Over the years, my skepticism has waned when it comes to considering iOS a serious gaming platform. It represents exactly the wrong format for games that require tactile controls, so nobody expects to be playing Call of Duty on iOS. Still, it’s a wonderful canvas on which creative game designers can deliver entirely new gaming experiences. Think Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja or Monument Valley.
These games were successful largely because they took advantage of the unique input scheme of an iPhone or iPad, rather than starting with the assumption that retrofitting iOS with virtual joysticks or other facsimiles of existing controls was the way to go.
As developers are getting better at delivering these types of gaming experiences consistently, I’m coming around to the notion that iOS is a real gaming platform. In one case, playing to the differences inherent in a tablet was able to give rise to one of the most compelling games I’ve ever played.
Its roots are equal parts escape room, steampunk and Lovecraftian horror. Visually, it’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. Narrative-wise, it’s like a blend of all your favorite 1930s-era pulp fantasy, horror and mystery stories. And its gameplay is like operating in a dreamscape, where you’re trying to reconstruct a crime scene, and somehow an old brass Stirling engine is involved in some odd way.
Very weird. Very cool. And very addicting. I speak, of course, of The Room.
I first heard of The Room in one of those social media recommendation threads that start out with a simple “hey, what’s everybody playing?” and end up with fifty people arguing over which game download is the best of the bunch. A friend recommended it, but not in the casual sort of way one might mention a handful of favorite games. He went out of his way to make it one of those full-stop, put-down-whatever-you’re-doing types of recommendations that make you pause and wonder if your expectations aren’t being undeservedly inflated.
I did check out the game. And I was floored.
Unlike many of the modern gaming dynamics that are built around stringing people along by their brain’s own reward mechanism, The Room was about the journey. You never wanted it to be over. And the reason why you didn’t want to put it down was because you were legitimately interested in what might happen next.
“That small metal gear I found looks like it might fit on the crank in the base of this table,” I might think to myself while playing. And then the table might unfold in this impossible, steampunky kind of way to reveal a new mystery.
Addiction to The Room was thus something you could feel good about, because figuring out a puzzle was its own reward. This contrasted heavily with other games that kept you hanging on by awarding loot boxes or random goodies attached to marked points of progression. Playing those types of games made you feel like a gambling addict. The Room made you feel like you couldn’t put down a piece of classic literature.
I may have recommended The Room to a few other people. Enthusiastically. Perhaps even in an over-the-top kind of way. I can tell you, though, that no one is disappointed. And there have been three sequels.
Anticipation for the sequels from Fireproof Games was something like waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones. The release dates were so laughably far into the future, you’d wonder aloud whether you’d still be alive by the time they came out. And with the exception of the latest release, The Room: Old Sins, the release dates were merely movable goalposts that were more likely to be pushed out than not.
Still, the anticipation of the next game in the series was part of the appeal. My buddies Jim and Marc and I would notice activity on Fireproof’s site, then send cryptic Facebook PMs to one another like 11-year-old girls anticipating the next Justin Bieber release.
With the most recent release, Fireproof stuck to its guns and released The Room: Old Sins on time. I downloaded it as soon as it was available. I finished it in three sittings across as many days, updating Jim on his Facebook wall all along the way and anticipating the letdown once the final bit of the puzzle was solved and the game finished. I never wanted the end to come.
And isn’t that the mark of a great game? Never wanting it to end? I haven’t felt that way about a modern game in recent memory.