Escape the Room: Limited Time
Most of us don't generally wake up with a mystery to solve, and when we do it's usually of the boring "Why am I wearing someone else's shoes and why is my hair fuschia" variety. But for the star of Escape the Room: Limited Time, a free Android escape adventure by Gameday Inc, it's a bit more sinister than that. He regains consciousness on a hospital gurney with a burning pain in his chest and a brand new scar to show for it. His kidnappers appear to be two young children calling themselves Black and White whose only information to offer is that he better get a move on and find his way out... before the newly implanted bomb in his chest explodes. It's a race against time if you want to solve the mystery and survive "the game". Who are the other people you encounter locked up with you in this maze of bizarre rooms, and what have you done to deserve playing this twisted game with Black and White?
Gameplay is simple, as you'll see from a comprehensive tutorial at the start of the game thanks to one of your prepubescent kidnappers. (Just because they surgically implanted a bomb in your chest doesn't mean they don't care.) The game consists of a series of locked rooms to conquer, each one unique and standing as its own "level". Just tap on an icon at the bottom of the screen to choose as action such as "take" or "examine", and then anywhere onscreen to interact. Clues and helpful items can be hidden anywhere so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for sneaky details or suspicious looking furniture. All your items are stored in your inventory where they can be combined, disassembled, more closely examined, and so forth at your leisure. Well... okay, not really at your leisure since taking your time is a good way to wind up spontaneously rearranging your innards.
At the start of each level, the bomb in your chest is reset, and the longer you spend trying to solve each room, the more the representative green bar will shrink and change colour to let you know you're dangerously close to repainting the walls with your insides. Fail or set off a booby trap, and you'll have to restart the room unless you have an object to turn back time to before your unfortunate decision. If you're really struggling, there are several optional in-game purchases you can make for items like "The Hand of God", which instantly solves puzzles, that can really help when you're down to the wire. These aren't necessary to complete the game, of course, but will probably start looking really tempting the harder the going gets as the levels progress.
Analysis: Limited Time really is an absolutely gorgeous little game that packs a ton of quality and intrigue into a relatively small package. Though the writing occasionally feels a little stiff and awkward, it still manages to weave a remarkably solid bit of adventuring and a great thriller tale in with some really substantial escape-the-room gameplay. It's definitely not early Stephen King and you'll probably think a lot of the plot sounds kind of familiar if you watch schlocky horror thriller movies at all, but it's cheesy, fantastic fun that really adds a whole layer of entertainment to the game to make it feel like a cohesive adventure instead of just a series of random puzzles. Which are, by the way, pretty darn good. The difficulty level ramps up gradually and you'll need to use your brain for a lot more than you would for other titles that just simply have you use objects on other items.
Unfortunately, without the ability to zoom in on the screen manipulating tiny or slim objects can get frustrating, especially when picking up really small objects can be annoyingly precise. I played on an HTC One S, which isn't exactly known for its small screen, and still ran into issues grabbing small items, particularly the jigsaw pieces. The timer is also obviously going to be a turnoff for some players, though it usually feels generous. Without any sort of cursor to change when you pass over an interactive area, you'll need to check everything out and essentially "toss the room". This is, admittedly, exactly what you'd do if you were in the protagonist's situation, but it does make that tendency finicky hotspots that much more painful at times.
Despite an occasionally clunky design and a forced time limit, however, Escape the Room: Limited Time is easily recommended for patient point-and-click fans who love a good cheesy thriller story. It isn't perfect, but it's a remarkably beefy experience packed with puzzles and mystery that you can easily sink into whenever you have a spare moment. The slick, professional design, clever rooms, and engaging mystery makes this a flawed but ultimately fun free title that's well worth checking out for its pricetag of nada.
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an HTC One S. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.