The Dark Room is based on a series of YouTube videos created by comedian John Robertson. The series parodies old-school 1980s text adventures, such as Zork, where Robertson plays an antagonistic narrator who goads you into making different choices. The series is absurdist and silly and became popular enough that the Dark Room managed to become a touring live show. Now The Dark Room is being turned into a game for Steam, where it currently sits in Early Access.
Now, I had never heard of The Dark Room until playing it for this preview, and so the game was my introduction to it. The game is rather simple: You see the narrator in front of you and he describes your predicament. You have awoken to find yourself in a dark room and must now try to work your way out. It is a bit like a pen and paper RPG with a highly aggressive (read: normal) GM, and you have to make choices based upon the situation described. However, most of the choices will lead you to a messy end, for example looking for the light-switch may lead to you crying in despair and electrocuting yourself on the switch.
Most of the time, you are just going through options with a trial and error approach, since it is very hard to predict the outcome of any choices. There is an element of skill, I suppose, in memorizing the enormous number of options in order to achieve the fabled good ending.
Of course, the limited gameplay and unpredictability is the point. The Dark Room has solely set its sights on comedy, and I would say it has largely succeeded. I found myself chuckling at quite a few of the responses, and the game is willing to go down the route of some rather dark comedy, such as the narrator describing in great detail how you have suffocated a little puppy to death when it was trying to comfort you. There are some gags I found that fell flat, but Robertson’s portrayal of the narrator is so enthusiastically delivered that I didn’t really mind.
The main issue I have with the comedy is in the form itself: The Dark Room is a parody of text adventures, and part of the joke on YouTube and in live performances is that you aren’t really playing a game at all. Now that The Dark Room really is a game, that joke wears a little thin. I could see how being in a theater, shouting out answers at Robertson and him coming up with elaborate ways to kill the player would be a lot of fun, but in a game where the options are pre-selected removes that creative element somewhat.
Now, while the game does have limiting pre-selected answers, I will give it credit for the sheer number of options and the effect they have on the game. Several times now, I have thought I was getting close to the golden ending, only to have it ripped away from underneath because I forgot to stroke the cactus in the corner of the room or feed the angry spider on the roof. This really does make it difficult to achieve, which from looking online seems to be the appeal for a lot of people. I’m not too sure I find that enough to keep me going, but I can understand why a lot of people really enjoy The Dark Room.
The game is still currently in Early Access and only has one level. Another level is promised in the good ending (apparently, I have not yet reached it) but there is currently no precise word on when that is coming out. The game is pretty inexpensive and already has a fair amount of content, so if this type of game sounds appealing to you I would heartily recommend it. Just don’t expect any of your whizz-bang fancy graphics or pulse-pounding action segments. Instead, just sit back, relax, and enjoy dying over and over again trying to turn on a bloody light switch.