You awake to find yourself in a dark room!
For the forseeable future, my name is Darren and I’m either dead, dying or trapped in a dark room. This is a result of John Robertson’s video game version of his live action text-based adventure game called The Dark Room, released last week on Steam. I’m going to caveat the following review by saying, I was already a fan before I bought the video game, so be aware this may be tainted by bias.
To the uninitiated, you’re probably thinking text-based adventure games belong in the 80s or to the flailing mess that is now TellTale games. You’d be right, but John Robertson’s take on the retro format is something different. Your screen is taken over by a white haired avatar that looks like someone you’d meet in a goth bar, but who constantly offends you and has a laugh that wouldn’t be out of place on a cheesy horror movie villain. The aim of the game is to escape the dark room, but that’s easier said than done.
The format is as you’d expect – you’re presented with 4 or less options and each path you take continuously branches until you either win or you die, so it’s pretty straightforward in terms of controls. However, the further down the rabbit hole you go, the less you remember about where you’ve been. My total play time so far has been about 2 hours and I’ve died maybe six times, but knowing what I was getting into, I decided to scribble the occasional note as I go. Whether that’ll help me or just confuse things further, remains to be seen. So far I’ve been impaled on a meat spike (several times), electrocuted myself (twice), eaten some cheese and some lint, unlocked hard mode (where all the text disappears!) and gained a puppy.
As a completionist, I’m pretty doomed when it comes to this game. I NEED to explore all potential routes and I NEED to win – that’s my thing. But because the very nature of the game is to repeat the same or similar things over and over again, hoping for different results, it rapidly becomes the very definition of insanity. If you hate repetition, this is not the game for you.
However, just like the live action version, John Robertson’s constant abuse is what makes this game. “Gloves! They’re heavy and thick Darren – just like you”. Unlike the live action version, you don’t win some random “prize” when you die – you just die (I’ve seen people receive old computer monitors, deflated space hoppers, PS1 games no-one liked the first time round – I’m the proud owner of a chintzy teacup as a result of my attempt. My friend turned it into a candle in a somewhat ironic twist).
There is something delightfully nostalgic about playing it this game – it harkens back to simpler times. Its also really handy for those of us finding it increasingly difficult to find time to game. I know I’m not alone in favouring games that I can complete in a few hours or that are easy to hop in and out of without totally forgetting the controls. You can hop through a few branches of the winding maze of the dark room pretty quickly (and die even quicker) and with handy checkpoints means that you don’t always have to start from the beginning again – although if you unlock hard mode, you’re going to want to!
Check out the trailer here then go buy it!