Frustration Comes in Small Packages.
Oh, adventure games: I love you so much. From all the hours I spent on Myst and Riven as a tween practically bolted to her PSOne, to the hours I still spend replaying Theresia: Dear Emile when I take the time to pull my 3DS out of its usual hiding spots, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with you. And you know what? I thought we had something special. I thought our bond meant something, and we were going to be bound together until the end of time.
And then you do this to me. I don’t know how to feel anymore.
Crimson Room: Decade feels like a date gone wrong: there’s potential, even a little bit of fun there, but things start to go downhill once they start reciting passages of Ulysses and show you their collection of bootleg cubist paintings.
For those not in the know, Crimson Room: Decade is a sequel to the 2004 flash game Crimson Room, which has been ported and revamped on various platforms, such as the Nintendo DS. Where it used to be a point-and-click “room escape” game with a slick minimalistic look, now it’s given a Unity makeover, with all the grace and beauty of an N64 game.
If the developers were trying to go for the retro look with this one, then they did a good job: textures don’t look quite right, ranging from fluid to flat; sound cues pop in and out with inconsistent timing, sometimes phasing out halfway through; the sound effects are clearly open-source; there are poor-quality music riffs that I could swear were ripped from the original flash game; clicking on things is unresponsive; and controlling your character is awkward and stiff.
I think the controls mostly suffer because the room is so small. Adventure games like RealMyst worked just fine with free-roaming, since each of the sub-areas were large, and walking around was far more convenient than clicking to get to the next static image. In Crimson Room: Decade, I found myself yearning for point-and-click controls, since moving around feels superfluous given the lack of space and the few objects that you interact with. The puzzles try to cater to the free-roaming gimmick, but it isn’t enough.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say “puzzles”? I clearly meant to say “guesswork”.
The original Crimson Room this game isn’t. While it looks like the original, has the same sound effects as the original, and even has some of the same puzzles as the original, your prior knowledge will not help you here.
Most problems can be solved by randomly clicking on things, and rubbing them together to see what ticks. With the Unity makeover, the developers decided that convenient inventory screens were for boring people, and forced you to set your entire inventory on a desk, where you can turn objects around and poke at them. While this seems interesting, and could possibly have added depth to the proceedings, it’s underutilized, and most of the time you’re just grabbing your swiss army knife and switching blades to poke other objects with it. The puzzles themselves are a bit of a mixed bag, since long strings of gameplay can be solved logically, such as when you need to get a washrag to clean off a dirty record or a safe dial. Other times, the solutions are so ridiculous that I found myself smacking my head as I stared dumbfounded at my computer screen.
(Hint: Look at the screenshot above and you’ll get a taste of what I mean.)
Look, I get it: adventure games are supposed to be cryptic. That’s the point. There’s a difference between being entertainingly cryptic, like Theresia: Dear Emile, Myst, or even the original Crimson Room, and going through each puzzle hoping it’s the last, just so the game would end.
And end it does, with an ending that is par for the course considering the series, but baffling considering the dark tone of the game’s plot (Darker than Viridian Room, even, which involved you putting the soul of a man who committed suicide to rest). Unlike the original Crimson Room, where you were some schmoe stuck in a room after drinking too much the night before, Crimson Room: Decade sets you as a modern-day French investigator, checking out the recently-exhumed early twentieth century cruise liner La Crimson to find out about his relative who died after it sunk. From there, you’re welcome to pick up journal entries that describe the man’s slow breakdown under Communist brainwashing techniques, and his nights alone inside the room. Let’s just say that the ending (and the last part of the game as a whole) has very little to nothing to do with that plot, and we’ll move on.
It’s something you have to see to believe.
Look, I wanted to like Crimson Room: Decade. While it had a lot of technical flaws, there was something charming about the puzzles — even when they drove me crazy — and I like the idea of using a bunch of objects in strange ways in order to get out of a sealed room.
What I don’t like, however, are games that charge ten dollars for an experience that isn’t nearly as good as the free flash game they drew heavy inspiration from. If the game is on sale for around two bucks, give it a go with some of your friends and see if you can figure it out. Otherwise? Just play the original Crimson Room. You’ll thank me later.
Final Score: 1.5 / 5
Available for: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Degika, Dream Holdings ; Developer: Dream Holdings, TAKAGISM, inc; Players: 1 ; Released: June 10, 2016 ; MSRP: $9.99
Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this game from the publisher.