Cube Escape: Case 23
The latest installment in Rusty Lake's wildly popular point-and-click horror adventure series has arrived in the form of Cube Escape: Case 23, also free for iOS and Android, and right away its apparent that this already surreal series is getting even darker. As it opens, you're investigating the murder of a young woman, someone who may look a little familiar to you if you've played Cube Escape: Seasons and Cube Escape: The Lake, and this isn't your cut-and-dry homicide. Hope you've got your sunglasses ready and puns all thought out. To play, just click the tiny black arrows at the edges of the screen to move around, and the cursor will change whenever it passes over something you can interact with. You can click an item in your inventory to hold it to try to use it somewhere, or you can scroll through it using the white arrows or by dragging up and down on that side of the screen. You're looking for evidence as you examine this grisly scene, but this house has some seriously weird secrets, and it's going to take a gumshoe who can think outside the box to make sense of things... if, that is, there is sense yet to be made, and that's just the tip of an adventure that continues to add up the puzzle pieces from the previous games. Settle in, folks, this is a long one... and get ready for a jump scare or two.
Cube Escape: Case 23 is strange... which, I guess, is about what we should be expecting by now. The series as a whole is full of odd, recurring imagery, and you'll recognize a lot as you play through this installment. The mood is, as usual, unsettling, with a low soundtrack and general vibe of wrongness aided by the signature visual style that's full of heavy black lines and subtle noise distortion. While the gameplay tends more towards the clever than not, sometimes Cube Escape's tendency to hold your hand as little as humanly possible can come back to bite it simply because of how strangely implemented some of the puzzles are. In a few cases, it isn't apparent when you're making progress with something, and a lot of the game will simply come down to experimentation to try to uncover the dreamlike logic of it all.
Which isn't to say Case 23 is without its good, old-fashioned detective work, but others feel more like they're solved simply by running through your options more than any sort of logical reasoning process, and the pictures in chapter three are a little bland by comparison. Figuring out what you're supposed to do in a game when you haven't been given any instruction is always satisfying, but when you get stuck in Case 23, you can get stuck hard, particularly when it comes to some fussy clicking to interact with certain things. Despite all that, Cube Escape: 23 is still an appealingly macabre and otherworldly experience, one where you can feel that the creators have taken pains to put meaning in every aspect of its construction, and certain pop culture influences will be even more obvious this time. And it's a lot of construction, too, since, like Cube Escape: Seasons, Case 23 is a pretty big game, and an extremely creative one at that, packed to the gills with all kids of puzzles and surprises. Rusty Lake continues to dazzle and disturb in the best possible ways, and while you won't get all your answers here, and we're really hoping they can pull it all together at the end, you'll be waiting for the next installment to come in a big way.