A short and “sweet” Lovecraftian adventure
It wasn’t too long ago that I reviewed a game called Karma. Incarnation 1. It was fine for the most part, but I remember noting that, as a point and click adventure, it was lacking on the “adventure” part. It felt a bit linear, even for a point and click adventure. In fact, a lot of the P&C adventures feel like that today. They’re more focused on having you click around on things than on an actual exploration. And yes, I know that “point and click” is in the genre title, so of course I expect to be doing some of that. Still, a little bit of adventuring wouldn’t hurt anything.
Enter A Room Beyond. No, wait, where are you going? That’s the title of the game, I’m not actually telling you to go into a different room! Sit back down! Sheesh… Anyway, where were we? Oh, right, we were talking about this game. While games like Alone in the Dark may have gone by the wayside, A Room Beyond does its best to follow in the footsteps of the Lovecraftian P&Cs of the 90s — and it honestly does a darn good job overall!
It’s Been one of those Nights…
A Room Beyond begins with the nameless protagonist waking up in the middle of a cave, completely unaware of where he is or how he got there. Now normally, I’d say something like “well that’s what you get for drinking so much”, but it’s pretty obvious that something more than a night of cracking a few cold ones open with the boys is afoot. Something much more sinister. Now if only he could figure out what it is…
Unfortunately for the protagonist, things don’t get too much better. After rescuing himself from the cave and wandering around in the nearby forest for a bit, he eventually comes across a woman tending to her farm. Although she doesn’t have any information on who or where our hapless hero may be, she does warn him not to stick around for too long. It seems as though a mysterious figure known as the Fog Wanderer has been appearing at night, and those who happen to cross his path don’t live long enough to see the sun rise the next day. You know, because they’re dead.
A Room Beyond‘s story can best be described as “narrative minimalism”. Staying true to its Lovecraftian roots, A Room Beyond always tells you just enough information to get by, but never enough to make complete sense. While that may sound like a bit of a turn-off to some of you out there, you need to keep in mind that the Cthulhu mythos is always shrouded in mystery. You’re just doing what you can to survive while things constantly get worse around you. You rarely look at the big picture, and by the time you do it’s usually too late. Mysterious, otherworldy tension has always been at the very core of Lovecraftian horror — and it’s nice to know that it still has an allure, even in 2017.
Never the Same Twice (Usually)
I’ve already compared A Room Beyond to Alone in the Dark once, so it probably wouldn’t surprise you if I said that the two play similarly. And that’s good, because they do. A Room Beyond presents itself as your standard, P&C adventure in terms of gameplay. You chat it up with a few people, pick up some items, and solve a few obscure puzzles. It’s fun, but it’s plain… and awfully peaceful for a Lovecraftian game.
And then *bam* — Chapter 2 starts. Now you’re not just picking up sticks and throwing heirlooms in the river. All of a sudden, A Room Beyond has you fighting off giant glowing bugs with a hot fireplace poker. And what’s that in the corner? A health bar? That certainly wasn’t there before! What exactly is going on here?
Well, the answer to that is simple — change. A Room Beyond is divided up into five different episodes. I, being the assuming fool that I am, merely figured that the episodes were there to help with the game’s pacing. And technically, I’m right. They do set a nice pace for the game. But that isn’t all that they do! A Room Beyond steadily becomes more complex, throwing in new mechanics and more complicated puzzles with each new episode. That’s an impressive feat for a point and click adventure, if you ask me.
To be fair, some of it did get a bit stale after a while. While I appreciate the inclusion of combat, you can only kill so many ethereal cockroaches (or maybe they’re spiders?) before it starts to become tiresome. Fortunately, René Bühling (the game’s developer) seemed to be aware of that. Newly introduced mechanics never remained the focus of gameplay for too long, and were only sprinkled in here and there afterword. So, even though mechanics like combat may be oversaturated in the beginning, they balance out nicely in the end.
A Room Beyond is also what you would call “meta”. Although it takes place in a Lovecraftian world, it doesn’t take place in the Lovecraftian world. At least, not the original one. As you progress throughout the game and begin to realize the Cthulhu-infused nightmare that you’ve been thrust into, your character realizes that nothing is adding up. He remembers reading Call of Cthulhu. He knows that none of what’s happening should be. But it is. And he doesn’t know why. Self-referencing titles can be hit-and-miss, but a “meta Lovecraftian universe” just has a nice ring to it.
A Blast from the Past
Almost as equally impressive to A Room Beyond‘s gameplay was its ability to successfully emulate that “90s feel”. Retro-inspired 8 and 16-bit games are a dime a dozen today, but the 90s are a bit more difficult to copy. With the ever-increasing capabilities of the PC, and the emergence of systems like the N64 and PlayStation we had just entered a time where 3D gaming was existed… but it wasn’t quite up to snuff with where we’re at now. Those graphics are bad by today’s standards, but there’s still something charming about them. A Room Beyond captures that very well. Not just with graphics, but with its entire presentation. When you’re playing the game, it’s easy to believe that originally debuted 20-something odd years ago. And I mean that in only the best of ways.
What have you got to Cthu-lose?
A Room Beyond‘s biggest downside is that it’s relatively short (depending on how good you are with point and click adventures, of course). If you aren’t the type of person to let a little thing like gameplay length get you down however, then I’d recommend checking this game out. A Room Beyond finely embodies the spirit of the Lovecraftian P&Cs that populated the 90s, and is sure to scratch that Cthulhu-shaped itch that you have.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: René Bühling ; Developer: René Bühling ; Players: 1 ; Released: June 13, 2017 ; T for Teen ; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of A Room Beyond given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher