In Praise of The Room Three

For the past few weeks I’ve been playing The Room series, a set of three games for mobile devices by Fireproof Games.  This week I completed The Room Three, and thought I’d write a quick review.
The premise of all three games is simple.  The player is presented with an ornate contraption, and the task is to unlock the secrets contained within.  Do you pull this lever, or press that button? What combination of switches must you flick in order to open the door? How do I make that panel slide back? Where is the key that fits that lock?
The first game in the series, The Room, presents a series of five puzzles.  Littered around the game area are notes from a mysterious guide who has gone before.  His messages present a vague narrative about the supernatural powers of a ‘null element’, the promised prize at the centre of the puzzle, but this is just a macguffin.  The puzzles are challenging and the interface easy to master.  There’s enough variation in puzzles to keep the player’s brain thinking laterally until the finale.
The Room Two takes what was good about the original formula – the game mechanics, the sparse sound design and the eerie aesthetic – and improves upon it.  This time we are not presented with just one object to unlock, but entire rooms of mystery.  Each level has a theme (a ship’s hold, a temple mausoleum, a clairvoyant’s seance room) and the messages left for the player are far more relevant to the solving of the puzzles.  The narrative, such as it is, picks up right where The Room left off, and we follow the clues to a satisfying end sequence in which the bright light of day smashes through the sombre shadows of the rooms the player has had to navigate.
All of this is really just preamble to The Room Three, my favourite app in the series.  Once more, the mechanics are improved a notch: we are now challenged by an entire island’s worth of puzzles.
The player is transported to the gothic mansion of Grey Holm and the hostile hospitality of The Craftsman.  Unlike the guide in the previous games, this man is a properly developed creation.  We catch a tantalising glimpse of our host at the start of the game, and see him for a truly shocking moment at the end, but he is otherwise revealed through the familiar ploy of letters dotted around the various game zones, as the story is slowly and properly revealed.
There is a satisfying sense of structure to the entire game.  In an early level we are shown an intricate model of the Grey Holm complex.  We know we are in The Pyre, a sort of lighthouse, and we can see other outbuildings too.  The foundry, the clock tower, the boat house, the observatory.  It soon becomes clear we will be playing a visit to each of those locations in turn.
If I had a criticism of the first two games in The Room series, it would be that the puzzles are too linear.  There is only one way to solve each level, and there is little room to explore.  The Room Three appears to be the same in this regard… but in fact it is not.  A pleasing non-linearity is introduced, in a manner that I shall not spoil here.  However, I will say that it is a clever narrative choice which layers an additional meaning onto the story.  It provides a brilliant denouement to the game that is worthy of the best mystery novels – the answer at once hidden and yet somehow in plain sight all along.  The Room Three succeeds in making the player truly feel like a protagonist in the story, and it does so with an unmatched aesthetic flair.
I really hope they make The Room Four.

The Making of The Room Three

The Fireproof Games team have posted an astonishing set of images to Flickr, showing the development of The Room Three.  Its fascinating to see how much care and iteration has gone into each aspect of the game: the puzzle design, the textures, the architecture and the cut scenes.  There are also similar image sets for The Room and The Room Two.

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