Review: The Room
Humans are fidgety by nature. We like to push buttons, turn keys, click things, snap things, and so on. A few game developers have cottoned to this and put extra effort into making their interfaces particularly satisfying to click on, Blizzard chief among them. It took a surprising amount of time for someone to make a game about clicking really satisfying buttons but it finally happened, and this is it. The Room may claim to be a puzzle game but honestly that’s secondary to how utterly enthralling it is just to move the puzzle pieces around.
A mysterious invitation has brought you to an even more mysterious house, containing a most mysterious safe in the attic. Finding a letter and a strange eyepiece, you are bidden to open the box and plumb the secrets within. There’s no one combination or key that will open it, though. This vessel is encrusted with hidden compartments, levers, dials, and keyholes which you will have to puzzle through to crack it open. And that’s just the tutorial, leading to smaller yet more complex boxes within. Along the way you’ll uncover notes detailing the history of the container and the circumstances of your benefactor, all leading to a climactic revelation.
That’s all well and good but what this really is is the world’s most elaborate fidget cube. Each of the game’s five chapters challenges you to break the seals on a particular puzzle box, each teeming with parts to press, slide, rotate, align, or unfold. These mechanisms are manipulated by clicking and dragging (a decent approximation of the game’s original touch controls on mobile) to turn keys, slide out drawers, or rotate dials. What makes this game so delectable though is the incredible detail with which these components are designed. Moving parts are animated with exacting care, allowing you to count every notch on a dial or track the movements of panels as secret compartments slide open. The sound effects in particular are spectacular, capturing every metallic click and latch catch and clockwork whir and creaking board.
The immersion here is stunning, achieved by focusing on the key elements and ignoring everything else. The titular room is mostly dark and featureless for most of the game, with only floodlights to illuminate the object of your fiddling or a table to rest the smaller boxes upon. That draws the totality of your attention on the puzzle itself and the intricate detail with which it is crafted. It helps to remain so focused because some of the puzzles are quite challenging to overcome, especially ones that require combining parts collected from all over the box. Be sure to check every foot the object sits upon and every screw holding the thing together, lest you miss a subtle groove or dial. You get some terribly clever inventory items as well, ones that must be manipulated themselves to fit the situation, along with that strange eyepiece that reveals otherwise invisible features and clues.
There’s really no complaint I can level against The Room aside from it being too short for how delightful it is. You should be able to complete all five chapters within two hours, with no secrets or branching paths to watch out for. The story supports this one well, with creepy overtones paid off in spades by the conclusion. Atmosphere is something this game does incredibly well, from the smallest switch to the ambient whispers of the house. In truth it does everything it sets out to do incredibly well, enough so to make it an instant and unreserved recommendation to anyone. We all like pushing buttons after all, and you will find no finer buttons to push than these, my friend.