As mentioned on Monday, I was bitten by the escape room bug in January 2019. I may not have been successful at all seven I’ve completed so far but that’s doesn’t seem important to me: each of them were fun, and has made me want to try out even more throughout this year.
If you’ve never done one yourself, I’d suggest playing The Room for a digital experience that feels similar. I picked up the first title on iOS when it was originally released by Fireproof Games in September 2012, followed by the sequel when it came out on PC in July 2016. I’d never tried the third instalment though and Christmas seemed like a good time to revisit the series; so with the games discounted in the Steam sale, I purchased them all so my other-half and I could have a marathon-length The Room session.
The first game takes place in a single room and begins a strange story involving the research of a person known only as ‘AS’ into the fifth classical element, ‘Null’. This is described in notes found within various puzzle boxes and its up to the player to figure out how to open each one. Your main inventory item is a special lens that allows you to see things made from or touched by the element, and this often reveals mysterious symbols or alternative versions of reality whenever you put it on.
I remember the jarring feeling when I first started The Room Two and realised it was no longer based in a single location. This time there are a number of rooms, each with several tables or other items which can be manipulated instead of just one box. It can be a little overwhelming at times because you’re not quite sure where to start; but somehow, it all just seems to flow. I’m putting this down to clever design by the developer as it’s a great way of making you feel as though you’re clever enough to overcome the challenge.
It’s clear that Fireproof Games took everything they’d learnt from making the series so far and put that knowledge into The Room Three. Pete and I had managed to complete the first two titles in one sitting but this one took us around ten hours, and felt more like a ‘complete’ game than a mobile title. Instead of completing one location or room at a time, you’re able to travel between them and use items from one in another. You’re also provided with an additional lens which enables you to manipulate objects within small spaces such as keyholes.
It amazing how much atmosphere the series packs into each instalment – even more so when you consider they were originally created as mobile games rather than full PC releases. Although the sharp piano notes in the background and the dust motes lazily floating speak of loneliness, it feels as though there’s always someone watching you. The visuals are realistic yet somehow hazy at the same time, which gives each episode a dreamlike quality: it’s almost as if you’re inhabiting a room straight out of your imagination.
The atmosphere wasn’t the only highlight of the third game however. When we’d reached the conclusion, we discovered there were several endings and we’d have to go back in for further attempts to open them. I’ve written before that this isn’t something I normally enjoy and my usual solution is to resort to YouTube to see any missed content – but The Room Three handles multiple playthroughs in such a clever way that I just couldn’t resist. We ended up playing on and achieving all four endings in the same evening.
I’ll try to explain without giving too much away and spoiling it. Throughout our gameplay, we came across a number of items and locked doors we couldn’t yet use and so carried on towards our main goal. We were so focused on it that we didn’t realise there were other things we could do; so when this was hinted at after the final cutscene, it was a revelation. All along there were puzzles within puzzles that would open up other objects or routes – along with a particularly good challenge involving a clock and the time in the real world.
The thing I love most about The Room series is the feeling of achievement once you’ve figured out the solution to a puzzle. It’s as if you’re the first person to discover what’s in the box and behind the next door – and ultimately, escape from this world and the grip of the Null element. The developer has done such a great job of recapturing that during each instalment and making the player feel as if they’re the only one with the wits to overcome the changes inside. If an escape room based on the franchise was ever created, I’d be all over it.
The fourth game in the series – The Room: Old Sins – was released in Januaury 2018 on iOS first, the same as Fireproof Games’ previous titles. I could purchase it now and play on my mobile phone during my daily commute, but I’m more interested in waiting for it to arrive on PC so I can experience it at home. I want to be able to set aside an evening to curl up on the sofa with my other-half, get sucked into its atmosphere, try to solve its puzzles and uncover further secrets about the Null element.
There’s no news about a PC release just yet but hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer. In the meantime, I’ll continue getting my escape room fix in the real world while waiting for the digital.