The Dark Room 3
Suddenly, puzzles! Thousands of them!... well, maybe not so many, but still quite a lot. Master trapper extraordinaire Jonathan May finally returns to his celebrated Dark Room series after over half a decade with The Dark Room: Humanoid Intelligence Experiment #3. Think you have what it takes to escape the confines of one of the strangest places ever built? Prove it!
Just like The Dark Complex before and the original Dark Room, this game is controlled entirely with the mouse. Moving your cursor around the screen causes your perspective to move in the same manner, so swing to the left, right, and so forth to look around. Certain spots in each area can be interacted with by clicking on them. Of course, it won't always be immediately apparent what those clicks do; most of the fun in the Dark Room comes from not only figuring out solutions to puzzles, but what each puzzle actually is, and, in general, each room has its own unique one to solve. Because the movement of the camera and layout might be a bit disorienting for some people, you might find it handy to keep a pen and paper on hand and make your own map and notes to help solve each of the puzzles. (Bonus points for eventual descent into madness and leaving behind only a sheet of paper that reads "All work and no play makes ___ a dull humanoid.")
If you have trouble differentiating colour, make sure to turn on colourblind help via the bottom left of the title screen. Doing so will enable a helpful text prompt letting you know the colour of the room you're working on, and whatever colour your mouse happens to be hovering over at the time. If you need a break, just make use of the game's autosave function; leave, and you can pick up right where you left off the next time you start the game back up again by choosing "continue" at the title.
Analysis: It doesn't take a lot to make a puzzle game, but it does take a lot to make one stand out in your memory for longer than it takes to actually complete it. Jonathan May's Dark Room series seems to accomplish that effortlessly. A lot of that comes from the easy marriage between otherworldly design and inventive gameplay. If you ask someone who has played the Dark Complex now, even five years down the road, their reaction might be to narrow their eyes and hiss "the red room" with the same amount of theatrics Lex Luthor might use for cursing Superman. There really is nothing else like it, and getting to experience it on your own for the first time is wonderful and more than a little strange, an experience punctuated by the sort of "Aha!" moments that make puzzle solving so rewarding.
Of course, the Dark Room's sink-or-swim approach to gameplay, not unlike getting tossed without your floaties into the deep end of the pool, means that players who require instruction to grasp the concept and proceed are probably going to be a little baffled and disconcerted here. Being the sort of person with both the pathfinding and problem solving skills of a particularly dense dog with a blanket thrown over it, I initially had a bit of trouble getting my bearings as I moved from room to room, and more importantly, figuring out what was required in each one. The Dark Room series has always demanded a certain willingness to experiment, and the third installment is no different, sporting puzzles that require attention to detail and the ability to think outside the box.
But as challenging as the Dark Room can be, it never feels like it crosses into the realm of the unreasonable. For me, that distinction depends on whether your reaction to any given solution is "Oh, I get it!" or "How was I ever supposed to figure that out?" If we're being honest with each other here, I did need to resort to some help to solve a few puzzles, or at least nudge me in the right direction (dog under a blanket, remember). In most cases, (especially in the Cyan room) I found out that my problem was simply getting disoriented; using omnipresent glowing button as a focal point can really help with this. Once you know what you're doing, you can't help but marvel at how smartly everything is laid out.
While not as big as The Dark Complex, this third game in the series still offers up six rooms and some exceptionally abstract puzzles. The simple truth is that the puzzles themselves aren't usually that complex... instead, it's puzzling out what the puzzle actually is that's difficult. (The puzzle puzzles, if you will... no, you start making sense!) The Dark Room 3 is every bit as captivating as its predecessors, and another feather in the cap of Jonathan May. Whom, might I add, has quite a promising career ahead of him designing devious lairs beneath supervillain hideouts.