Review: Play With Me
Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
I’m a big fan of puzzles, but I can also be pretty picky about them. I enjoy puzzles that present all the information you need to solve them up front, and then leave it to you to make the logical connections. That means I don’t care much for puzzles that expect you to do massive experimentation to reach the answer, like those super hardcore ones that present you an image and expect you to dive into the file metadata to find your clues. Play With Me doesn’t go that far but it expects a lot of the player, between its unexplained mechanics and tenuous leaps of logic. And that might even be okay, if not for a boatload of additional problems.
You are Robert Hawk, and investigative journalist on the trail of Illusion, an elusive serial killer. Your car crashes on the way to somewhere with your wife Sara, and you awaken in a dingy, green-tinted locker room. It seems Illusion was on your trail as well, and now you’ve got to play his game to escape his clutches. His game, as it turns out, is hiding door codes all over this dismal place in little fragments, forcing you to shove crates, calibrate monitors, and cut open corpses to find everything you need to get doors open. You might also need to contend with evil puppets, inject yourself with green goo, and suffer a bunch of lame jumpscares, but it’s mainly the door code thing.
Play With Me plays much like a point-and-click or even hidden object game, presenting you with a scene and expecting you to puzzle your way through it. There are items to collect and notes to skim, but the focus of every room is the keypad that unlocks the door to the next room. As you progress the codes will become more complex, requiring you to find multiple notes scattered around and combine the numbers and letters found on them in the right order. You might need to work out the name and password for a computer to get them, you might need to squeegee blood off a wall for a code, or you might need to hold up a damn mirror to your monitor to read a note the right way.
Clever puzzles are always a joy but the ones here are trying too hard to be clever, and end up sailing past that mark to frustrating. The third room, for example, is an absolute orgy of clues and riddles scribbled all over the place in ultraviolet ink and they have to be combined to make codes, so if you screw up one part of a clue it’s going to throw the whole thing off. There’s a note that looks like letters but some of the letters are supposed to be numbers but other letters are just letters, and you need that to access a computer whose screen you need to calibrate with what looks like a code but really just needs to be zeroed out. And sometimes it’s not even the puzzle’s fault but rather the game for not sufficiently explaining itself, like how I got stuck for ages in the second room because I didn’t know my scroll wheel zoomed in on objects.
The puzzles and the questionable designs surrounding them are the biggest problems with Play With Me, but by no means the only ones. This is supposed to be a horror game but apparently that’s accomplished by loading up on lame jumpscares and loud stingers to annoy players to death. There was one point where I found a big creepy spider on the side of the screen and stared at it for awhile, and then when I moved my mouse it triggered a loud-ass BONGGG that made me jump as the spider lazily crawled away. Nothing in this game is actually scary, from the scenarios to the characters (your boy Robert has decent voiceovers but everyone else in the game sounds like a joke) to the jumpscares, but that won’t stop them from screaming at you nonsensically every scene.
I suppose if you’re the kind of person that loves more outside-the-box-ish puzzles, Play With Me might hold some appeal for you. You’d still have to get past the awkward presentation, but the puzzles are plenty involved as long as you can follow the logic. That’s all too many caveats for me, though, so I’m going to advise passing on this one and finding a more substantial, even-handed adventure. Puzzle games and horror games are not exactly rare on Steam, and you’d probably have an easier time finding a better merging of the two than solving the obnoxious riddles of this one.