I’ve just spent a day exploring an impossible doll’s house that seemingly wanted to drag me screaming into a hell dimension. Bit weird – but par for the course in mobile adventure series The Room.
This fourth entry finds you investigating the disappearance of an engineer and his high-society wife, with the aim of recovering an artefact. But – as The Room aficionados will know – things are never that simple.
Unlike The Room Three’s instant horror – where you’re within minutes snatched off of a train and hurled into a dungeon – there’s more of a creeping dread vibe in Old Sins.
The game begins in a dusty attic, rain pouring down outside. You spot something – a body? – out of the corner of your eye, and quickly fix a light. Moments after shining it on the doll’s house, you’re sucked inside.
Although there’s an optional progressive hints system, Old Sins doesn’t care for hand-holding. As you abruptly find yourself standing in the doll’s house foyer (which looks suspiciously like a full-size mansion), it’s up to you to figure out how to proceed. You tap interesting-looking items for investigation, unpinch to zoom out, and swipe around to look some more.
Before long, you realise Old Sins is all about details and discovery. If an object has a lever, you should probably pull it. If there’s a button, press it. If none of these actions do anything, it’s because you haven’t yet figured out how to make the objects work.
There’s no fluff or filler. Whatever you find has a logical use somewhere. You might not know where when staring at a strange contraption, but there will be a eureka moment when you suddenly recall a star-shaped hole you saw earlier that could house the star-shaped hunk of metal in your mitts. Take notes, basically.
This may sound like any good mobile adventure, but Old Sins sits beyond its contemporaries. It’s visually richer, with lived-in, tactile environments. There’s clutter and grime, dust hanging in the air; pop on an eyepiece and weird symbols are daubed all over the shop, painted by a madman. And there’s a great sense of creativity and pace. You’re not just finding ‘object A’ and plonking it in ‘location B’. Sure, there’s a bit of that, but Old Sins more often feels like you’re completing connected puzzles that form a coherent whole.
One of the perceived issues with The Room series has also been addressed. Each previous instalment found the series moving further from its roots. Whereas The Room was about puzzle boxes within puzzle boxes, The Room Three was knocking on the door of Myst-like roaming adventuring. Old Sins utilising a doll’s house as a hub, but allowing you to venture into several rooms, and having puzzles requiring trips between places, is a stroke of genius. You get the expansive nature of a Myst without all the tedious trudging around.
House of horrors
I’ve already mentioned the game’s visual smarts, but Old Sins ramps up the sense of atmosphere in other ways, too. Stick on headphones and you’ll be surrounded by ominous distant creaks, whispering voices chattering in the darkness, and a stereo image that gives you a strong sense of place. Also, it’s properly creepy.
Mr. Engineer and his wife were into some pretty shady stuff, and their diaries are dotted about, mentioning a strange force called The Null, which made their very home twist and writhe. And there’s very obviously something wrong with the macabre doll’s house, not least in you being repeatedly sucked inside of it, and presented with insanely complex clockwork contraptions to pit your wits against.
Add to that occasional scares – a mask going full-on devil-worship in your face; a Lovecraftian horror ejecting you from a room with a kind of ferocity you don’t expect from a thoughtful puzzler – and you know this isn’t your typical point-and-tap.
Arguably, there’s a lack of freshness, which is the game’s one downside. Series veterans might feel like it’s more of the same. Fortunately, ‘the same’ in this case amounts to some of the best puzzling on mobile.
The Room: Old Sins is available for iOS. An Android version is due soon.