November 22, 2012, 7:05 AM — The Room for iPad is a fascinating game. You're in a room with a well-locked safe, and your goal is to get that safe open. The game makes the story more detailed than that, but The Room's storyline is its least interesting aspect. The fun comes from the hours of puzzles and challenges required to break open the safe, coupled with the game's delightfully creepy ambience.
There's a lot to like about The Room. The first thing you'll notice is that ambience mentioned earlier: The game's graphics are excellently drawn; the faux three-dimensional room--and the safe it contains--look great, and are fun to explore. And the soundtrack and sound effects set a mood not quite of fear, but something entertainingly off-putting about the experience: Why is this safe so intricately locked up? What the heck is it protecting?
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(Okay, when the creepy whispers start in Chapter 3, yeah, it's a little scary.)
All that excellent mood setting and imagery wouldn't amount to much were it not for the intuitive gameplay. You'll need to navigate around the room to unearth discoveries--oh, this table leg can also unscrew to reveal a hidden key, and this seemingly plain panel masks a tappable portion to access another section, and tapping these buttons in the right order will open a secret drawer.
As I mentioned at the outset, there is a story behind why you're digging through The Room and the safe it contains, but that's the boring part. The fun is the journey: figuring out how to solve the increasingly intricate puzzles in the game. There are in-game hints--awkwardly written, in my view--that are exceedingly helpful in wending your way through The Room. The Internet also plays host to a wealth of Room walkthroughs; while my colleague Dan Moren completed the game without consulting any, I'm not too ashamed to admit that I did get stuck three times, relying on such guides to help me further along.
If the amusingly complicated gizmos in The Room aren't fanciful enough for you, the game adds a further element of magic with an eyepiece you discover early on. From time to time, you'll need to put the eyepiece back on to discover otherwise hidden imagery necessary to solve certain puzzles. That element adds a nice dimension to the gameplay, though I did find that it somehow took me out of the game a little bit, just because it feels a bit faker than the rest of the game somehow.
Where The Room excels is in layering its puzzles upon further puzzles. When you find a key, you might also need to rotate pieces of that key to make it fit in the keyhole you discover. As you place cogs into a gear system, you might need to reposition some to get further along. And when you discover items that you can add to your inventory, you might in turn need to examine your own inventory to uncover the secrets those items hide.
If The Room has a weakness, it's the controls. I found them fussy and occasionally frustrating. You can double-tap to zoom in, but only pinch to zoom out, and sometimes getting those zoom gestures recognized in either direction takes multiple tries. Since zooming is an integral part of playing the game, that can get a smidgen tiresome. But the truth is, you--like me--probably won't care. The game and its puzzles are so engaging that you'll look past the intermittently annoying controls to get back to the intricately crafted puzzles.
The Room is great. The puzzles are both challenging and discoverable, and you'll milk at least three hours of fun gameplay from the app. The graphics and sound are top-notch. If you prize replayability over those other factors, however, note that it's limited; once you've completed The Room, it's unlikely you'll want to go through the entire game again. But you'll probably get a kick out of introducing the game to someone else and watching them work their way through it.