I’m never quite sure whether to refer to Riddle Rooms or The Room when it comes to this venue. The website seems to swap back and forth and always leaves me a bit confused. Something I am sure about, though, is that I’ve wanted to play the Dark Room ever since it first opened. It’s a simple concept: solve the puzzles and escape the room. No story and no specific theming beyond the room being dark.
And it really was. This room was pitch black, with only the faintest glimmer of light coming in from under the door. Certainly not enough to see anything by even after your eyes have acclimatised for the full hour. You may think that would be an excuse to create something without aesthetic merit, but at the end of the game they bring up the lights to show you what you’ve been doing, which means that they have to create something that at least looks well maintained. It’s a surprisingly nice-looking space, albeit a little utilitarian.
So, I guess it’s all about the puzzles then, right? Well, not quite. First off, there’s the layout of the room. They’ve done a great job clearly delineating the different puzzles and making them easy enough to find. That’s important; you don’t want to fail a room like this because you happened to miss something critical. We found almost everything in the game without help, and they’d made good use of the space to ensure that moving between puzzles was a challenge but not too tough. My one criticism was that they chose to have a relatively low table in the middle of the game (which they tell you about before you start!). I found that slightly nerve-wracking, knowing that, if I misjudged its location, I might find myself flying across the room.
As you’d expect, there were far fewer puzzles than in a typical room. I was worried that they’d have puzzle types that I’d dislike in a normal game, such as difficult-to-solve smell and/or taste challenges. Fortunately, there was nothing here that I felt was unfair or likely to leave you entirely stumped. Given a full sense of sight, this room would have been easy to solve in five to ten minutes with fun and logical solutions (although I’ll admit it wouldn’t be very challenging!).
In spite of all that, I found myself significantly let down by the puzzles. Firstly, one had a solution that worked by touch but which, for implementation reasons, didn’t fully work. It was a stupid restriction that they could easily have avoided, but it left me stuck on a puzzle because it didn’t behave like it should according to touch. My – incorrect – assumption was that the mechanism was just a bit temperamental. I must have spent ten minutes repeating the same action, futilely, before Mrs Logic finally took over and did it right. Another challenge felt like it was really short on signposting. There was no real suggestion as to what you were meant to do, and it rapidly became more tricky if anyone started moving props around.
The big issue, though, was with user feedback. I often comment that maglocks need audio feedback to tell you that they’ve opened. That’s even truer in a game where you have no sight. And yet, here, they had challenges that opened cupboards without telling you. At one point, we spent ten minutes trying to get the correct solution to a puzzle which we’d both already solved. Probably several times. The fact that the GM’s advice was pretty much useless, telling us to repeat what we’d previously tried, didn’t help matters. It got bad enough that I seriously considered walking out of the game because we were making no progress on two separate puzzles and were just being given unhelpful clues.
The final nail in the coffin was finding a cupboard that was almost impossible to open with just two players. I eventually used my foot and managed to make it work but, by then, almost all the fun had drained from the game and, when the time finally ran out, it was almost as much a relief as a frustration.
The core part of this game was a clever concept, but it was sorely let down by a lack of user feedback and some GM decisions that felt questionable to me. By the time the game was over, I felt entirely disillusioned about the room.
We played as a two, and that was hard work. I think three or maybe four would be a better fit for the game, but be warned that the endgame may feel a little crowded because it will be difficult to work in parallel.