The need to escape from a room is one of the simplest and oldest traditions in gaming. Over the decades there have been hundreds of variations on this simple idea and it’s not a premise that appears to be showing any sign of falling out of favor – either among developers or the more casual end of the gaming audience.
So it’s perhaps understandable that iOS is hardly short of locked-room games. Possibly one of the most popular genres on mobile platforms (after the seemingly never-ending glut of endless runners or clones of Farmville), with so much competition it can be difficult for a developer to stand out and gain recognition – but one studio managed just that back in 2012, and with their latest title they’re back for more.
Welcome to The Room 2, Fireproof Games’ follow-up to their award-winning original. While the sequel seeks to expand on what has gone before, it does so in fairly conservative ways. In the first game you were restricted to one area, so in The Room 2 you’ll occupy several distinct areas. Where the original title kept you focused on one central object, here you’ll need to flit between a couple. It’s clear from the outset that Fireproof has its eye very much on the casual audience – not seeking to overwhelm those who aren’t familiar with sweaty thumbsticks and more complex titles but also making sure that their follow-up expands just enough on concepts originally introduced in the first game that more traditional players feel that progress has been made.
The developer has been careful to preserve the thick atmosphere that led to The Room becoming one of the most prized releases on iOS, however. Some subtle audio work does a good job of replicating the creaking of a ship at sea, for example, or the faint whisper of wind in an ancient tomb. What little music exists presents itself sparingly: the tickle of a motif upon solving one of the game’s trickier puzzles will leave you feeling rewarded without breaching the carefully-cultivated sense of isolation that the developer goes to great lengths to convey. The various rooms you find yourself in are crafted from rich mahoganies, sepia-tinted photos and dim, dust-flecked spotlights. The Room 2 is demonstrative of a developer that knows exactly what it wants to deliver and how to deliver it; a lesser developer might have thrown in scenes in the distant future, or the long-forgotten past. But not here.
Graphically, it’s just as good-looking as its older brother. Of course, the isolated nature of the game means that Fireproof is able to pool more system resources into lighting and texture quality, but improvements in these areas are minor; it’s a slight shame that the developer hasn’t taken advantage of the extra power afforded it by the latest version of Apple’s tablet to truly push the visual boat out. It’s attractive, but it’s not a showcase. Given how little occurs on screen, we’re sure that more could have been done to make it shine on more recent iOS devices while ensuring it scaled well to older models.
Those hoping for staggering revelations about the series’ ongoing lore will be left disappointed; The Room 2 keeps its cards close to its chest and it never reveals them. You might see something that you think is the glimpse of a larger plot point, but you’ll never be certain. As it was then, so it remains. For the most part, Fireproof Games lets the player decide how to interpret the deeper meaning (if indeed there is one) behind the various notes, diary entries and other scribbles you’ll come across.
Where the sequel does make headway though is in the puzzle design. They start simple of course, easing you in; but towards the end you’ll be decoding a series of symbols with the aid of a code wheel, trying to find the correct combination of Tarot cards and aligning a set of drawers to unlock a secret compartment. The level of challenge is always kept fairly low (aided by hints, dispersed at set intervals should the game decide you might be stuck on a particular section), but nonetheless, the bar is high enough that genre veterans should still feel a small degree of smug satisfaction upon progressing to the next section. Many games stumble at the starting block when it comes to finding the fine balance between appealing to both the casual and the so-called ‘hardcore’ audience, but it’s a line that Fireproof Games manages to tread with finesse.
The game is short though, and on your first playthrough it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself spending more than 3 hours playing before seeing the final credits roll. It may seem churlish to criticize such an accomplished game for this fact when it retails on iOS for less than $5, but it’s a tad disappointing that despite the expanded set of locations, the length of the game hasn’t been similarly expanded. Many full price games on consoles offer barely more content despite retailing for vastly increased amounts however – but the brevity of this title is worth mentioning nonetheless. You can’t help but feel that it should be longer, that Fireproof Games could have done something to extend it.
The Room 2 is also very much an extension of the previous title. This is no reinvention of the wheel, so those hoping for something daring and original will be left disappointed. What you get with The Room 2 is very much what you got with The Room, except a little bit longer, a little bit more intelligent and with a slightly expanded scope. But it’s still The Room.
When all is said and done, The Room 2 is a solid follow-up. It maintains the quality of the original while finding room to expand on the scope of the series’ concepts. It’s still rather short and it doesn’t quite justify its status as a full-fledged sequel – feeling as it does like it could have been accomplished as an in-app purchase expansion – but it does deserve its price. These sorts of games are overwhelmingly common on iOS, but very rarely are they created with this degree of love and attention.
Just don’t expect it to win the same amount of awards as its predecessor managed to attain.
[This article was originally published on The Indie Game Magazine. It is reproduced here with permission]
Version Tested: iPad