The Room 2 review: spooky iPad game
The Room 2 is the much-anticipated sequel to The Room, the splendid and mildly spooky iOS puzzle game that took the iPad by storm. Can The Room 2 recapture the magic (and gamers’ hearts)? Find out in our The Room 2 review.
iPad puzzle gamers in their millions fell in love with The Room in 2012. The key to its success was twofold: a simple core gameplay mechanic, based around solving lock-and-key puzzles to peel back more and more layers of an ornate box; and beautiful and eerie graphics to complete the package.
The locked door hiding a secret is the oldest narrative trick in the book, and games have been running the old 'find key X to open door Y, thus earning you key Z' racket since Monkey Island in the 90s (and before). But The Room blended this old idea with new technology to elegant effect. The rich, evocative graphics - among the prettiest seen in a mobile game of any stripe at the time, let alone a puzzler - gave the simple actions atmosphere and gravitas. And by using swipes, pinches, rotations and tilts to activate the various mechanisms, the developers harnessed the tactile qualities the iPad is so effective at offering.
Like The Room, The Room 2 is based on a series of puzzles, most of which can be solved either by manipulating physical objects or matching linked items (from obvious pairings such as a star-shaped dial and a star-shaped hole, to insects, playing cards and parts of toy ships). Where it departs from the previous game is in the scope of the puzzles.
Now, instead of multiple boxes inside one another (and within a single room), there are multiple boxes, chests, model palaces, Tarot machines (if that's the right term) and miscellaneous scientific apparatus, scattered across a series of rooms in epically divergent settings. From a ship at sea to a jungle temple, the developers have absolutely gone to town on location work.
Does this dilute the purity of the gameplay? Not really. Table dressing was actually always a big part of The Room's allure, and the cosmetic variety of the puzzles doesn't detract (in the main) from their quality.
The Room 2 for iPad review: Horror elements
It's true that the sinister frisson of the game is more foregrounded. We wouldn’t go as far as to call this ‘puzzle horror’ - it’s more incidental than that, and in truth not quite scary enough to earn that title - but all the levels have been created with an eye on your fear gland, or at least your spook bladder. Particularly when you use the viewing lens.
Did we forget to mention that? Oh dear.
The lens, as in The Room, is a vital and recurrent part of your puzzle-solving repertoire: a head-mounted viewing device that (when activated) lets you view hidden secrets, fingerprints and quasi-magical bits and bobs. If in doubt, stick the lens on, since it's usually involved in some way. But while it's activated your field of view is hampered, which adds to the tension when unseen markings suddenly become apparent. Needless to say these unseen markings are rarely jolly.
The Room 2 for iPad review: Difficulty level and length
One speculative reservation we'd venture is that The Room 2 seems a bit easier, at least early on, that the previous game. Put it this way: we got a lot further in before hitting the cognitive walls that had us reaching for the clue button in the last one, whereas only the last puzzles had us stumped for very long here - and the clue icon remained mercifully untapped. (The clue icon lights up if you've achieved nothing for a few moments, offering a gentle but usually vital nudge to the next solution. Resist!)
It's hard to quantify difficulty in puzzle games - perhaps we've just got wise to the developers' way of thinking after playing the previous Room - but it felt like there were more of the sequences in this game where we were picking up items and immediately knowing what to do with them.
If Fireproof has lowered the bar a shade, it would be an understandable if disappointing strategy for a sequel aiming squarely at the mainstream, rather than happening upon it unexpectedly. We'd stress, though, that there are tough head-scratchers in here for the puzzle hardcore. And it's a longer game in total, with a total of six chapters to the first game’s four. One of the six is about the briefest of linking levels you could imagine - unless there are secrets we’re missing - but the other five each have plenty to get your teeth into.
If you like The Room 2, you may also like:
The Room 1 - obviously. But it's a bargain at 69p, and includes an extra 'epilogue' chapter
Machinarium - an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure that presents a puzzle on each screen. Also has evocative graphics, albeit without the horror aspect
Year Walk - but this shares some of the chills of The Room 2. Our reviewer says: "The overall intent of the game is to make you feel lost and confused, trying to muddle your way to back to what may or may not be safety." Which sounds delightful!
More strong work from the team at Fireproof, if a little bit 'more of the same' - the emphasis there being on the word 'more'. The Room 2 retains the good points of its predecessor - simple but addicting puzzles, combined with rich, sinister graphics - and amplifies each in careful but significant ways. The puzzles and the visuals alike are more varied, and (while they remain a cosmetic bonus rather than a fundamental element) the hints of horror are more foregrounded. The essential gameplay itself is the same, but The Room was always built on sound foundations. We look forward to the next instalment.