Part Rube Goldberg adventure, part Myst-like mechanical puzzle, part J.J. Abrams' mystery box, The Room is no ordinary game. It's something special, the kind of game we don't get very often, and as such, it feels profound. Important, even. It's as much of an experience as it is a game.
With virtually no instructions or explanations, the game begins with you finding yourself in a darkened room. Where this room is and why you’re here are never explained. In the center of the room is a large safe. Atop the safe is a handwritten letter by someone whose initials are “A.S.,” a mad scientist type who could be a genius or could be completely off his rocker, who informs you that he created the elaborate safe and its contents — something that he describes as “the key to incomprehensible power.” Warning you that “the stakes are higher than you could possibly imagine,” you’re left alone to decipher how to open it, and discover what’s inside.
But there’s a twist. Once you get the safe open, inside is… an intricate, ornate, and tightly-sealed box. Solve the puzzles and eventually open that one, and you get… a smaller box. (Seriously, this game could have just as easily been called The Box.) When you finally get that one open… Well, that would be telling.
The production levels are utterly top-notch, some of the finest I’ve ever seen in a touchscreen game. The music is ambient and creepy, and you’ll hear some genuinely chilling sound effects. The visuals are rendered using a crisp, real-time 3D engine, which allows you to move around the various boxes at will just by swiping. Double tap or pinch to zoom in on any part of the safe that catches your eye — and you’ll want to pay very close attention, because even the smallest of details are important. There’s almost nothing in the way of a HUD or on-screen controls. You’ll receive an oculus early on, which functions as a kind of cipher, allowing you to see hidden clues when you look through it. There are objects you’ll pick up here and there, but they’re all used in solving the dozens of mechanical puzzles.
And oh, those puzzles. Those ingenious, glorious puzzles. The only thing I can think to compare them to is the various objects that you could interact with in Myst. The machines and mechanisms and whatnot were the puzzles in that game, and figuring out how they worked was a major part of solving them. Likewise, the puzzles embedded on all sides and atop the various boxes in The Room are unique mechanisms (mostly made of wood) that feel like they were handcrafted by one of the world’s most intelligent people. But don’t despair if you find yourself stuck; spend too long on any one puzzle and a hint system will appear, pointing you in the right direction but never outright giving away how to proceed.
One of The Room‘s greatest accomplishments is how it shuns all traditional game formats — as well as your expectations. Every single aspect of the game is a mystery, such as who the mysterious “A.S.” is that created these boxes, who the protagonist is that you’re playing as, what A.S. discovered and what’s become of him, and ultimately what the whole thing is all about. Some modern storytellers subscribe to the principle of the “mystery box,” which states that not knowing what’s inside a box is infinitely more interesting than knowing. In other words, mystery is a heck of a lot more exciting than exposition. I’m guessing the folks at Fireproof Games are big fans of the mystery box.
Fireproof Games is an arm of Fireproof Studios, a developer that specializes in partnering with other game studios and providing them with technology and assets that they need to complete their games. They’ve contributed to games like LittleBigPlanet, Bodycount, DJ Hero, and more. The Room appears to be their first solo title, and boy do they make a strong impression with it. If anything’s clear from playing this game, it’s that the people at Fireproof know what they’re doing and they do it exceedingly well. In all honesty, I’d never heard of Fireproof Games before playing The Room, but you may now count me as a blubbering, over-the-top fanboy for life.
My only disappointment with The Room comes from its ending. MINOR SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): It ends on a cliffhanger, without providing any answers, and therefore, any closure. A final splash screen appears at the end explaining that “you’ve taken the first step on a longer journey,” and that “there are many more Rooms ahead.” So Fireproof is creating an episodic format here for a long, involved storyline. Which I’m cool with. I love serialized stories, and the promise of more of this kind of puzzling/adventuring makes me immeasurably happy. But I wish the game resolved at least one of its mysteries, to give it that much-needed sense of closure. As it is, the game stops on a dime, with no warning and no answers to the many mysteries it’s raised. While there are no resolutions given, the game does deepen and clarify some of the mysteries. But that’s all we get. END SPOILER ALERT
Even with that one disappointment, The Room is still among the best games I’ve ever played — on any platform. Yet even I have to acknowledge that it’s not a game everyone will enjoy. There’s no action, no car races, no mustache-twirling villains, and no power-ups. But it hit the sweet spot for me, a delightful intersection between tension-filled mystery and mind-bending gameplay.
As I played it, I couldn’t stop marveling at how perfectly-realized an experience it was. I savored every moment, relished every puzzle and mystery for the delirious wonder that it was. I’m in love with The Room and I can’t recommend it highly enough.