There are some truly great puzzle games in VR. The genre lends itself very well to the interactivity, mystery, and tinkering play style that fits the puzzle genre so the two feel like they were made for one another. The Room VR: A Dark Matter is the latest example of how great a puzzle game built exclusively for VR can truly be.
Many of the best VR puzzle games, such as Transpose and A Fisherman’s Tale, use VR in novel ways to bend your mind and challenge your intellect, so The Room VR is rather muted by comparison. But what it lacks in brain-busting creativity it more than makes up for with a genuinely gripping narrative, excellent production values, and just good old-fashioned puzzles.
Fireproof Games have been making entries in The Room series for eight years now and each of their past games are some of the best you can play on mobile devices, so they’re a studio accustomed to getting the most out of new gaming platforms.
The tricky thing about reviewing a game like The Room is that the sense of continuous discovery is the crux of what makes it so special. You’re more than welcome to watch the gameplay video above, which includes the first segment of the game covering almost 10 minutes (although I’d wager it will take closer to a half hour if you didn’t watch it and went in blind) but I’m hesitant to show anything else. Going in blind is crucial to get the most enjoyment out of The Room VR.
Everything from the voice acting, environmental designs, object interactivity, and sense of existing in a living, breathing world are top notch here. Many VR puzzle games whisk players away to fantastical settings to sidestep the need to make places look and feel real and lived in, but that grounded nature is what makes The Room VR so good.
You begin the game on a balcony overlooking a very average city in a very average old-timey police station. There’s a projector rattling, a desk with some papers, and a sense of believability that’s missing from lots of VR spaces. This is what makes the paranormal aspects and otherworldly interference feel so intrusive and mysterious: it’s as if the real world itself is getting warped.
In The Room VR you’re tasked with investigating the disappearance of a renowned Egyptologist after a police investigation comes up with nothing. The adventure that follows spans around 5-6 hours, depending on how quickly you solve some of the more intricate puzzles, and spans much more than just the confines of a handful of boring police station offices.
What really sets The Room VR apart from its contemporaries is how effortlessly it melds various other things into its puzzle solving and exploration. Games like Form do a good job of subtly implying its narrative and Transpose is almost entirely esoteric in its delivery, but The Room VR wisely unravels a truly Sherlock Holmes-worthy drama with you at the center.
Visually, The Room VR is a feast for the eyes. Playing on PC with Oculus Rift S revealed great details in the textures, like when reading books such as the one pictured above for clues, and everything in the environments was extremely rich with detail. Obviously the Quest version doesn’t look quite as good, but I’ve played it on that platform as well and have no problems labeling it as one of the best looking games on Quest for sure.
Perhaps the biggest fault with The Room VR overall though is that, like a lot of puzzle games, it does sometimes struggle with pacing and difficulty. As intriguing as much of the story is, it would often feel like I’d go long stretches of time with nothing but my own frustration with getting stuck to keep me company. Getting stuck in a puzzle game in VR feels a bit more aggravating than in non-VR games because taking a break or occupying your mind with something else isn’t as simple as looking away or checking social media on your phone.
Once the headset is on you’re locked in which usually means solving puzzles more quickly since it has your full attention, but sometimes it means your frustration is compounded instead. On the flip side of that, it does give you plenty of time to solve things without holding your hand, which can be refreshing if you enjoy brain teasers.
Another impressive bit is how deftly The Room VR juggles so many different atmospheres and themes. It’s at once a detective mystery, an archaeological adventure, and an otherworldly thriller all wrapped together.
Some people will definitely take issue with the movement system, since the game is entirely built upon node-based teleportation and snap turning. But realistically it makes sense for a puzzle game since all of the actual gameplay can be done standing in place interacting with your hands. You don’t really need to sprint around rooms using smooth locomotion at all. Plus, it’s got the added bonus of eliminating the guess work of blindly searching a room for what to do next since you can surmise that important things are probably at each of your teleport nodes. That being said, it would’ve been great to explore areas more freely.
One of the game’s most important mechanics, Spirit Vision, reminded me of the Lens of Truth from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When you hold the lens up to your eye it lets you peer into the past and look through into another dimension to reveal clues and traces within the world around you. You can see an example of what that looks like in the trailer thumbnail up above.
The Room VR: A Dark Matter Review Final Verdict
The Room VR: A Dark Matter is an exemplary puzzle game that not only serves as a prime example of what makes puzzle games so compelling in the first place, but elevates the genre via VR with supreme interactivity, excellent visuals, and a palpably mysterious atmosphere. It’s only held back slightly by some minor frustrations with pacing and difficulty, but is otherwise one of the best puzzle games available in a VR headset. It carries the torch lit by Myst and demonstrates how engrossing a puzzle game can be when done right.
Final Score: 4/5 Stars | Really Good
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