hours to finish the game, and I did so in the dead of night while listening to the game’s sound and music through a good set of headphones and holding the iPad close. You’ll find notes that give you clues about what’s going on hidden in the different levels of the box, and every now and again you’ll figure out a puzzle and trigger a series of clockwork clicks and whirrs as the box moves, opens, or reshapes itself into something amazing.
It’s not just a matter of clever puzzles, it’s the fact that all the puzzles are self-contained into this one thing, and you’ll have to explore the nooks and crannies of each version of the box as you play. You’ll get clues if you get stuck, but there were no puzzles that seemed unfair or too hard to me. I felt clever every time I reached the next level or changed the characteristics of the box through my actions, and I never felt punished by taking my time and testing things.
The game tells a story with very few details, but the sounds, textures, and animations that take place whenever you interact with the box itself are nearly perfect. There were only one or two times I grew frustrated with a movement not acting as I would like, but many more times where I was delighted by how the hardware was used in order to solve a puzzle. Even though you’re simply opening a box, at least at first, the stakes seem to grow as you play, and the ending leaves you with just as many questions as answers. It’s not a cliffhanger exactly, but it does make the game seem like it will be episodic in the future.
I suggest you play as I did: With headphones, and finishing in one sitting. I haven’t felt this satisfied by finishing a game with no breaks since Journey, and I felt like I received my $5 worth. Besides, what is a box but a portable door, and who can look at a door and not want to open it?
What happens when you step through?