The Room 2 review: Consummately crafted, spooky game for iPad puzzle fans
Last year, iPad puzzle gamers in their millions fell in love with The Room. 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 a tried-and-true narrative, and games have been using it for some time. 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.
It's true that the sinister frisson of the game is more foregrounded. I 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.
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.
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: I 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 me 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. I'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.
More strong work from the team at Fireproof, if a little bit more of the same, the emphasis there being on 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.