The Room (for iPad) Review. A Proper One. Mostly Out Of Guilt.

So a little while ago our very own Dr Hamhock ‘reviewed’ Fireproof Games‘ iPad puzzler, The Room. Or rather he didn’t, and neither did Dr. Ham C Hock. We all smiled knowingly reading through the mad old doctor’s ramblings, but never expected to actually be pulled up on the finer points of writing a review by the actual team behind the game. But that’s what happened. So we feel guilty. Sorry fellas. Please accept this complimentary ‘proper’ review as part-payment. We’ll also bung a KitKat multi-pack in the post if deemed necessary.

So, right. Proper review… Better get my proper keyboard out and sit on a proper chair.

The Room called to me from my friend’s iPad. It sat there, luring me in with a well rendered door handle, anticipating my grubby fingers that would soon be all over it’s intricate workings like some creepy fairground guy on cheap night. I was first given the chance to experience it on the London Underground. As it I needed any other pressure to perform well, an entire carriage of over-worked Londoners was now pressed up against me while I was challenged to crack an uncrackable safe. I’ll be honest. The safe remained uncracked. For a while at least.

You see while some puzzle-based games can confound by being overly obscure, The Room puts it all out there for you to discover. If you can’t find the solution, it’s usually because you haven’t looks hard enough. There are no ‘chicken and pulley’ puzzles, and yet nothing in the game feels contrite or over-used. It’s odd to say that something feels fresh and new these days, as a gamer with a couple of decades worth of experience behind me I often think I’ve exhausted the well of innovative experiences, but then along comes another game that just ticks every box. To cite the very first riddle in the game, you are given a clue and four possible answers. Now when taking into account the four possible answers in context with the clue it’s a very simple puzzle, but the game doesn’t make the four potential answers stand out as obvious. They are there, to find. This makes up the skeleton of the game itself. You are actively encouraged to explore the area fully, and then to explore it again, maybe even a third time if you think you need to get a different angle on things.

At this juncture it would be appropriate to explain the control layout for the game and I want you to promise not to run away when I say that it is all controlled by gestures and touch. Still here? Good!

See where so many games attempt to put a great experience onto the iPad and have to come up with some series of touch-based control options, The Room has a perfect set of controls that not only feels right, but actually makes me wish for a touch screen PC monitor. Usually the object – be it safe, box, table or other – is placed on a central axis that can be moved around and focused upon as you explore the intricate design for the next interactive area or clue. By swiping left and right you spin around the object, and moving up and down will, naturally take you to the top or bottom of the object. A double tap will focus on an area and zoom in, allowing for further interaction. Usually in a game you might just drag a key onto a lock. With The Room you do that, but then turn the key in the correct direction with another gesture. In fact it reminded me of the graffiti mechanic in Jet Set Radio. Drawers can be pulled out, screws can be loosened. It takes what is usual in this genre and then puts an extra level of interaction in there, which aids the game to give out a rewarding experience in the face of sometimes overwhelming challenge. A smile crossed my face numerous times as I was given keys that could be interacted with to fit specific locks.

To say too much about the narrative would be detrimental to your experience, but trust me when I say that in many ways the narrative is both fulfilling AND open to expanded thought and discussion, which is what good gaming experiences should always provoke. The ‘end’ of the game itself is an event that immediately resulted in me contacting someone to discuss it in fine detail – once I’d stopped pouring love on the game from a great height.

If you hadn’t noticed I adore The Room. It is everything I want from this kind of game and yet it also delivers in areas I’d never have even considered. The Viewing Lens you are given early on in the game is one such example. Equipping it gives a new dimension – sometimes literally – to the game. I could probably best compare it to using a black light on a hooker’s duvet. Extra clues become visible, seemingly impossible puzzles become achievable and the mind is tricked into thinking it’s seeing something that it can’t possibly be seeing. One simple filtered vision can give an entirely new spin on a fairly standard puzzle, and as such is brilliant.

Now at this point I feel I should highlight a couple of gripes. Firstly I wanted more from the game. Now this isn’t a complaint regarding the game’s longevity, instead a frustration that just as I got into the mindset of a puzzle solving legend the game ended. I don’t feel the game is too short, but perhaps it is fair to criticise a game for being so immersive an experience that one does not wish to simply wander off to some colourful gubbins from Rovio or Gameloft so soon. Secondly and this is something I have to explain very carefully so as not to spoil anything, but as the game develops it is clear that some of the puzzles are more than simple mechanical solutions. (Phew, think that was fine!) I loved the mechanical solutions, and some of the later ones were more mind taxing, offering a difficulty curve, but I did also find myself wanting another lock box to fiddle with. In fact what would have been interesting would have been the possible use of some form of personal date – be it pulled from Facebook or Twitter – that could have further personalised the narrative. Again I’m simply grasping for some form of constructive criticism, which is difficult.

Neither quibble are enough to warrant me having anything other that pure adoration for what the team at Fireproof have achieved with The Room and whatever they put out next – be it extra content or a new title – will be very much anticipated. The Room is not just everything that an iPad puzzle mystery game should be – take *that* Big Fish Games – but it is also an experience that I am keen to share with as many people as possible, much like one would with a great film or a good book. And that’s what this review is. A helpful nudge in the ribs to you, dear reader, to go out and invest a few quid* on what is surely one of the finest interactive puzzlers available on iPad.

If you have ANY common sense (and optionally, an iPad) you’ll be wanting to buy the game right now. So here is a very handy link.

* Yes, £2.99 at time of writing. And before you jump on the ‘Pfft, why isn’t it 69p?’ bandwagon I will gladly point towards the door and ask you to consider it your petulance is really worth the imminent arse kick. Too many great games are being forced to hit a base price – or worse still adopt a freemium model to make a profit. It cheapens the whole platform somewhat. If The Room were released for Kinect – the closest platform I could think of in terms of comparable gameplay – I would think nothing of paying £8-£10 for it. Because that’s a standard price for a good experience. The iTunes App Store is full of great games that earn their money, one way or another, and I would much rather that development teams and studios show a confidence in their product and actually charge a price that is fair in comparison to the amount of work that went into the game, alongside the experience the end user can expect. While speaking to the Carmageddon Funsize team they were aiming for a £1.49 launch price, with a rise shortly after. I applaud this also. As end users we need to support innovation and genuine experiences in two ways. One, buy the game. Two, suggest others do the same. Eventually we might see people stop gasping when a game doesn’t cost 69p.

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