The Room Two

[14 April 2014]

By Eric Swain

The Room was a puzzle box of a game, a tightly interconnected framework of digital interactions mapped to an illusion of physical manipulation. It maintained the illusion by bringing the player along down it’s matryoshka doll rabbit hole until the very reality of the game’s world was twisted around you, before finally ending on a mysterious extra dimensional door calling you forward. Given it’s Lovecraftian inspiration and unnerving tone, it made sense that the game ended on an image compelling the character into an unknown void. The Room Two picks up right there, and says, nope, that was just half the journey. For better and for worse.

I really feel that The Room Two might have been better off being titled The Room Part Two so there wouldn’t be an misconceptions about the game. It’s the second half of the story, but also the second half of the experience. I had trouble acclimating myself to the puzzles because the interactions in this new game lack that cohesive physical connection between the various moving parts of the first game. Instead, much of the elements that make up the sequel’s puzzles are scattered around a room. In the first game, the pieces of each puzzle were all part of the same box, so you could imagine an infinitely sophisticated set of internal moving parts working in tandem even if they couldn’t have fit within the box’s physical dimensions. The seeming impossibility of the box’s space only increased the mystery by giving the exterior world a seeming grounding in real world physics.

The Room Two says “screw that” and does what it wants. That’s how it feels coming into it cold. It took some time to realize that the game really is the second part of a more complete experience instead of a full on sequel because the interactions between puzzles only make sense if you view it as a continued extrapolation of the increasing unreality of the puzzle box from the first game. The first game began with cracking a chest high safe and inside that was a torso sized box and inside that was an unfolding panel that relied on spectral panels looking into different dimensions to make up for the lack of its surface area. Following this logic, one can easily see the next step being to present various objects around a room that have only some sort of mystical connection to one another as the next form of puzzle. This seems doubly true when the final solution of each room is finding the exact right place to stand in order to find a hidden dimensional gateway into the next room.

Yes, the Room, singular, is now somewhat of a misnomer in describing the game, as you will experience at least half a dozen different rooms, each with their own aesthetics—from a Mayan temple to a 17th century pirate ship to a mad scientist’s laboratory. It is interesting to move around between these different settings and leave behind the darkened room of the first installment. Instead, now we can see walls and hear different ambient sounds that create a sense of mood and place within the new settings. And while mechanically the new set up is exactly the same as the old one, puzzles strung together by a vague narrative that compels the character to continue, the lack of physical cohesiveness within a single object does grow tiring. Now the game isn’t about recognizing which parts of the puzzle box are necessary and by extension interactive. Instead, now the game is about wandering from station to station trying to find which disconnected interaction will allow the whole set up to move forward.

The puzzles themselves are no picnic because the different elements are disconnected, making the logic of what to do next that much more obtuse. The hint system has been updated to notify the player that a hint is available much more quickly, and I had to use it far, far too often just to make myself aware of what area of the room I was supposed to be looking at. In the first game, I had to rely on the hint system only once and ended up smacking myself in the head for being so thick. And I never had to move past the first stage of vague hinting into more detailed explanations. In the sequel, however, there were a few times when I had to wait for new hints to become available just to figure out what interaction it wanted from me. It seems that The Room Two recognizes the weaker design of it’s puzzles, and the tweaked hint system is a band-aid for the situation.

If nothing else, The Room Two proves itself to be a master of atmosphere. There are moments that are truly creepy and beyond unsettling without ever having to resort to cheap shocks or exploitative material, like so much of modern horror. The through line of following in a colleague’s footsteps is also engaging enough given the few scattered notes that the journey is expressed through.

That background story is indicative of the game as a whole. The game ends with little answered and almost nothing resolved. Instead, the more interesting facets of the story are those that remained (probably thankfully) unexplored. The game hints at larger implications about the cosmic forces that bind and tear at the universe and are too grand for us to fully comprehend. And while it is true that a mystery loses all interest once it is explained, it is also true that continually implying something significant without providing a payoff can render it meaningless.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/180720-the-room-two/