The Room, box art, video game, door, handle, knob, keyhole, dark

Review: The Room

One box, four walls, a claustrophobic space. Dark music, heartbeats, whispers. The Room is a place that you won’t want to leave even if you could.

Title overview   |   Initial impressions   |   Plot   |   Gameplay   |
Visuals and audio   |   Replay and innovation   |
Screenshots and videos   |   Final thoughts   |   Review round-up

Title overview
Name: The Room
Developer: Fireproof Games
Publisher: Fireproof Studios
Release date: September 2012
PEGI rating: Not listed
Genre: Puzzle
Platforms: Android, iOS, PC
More information: Official website

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Initial impressions

British-based company Fireproof Studios was formed in 2008 when six ex-lead artists from the Burnout franchise by Criterion Games decided to form their own team to provide artwork to other developers. With the advent of the mobile gaming market, they opted to create their own titles and Fireproof Games was born in January 2012. According to Commercial Director Barry Meade in an interview with The Guardian, the goal for The Room was to ‘make the best iOS game we could, not just try to make a big consoles game for iOS’ as his team wanted to emphasise the use of touchscreen in its own unique way.

Fast-forward two years to July 2014 and the title is also released on PC. I first played The Room on an iPad in 2013 after hearing about it when writing on the results of BAFTA’s British Academy Game Awards and finding out that it had received a lot of praise from gamers and critics alike: as well as receiving nominations for Artistic Achievement, Mobile & Handheld and Debut Game, the title won the category for British Game in 2013. I recently picked it up again on Steam and so have now had the opportunity to play it on PC also. While the experiences are different, both are equally rewarding.

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A mysterious invitation leads to the attic of an abandoned house, in which stands a cast-iron safe laced with strange carvings. An envelope on top contains a brass key along with a note from your distant companion ‘AS’ promising that the answers you seek are within the box: “Something they said could never be built. It is the only one in existence, and it is the key to an incomprehensible power.” You need to find a way in. A domed, circular box nearby has a lid that rotates to align a keyhole; and inside is a strange eyepiece and riddle. Here is where your journey begins, and players must follow the trail of cryptic letters and solve many unique devices in extraordinary places.

Players will be driven by their compulsion to slide back one more panel, replace one last cog, unlock one final mechanism.

The Room is played out in a single location, where boxes within boxes are uncovered as you dig further into the mysteries they hold. Messages written by AS are found throughout and reveal hints about the discovery that led your companion to seal away a potent artefact. Just as his notes suggest he was inexorably drawn to it even as he grew fearful of its nature, players will be driven by their compulsion to slide back one more panel, replace one last cog, unlock one final mechanism, just to see what’s inside.

The storyline is an intriguing one that adds to the game’s unsettling atmosphere. You’re presented with hardly any information about AS or the box’s origins to flesh out the setting; and as you progress, your companion’s notes become ever more vague. It certainly adds to the mystery but some gamers have complained that the plot is too thin, or that the ultimate objective isn’t entirely clear. However, I doubt it will put many off seeing the title through to the end – after all, who doesn’t want to find out what’s inside the box?

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The main difference between the iPad and PC versions of The Room is how tactile an experience it is. The game was extremely suited to the former because it simulated real-life actions: keys could be turned, dials twisted and switches flipped, all on the touchscreen. It was a clever way of dragging players in as it allowed them to fiddle and pull at the boxes as they tried to work out what they should do next. The PC version is unfortunately a little clunkier and the method of completing some of the actions isn’t so intuitive, purely because it’s hard to mimic real-life with a mouse. That’s not to say that this is a bad title; just that it’s clear it was designed with a touchscreen in mind.

The challenges are mainly visual in nature and you’ll be hunting for many hidden items, so a keen attention to detail will serve players well.

The Room is an especially-fine example of the escape-the-room genre and it excels at layering puzzles upon further puzzles. When you find a key, you might need to rotate its sections to make it fit a keyhole; as you place cogs into a gear system, you may need to reposition some of them at a later stage in order to progress; and some inventory items need to be examined more closely to uncover the secrets they hide. The challenges are mainly visual in nature and you’ll be hunting for many hidden items, so a keen attention to detail will serve players well. Only one at the beginning of the game requires any kind of pure puzzle-solving but clicking on all of the available options will eventually reveal the answer if you’re unable to figure it out.

An element of magic is thrown into the mix with the eyepiece: a gift left to you by AS, without which ‘you are as blind as the rest’. Wearing it reveals otherwise hidden diagrams, lit up in luminous blue scrawls, and concealed objects needed to solve certain challenges. It adds a nice ‘alternative dimension’ aspect to the gameplay and if you become stuck, it’s always a good idea to pull out the device to see if there’s anything you’ve missed. The way it changes an old phenakistoscope film is particularly unnerving…

If even the eyepiece doesn’t help you on your way, The Room contains a handy hint system for when you’re unsure of what to do next or can’t find a hidden item. Tiered clues mean you’re not presented with an outright answer straight away and are instead given gentle nudges in the right direction. If you have enough patience, you won’t need to resort to these; and I’d recommend not doing so wherever possible, as the sense of achievement obtained from hearing a mechanism click into place after manipulating a key (for example) is very rewarding.

The epilogue doesn’t provide any answers and some gamers will be left feeling unsatisfied with its open-ended-ness.

When the game was originally released in September 2012, it was split into four chapters and the storyline ended rather abruptly. A free epilogue was then added in August 2013 to pick up where the title left off and set the scene for the upcoming sequel (released in December 2013). Unfortunately it doesn’t provide any answers and some gamers will be left feeling unsatisfied with its open-ended-ness – but what it does do is compel you to move straight on to The Room Two.

Unfortunately the second instalment in the series isn’t yet available on PC yet, although a recent post on Steam discussions advises of the following statement from Fireproof Games: “We have been focusing on the mobile versions of The Room Three for the past year or so. We don’t have definite plans for what comes next, but PC versions of The Room and The Room Two are very much under consideration.”

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Visuals and audio

Some of the big-budget console releases try to create a mood, spending millions on building plausible, living worlds in order to make players believe they’re part of something unique and special. The Room manages to achieve this with only mysterious boxes, strange devices and cryptic notes – and at a fraction of the cost. The amount of atmosphere contained within this little three-hour game is astonishing.

The specks of dust floating in the air which catch the light whilst moving around the room add to the uneasy atmosphere.

The visuals are one of its highlights: from the realistic-looking wooden structures, to the metal embellishments of the containers, to the luminous glowing images revealed when wearing the eye-piece, this is an absolutely stunning release. The fact that I maxed out the settings on my PC obviously helped but even on the lower levels it’s still gorgeous. The specks of dust floating in the air which catch the light whilst moving around the room add to the uneasy feeling that something has gone wrong here: why was this house abandoned by your companion so suddenly?

Any kind of music would have possibly detracted from the intense atmosphere and so the developers made the right choice in leaving much of the chapters quiet. That’s not to say they’re silent however: a clock ticks in the background as you try to figure out what to do next and mechanisms whir to life after you’ve solved a puzzle. The lonely visuals may imply you’re alone but that isn’t necessarily the case… once you start to hear the whispering voices that gradually get louder as you make your way through the game, you’re bound to feel a shiver down your spine.

Contributor Timlah recently wrote an article on the subject of the art of video game music. Although The Room doesn’t contain a soundtrack as such, it’s an excellent example of how the right sound can enhance gameplay and draw you into a title’s world.

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Replay and innovation

I can see many gamers returning to The Room at a later date – perhaps to play through all three instalments of the series in one sitting.

While The Room is an excellent release, it unfortunately doesn’t contain much replay value. Solutions remain the same after completion and once you’ve worked out how to get into a box, some of the mystery dissolves; and the only Steam achievements available are those for completing each of the five chapters. That being said however, I can see many gamers returning to it at a later date – perhaps to play through all three instalments of the series in one sitting – much as I myself have done.

There are many escape-the-room titles out there and the hidden-object genre seems to have had a bit of resurgence on Steam recently. However, not many of them will come close to the quality of Fireproof Games’ entry. At the time of its release in September 2012 it contained some of the most natural-looking visuals ever seen in a mobile release, and the tactile controls were so intuitive that the developer definitely managed to meet their goal of ‘not just making a big consoles game for iOS’. Here’s proof of exactly what can be achieved with a ‘casual title’.

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Screenshots and videos

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Final thoughts

The Room has sold more than a million copies (even my mum has played it) as well as receiving numerous recognitions. As well as those mentioned in the first section of this article it also won iPad Game of the Year 2012 from Apple, Best Handheld / Mobile Game at the Game Developers Choice Awards in the same year, and the People’s Choice Award at the ninth International Mobile Gaming Awards – and that’s just to mention a few. The game is currently rated as ‘overwhelmingly positive’ on Steam, with over 96% of the 2,026 reviews received so far being positive.

That mixed sense of fear and excitement you had as a child when opening a box you know you shouldn’t delving into – that’s what this game encapsulates.

Should this title be included in future 1001 lists? Definitely. It won’t appeal to everyone but for those who think a release originally made for mobile devices can’t be anything but ‘casual’, I urge you to take a look at Fireproof Games’ series. That mixed sense of fear and excitement you had as a child when opening a box you know you shouldn’t delving into, not knowing what you were going to discover or if it was going to be positive; it’s this feeling that The Room manages to encapsulate, and it does it so well.

Although it’s a little short, it’s an elegant and engaging game that builds a sense of dark experimentation. You won’t quite know where your search is taking you… but you won’t be able to stop yourself walking its mysterious path.

The lovely Barry Meade kindly answered our questions about the latest instalment in the series – The Room Three – at the Rezzed expo in March 2015. Our interview can be found here.

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Review round-up
Reviewed: PC
Source: We purchased the game from Steam for £3.99
Positive: Stunning visuals and ambient audio make for plenty of atmosphere
Negative: PC controls are a little clunky when compared to the iPad version
Score: 45 out of 60
Grade: Buy it now!
The Room, video game, review, graph, Buy it now!

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