Review: The Room Two
iPad game The Room was Apple’s iOS Game of the Year for 2013, and everyone who played it knows why. It was a fantastic mishmash of puzzles, adventure games, and atmospheric storytelling. Leaning heavily on the likes of Myst, it was like someone took the mechanical puzzles from that classic series and crafted an eerie, atmospheric game out of purely those elements. One puzzle’s solution leads to the next puzzle, and the next, and so on. This string of puzzles and solutions made for an enticing cocktail that kept you playing to discover more and more.
The Room Two takes everything that was great about the original and magnifies its brilliance. The basic gameplay mechanics are unchanged, but developer Fireproof Studios has added loads of new elements to the equation. Those wickedly clever boxes-within-boxes are still on display, but they’re accompanied by lots of other objects scattered around the various rooms you’ll find yourself in. That’s right: you’ll venture to numerous locations — various places around the world and in different eras of history — and each one gives you real-world objects like an old fashioned camera or a model boat to play with and uncover the secrets of. You’ll also find yourself going back and forth between different parts of a room to solve a single puzzle.
Even though the gameplay is built on solving puzzles and unlocking ever more complex mechanisms, don’t assume that it’s too difficult for casual players. It provides a satisfying challenge, but helpful hints are always just a tap away. The game does a great job of providing players with help if it’s needed, and staying out of the way if it isn’t. Thanks to this, there’s no need for difficulty levels or settings. Likewise, everything about the game is made to minimize the user interface and draw you quickly and easily into this fictional world.
The story revolves around a mysterious scientist — a relative to the game’s protagonist, aka you — and his connection to a strange chemical substance he calls Null, which has powerful mystical properties. For reasons I’m still not entirely clear on, this scientist goes missing and you wind up following his trail through a series of puzzles and doorways and rooms. The first game ended abruptly, leaving players desperately wanting more (always a good idea), and The Room Two delivers everything we hoped for when the first game teased its inevitable sequel.
But the story is secondary, and almost unnecessary. The mechanical puzzles are so rewarding in their own right, you’ll gladly accept any excuse to interact with them. The objects in this mesmerizing world are magnificently enticing; they beg to be touched, turned, and played with. And the plot threads are so disparate, with so much more unsaid than said, that you ultimately wind up filling in the gaps with ideas of your own, anyway.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what exactly makes The Room‘s formula so potent. Like I already said, there’s not much story to speak of, and what there is is lean and kind of vague, revealed mostly in handwritten notes and journals. There are precious few characters, which again we largely learn about from letters and diaries. But then there are those ingenious puzzles, which certainly play a major part in the game’s appeal. They’re so cleverly constructed, so full of aha! moments, that you can’t help feeling fulfilled each time you complete one?
In the end, I think the secret of The Room‘s success comes down to its presentation. It’s just phenomenally well done. The object textures leap off the screen, the locations are beautifully atmospheric, and the game engine’s physics are honed to perfection, making everything feel real and tangible. Movements are controlled with familiar touchscreen gestures like pinching and swiping. Every sliding switch or clicking latch has a heightened sense of physics that makes the whole game somehow more fun. It’s all photo-realistic in appearance, and beautifully rendered in realtime 3D. Before starting to develop its own games, Fireproof made a name for itself by crafting in-game assets (3D objects, characters, etc.) for other companies’ triple-A titles. Seriously, how smart were they to come up with a game that plays to those strengths?
Fireproof has proven itself as the kind of developer that doesn’t release games until they’ve been tested and tweaked with a high degree of polish, and boy does it show. Everything works exactly the way it should, there’s not a glitch to be found, and I experienced zero crashes or errors.
And just like before, The Room Two leaves you wanting more — even though there’s probably at least twice as much content as there was in the first. But don’t go expecting a third entry in the series. The cliffhanger ending of the original is fully wrapped up here, and we get a proper, satisfying resolution to the tale — even if a few plot points are ultimately left dangling. (Wondering who the central figure known as “A.S.” is? You’ll still be wondering after the credits roll — unless the answer is hidden in some cryptic clue that I missed.) And yet… there is a tiny hint at the very end that maybe there’s more to the Null story than what we’ve seen so far — maybe a lot more.
The Room Two is a delicious treat for the mind and the senses. It conveys a glorious sense of unending discovery, making it the kind of magical gaming experience that comes along far too infrequently. Why can’t more games — iOS or otherwise — be this good?