We've had a good chunk of undeniably spooky stuff featured recently on Weekday Escape: monsters in basements, ghosts flitting about haunted mansions, trap-laden cells to flee from... a whole collection of classic horror-movie standards. Compared to this week's offering, however, all the aforementioned are about as "scary" as a gaggle of baby bunnies, all in their Sunday best, enjoying a tea party.
Hotel 626, an advergame created to promote Doritos snacks, is an amazingly innovative, beautifully-produced nightmare of a game. After "checking in" (giving the website your name, email and creating a password), you are immediately whisked away into the opening movie: your awakening, in the middle of the night, in your room at this hellish hotel. Strange noises echo in the distance. Your breath quickens, your heart pounds, and some animal instinct screams that you need to get out. You throw on your shirt, dash into the hallway, and then the real game begins.
The journey through the hotel is comprised of ten levels, each of which involves its own creepy, unique task or puzzle. Some are extremely simple: locating the correct door, for example. Others involve more complex undertakings, such as figuring out a code or snapping a picture of a ghost's face. None, to be honest, are objectively very difficult or intellectually taxing. What you're really playing against is your own adrenaline, and the knowledge that if you mess up/take too long you're bound to meet a rather unfortunate end. And that, really, can be far tougher to overcome than any MENSA riddle. Luckily, if you do fail and die, the hotel is magnanimous to offer you the chance to either try it again or move on to the next level.
One impressive measure of the game's creativity is the lengths that it goes to create a sense of immersion in the scenario. At the beginning, while registering, you are given the option to allow access to your computer's webcam and microphone; if you do so, both those elements will be used in later levels. Also, near the end of the game, players in the United States can enter their phone numbers and receive a kah-reepy call from a "friend." Finally, as the name of the game implies, the Hotel is only "open" (accessible) from 6 PM to 6 AM, the better to set the spooky stage. However, for those of us who are impatient (me) or too chicken to play the game in the dark (also me), you can easily cheat by changing the time on your computer.
Of all the unanswered questions posed by this enigmatic hotel, perhaps the greatest mystery of all is how any of this relates in the slightest to Doritos (least relevant piece of viral advertising ever?). Still...I don't really care. Hotel 626 is superb, with wonderful visuals and audio, and manages to approximate the fear of such a situation (so far as I can imagine) better than any other online game I've come across. Heck, if it'll encourage them to make more of these, I'll go out and buy a bag of fake-cheddar-cheese-flavored corn chips right now!
If you're brave enough, your room is ready...
Update: Doritos has taken both this and Asylum 626 offline and they are no longer available to play, unfortunately. Previously tagged as: advergame, browser, escape, flash, free, game, horror, macwinlinux, pointandclick, puzzle, rating-o