The Rooms is something ‘other’ – a mysterious and uniquely interactive horror novelette in which you explore the strange events that occurred during the night in the apartment directly above your own: a terrific mechanical grinding, sobbing, and then a dull thud. The old man who lives in the apartment, known to you as ‘Babe’, was arrested after you reported the disturbance to the police. Unable to forget what you heard and felt, you now enter his rooms, certain that something very wrong took place here – something compelling.
The door in front of you is green and the brass number 62 hangs just below the peephole. Police tape stretches across the door frame in a zigzag pattern. The incandescent light to your left flickers. Something terrible happened here last night. For reasons you don’t quite understand, you have to find out what it was.
In the hand-assembled deluxe edition played for this review, the story unfolds via three separate booklets, each featuring unique folding mechanics that cleverly hide and then reveal new aspects of your investigation. The Rooms is both a written and visual experience, with moody monotone illustrations depicting new areas, and displaying options that are now available for further inspection. Fold-out maps of the apartment’s floor plan and specific rooms are found within the booklets, and the deluxe edition also includes a loose handout, which provides a convenient place to note important information, track your mobile phone’s battery usage, and record the elapsed time.
STORYLINE: A slow-burning psychological drama with a deep sense of intrusion and uneasiness, The Rooms explores the gravity of your decision to commit the crime of unauthorised entry, while probing into the secrecy, and possible darkness, of someone else’s unknown life.
Stu Horvath’s intriguing story touches on personal issues of regret, loss, disappointment and acceptance, always introducing new aspects that suggest a greater external conundrum beyond the apartment’s rooms and your own consciousness. The horror that is present is mostly subtle: a creeping sensation of barely grasped dark undertakings, and something nebulous lurking in the background that’s almost wholly unfathomable. The writing is smart, contemporary and visually rich in describing ordinary moments and small details, energising the imagination as you make your way through the apartment. Even if you actually determine Babe’s activities from last night, can you hope to understand them?
GAMEPLAY: The Rooms constantly teases your emotions with many small reveals, tempting and subtly tormenting with curious discoveries, unusual circumstances and puzzling developments. Babe’s general habits and interests reveal both the mundane normality and weird, disturbing aspects of his character, challenging your comprehension of his life as you struggle to accept the reality of much of your own existence. You’ll peer into darkened rooms, cabinets and closed drawers, look at enigmatic old photos and paintings, and examine books, bottles and other unexpected objects, seeking to uncover the nature of ongoing activities taking place in Babe’s apartment.
Your amateur sleuthing takes place within a time limit, forcing you to determine what will and won’t be relevant to your investigation. There are many uncanny moments where the world shifts around you or otherwise alters your sense of time and place, resulting in an ever-growing feeling of strangeness and possible threat. Together with some of your own conclusions, these troubling elements direct your path forward, with the narrative always providing a new mystery to unravel, or a growing menace to avoid.
PRESENTATION: The deluxe edition (only 100 copies made) is a fabulous piece of individual, handmade art. The time required to create the numerous folds and cuts for the many flaps would have been excessive, plus the final assembly to then combine all of the spreads into booklets must have been a painstaking process. It’s great to see something different with so much creative, personal input – this is where independent projects cast off the restrictions of commercial production, resulting in a bespoke item that merges words and images with individual style and substance.
Yves Tourigny’s contribution to the project is impressive: his creative input is integral to the overall experience of The Rooms. The design and layout is very well conceived, with a logical system of directional graphics, and neat symbols. Interaction with the booklets is a joy, richly enhancing the gameplay as you physically open flaps to reveal new rooms, or closely examine items of interest. Also, many sections feature multiple folds, further deepening your engagement with the unfolding activity. Yves’ illustrations are also a highlight, perfectly matching the uncertainty and perilous qualities of the storyline with their simplified, blocky technique and shadowy tones.
REPLAY VALUE: Although not particularly long in duration, there are numerous alternatives to discover here, both content within individual rooms and as story endings. Like many effective mystery and horror tales, The Rooms generates a potently complex fascination, leading you further into the various storylines as you unearth disturbing details about Babe’s unusual lifestyle, and experience some rather odd, alarming happenings.
With many mystifying ambiguities, thought-provoking abnormalities and conclusions that are open to personal interpretation, The Rooms will doubtlessly appeal to your curiosity, resulting in further attempts to gain greater understanding by experiencing all of the available content. It’s an interactive adventure that offers substantial themes and unexpected surprises, rewarding those who do undertake repeated attempts.
Review by Michael Reilly