Between a Room and Prison

In a world of synonyms, every word looks the same (I’m looking at you, English). I actually quite like looking for the subtle differences. For instance, a maze is somewhere you try to find the centre – a labyrinth is somewhere you try to escape.

At least, that’s my opinion anyway.

I recently finished The Room Three, and I’ve been musing on what I liked and didn’t like about it. I’ve always found the series pretty interesting, but it seems like the flaws increase with expansion. It’s probably the Lovecraftian edge that draws me to it – a mysterious element that is sinister to begin with and becomes more horrific the more deeply it is examined. I’m talking about The Null, which can only be seen by those who look for it (literally – you need a special lens to see it. Spiderwick, anyone?). Throughout The Room series it plagues the characters who work with increasing fervour to understand it, challenged at every turn by boxes within boxes, secret compartments, puzzles all put in place to hide the truth of it. Perhaps for good reason.

It’s never really explained what The Null does, though. The game infers that it powers machines that can create portals and summon scary scary monsters and cause flashing hallucinations. I know that sometimes it’s better to leave it to the imagination, but even so, I would’ve liked to know more about its nature than just as a mystical power source at the centre of the universe.

The narrative is engaging in The Room series, at least, especially in The Room 2 where we end up more closely following the path of the protagonist’s mentor (maybe) AS through the letters left behind. It all has a mad scientist-esque vibe to it, if a little more tragic. There’s not so much of it in The Room Three, despite the little tidbits built into the scenery and the letters that leave me itching to know more – like with Maggie, the fortune teller. She appears in The Room 2 as well and I would love to learn more about her. All we learn here is that she is far too smart for the Craftsman, and how it works out for her.

I’m not too sure about the multiple endings. It ended up just falling down to what you went through the final door with. I was expecting something a lot more expansive and branching throughout the whole game rather than just at the end. I’m glad I didn’t have to start all over again to find the artifacts, though – it was frustrating enough seeing the puzzles there but not having the stuff to solve them with. I don’t want to have to deal with the slow transitions all over again.

(My issues with the Mysterious Artifact puzzles actually came down to a few missed switches. It was maddening! )

Annoyingly, the setting is never really made clear, which I feel is a shame because I feel it’s pretty important when it’s historical – or at least set in the past. I never discovered exact details of the setting, only that it’s 19th century-y. No location, no time, which is a real shame. Personally, I like to imagine the setting as Victorian England – but what if it was Scotland? Or France? Or somewhere in the US? How would we know? I want to know! It would have been a nice way to add more depth.

The Room series is all about satiating curiosity, discovery and making connections (because that’s what a puzzle is!) which is pretty cool. I wish, however, it hadn’t lost so much of its ‘what’s in the box’ vibe, which is what I loved about it most in the first game. After that it gets a lot more confusing, where the box becomes a bunch of room fragments, and more like putting puzzle pieces together instead of figuring out how to open the box. That’s not so cool. By that time, the dodgy interface gets a lot more infuriating and you end up furiously tapping on the screen to figure out what’s a dooddly-dad you can use. I’m not all that sure The Room really suits a mobile interface, but I haven’t played the PC version of the first game.

The ironic thing is, by the time The Room Three comes along with its fully fledged rooms I had no idea where to go! (Pro-tip: Look for the shiny shiny stuff.) In terms of setting it was a lot more interesting though, because there was a much greater sense of purpose about the rooms which I really enjoyed. It had a much stronger impact on me.

Long story short, I did actually enjoy working my way through the game. It was interesting and really drew me in, even if it doesn’t really sound like it above. I’m hoping, if Fireproof make another installment it’ll go back to the simpler ‘what’s in the box’ style it started with. It actually seemed to be heading towards that in The Room Three, but the final culmination of each of the puzzles was still too scattered for my liking.

I guess once Pandora’s Box is open you can’t exactly put everything back in there and start again. That being said, an objective like having to lock all this knowledge up could be interesting. I don’t know if it would work, but I’d love to see a Room where we must seal The Null away.

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