With most video games focusing careful attention to graphics, display, and sound design (often to their advantage), a game that uses a truly minimalist perspective is all but unheard of in this generation.
Stripping a game down to its base features, with no music or sound effects and only using text to motivate players, is a daring risk for those who pursue it whole heartily.
Not only do the creators need to entice people to delve deeper into their world using words rather images, they also must develop unique gameplay and a flowing narrative to convince players that their story will surprise and shock them, even with such a simple design.
Enter, A Dark Room.
What is this game? Where am I?
You wake up in a dark room. The fire is dead. The room is freezing. The game has begun. Doublespeak’s first game, A Dark Room, is a grim, yet vast, text-based adventure that compliments 1980’s ‘MS-DOS’ gaming while crafting an atmospheric experience on an otherwise very simple setup. While it may start off as a simple ‘Skinner’s Box’ model of playing (think of ‘Cookie Clicker’ or other click-a-thon games), the player is presented with game mechanics that revise and develop the storyline.
What’s is this game’s goal? How do I win?
I cannot tell you, as that would diminish this game’s strongest feature! A Dark Room’s story is set for the players to explore this post-apocalyptic world, allowing the narrative to be explained through action rather than constant instruction (if at all). What I can reveal is that the player follows an unnamed protagonist trying to start a new life with a woman, known as the Builder. As other Survivors set camp, you assign what materials they will gather for the Builder to create and expand your town. However, you are not safe in this Village, as the World ‘calls’ to you, wanting you to explore this ravenous realm and unearth its dark secrets. And you will follow that desire, one way or another.
What is the gameplay like?
Even though the entire game’s appearance and design is similar to older graphics of text-based games, the mechanics of A Dark Room is split into two definitive parts. The first half of the game is focused around collecting resources to allow your encampment to survive. One major component is gathering wood, which you must use to keep the fire going inside your Hut. As the Survivors arrive, you continue to collect additional resources, allowing you to carry cured meat and manufacture guns. Once the protagonist wanderlust intensifies, the game morphs into dungeon crawl-esque scenario, where the player explores the surrounding area, encountering enemies in nearby ruins.
Anything I should know before going in?
Unfortunately, this game does not overcome one major problem most ‘click-a-thons’ will encounter: constant positive feedback. For the first part of the game, the main focus is to push a button and wait for a reward. Once you explore the outside world, however, you need to explore an exact place to find an exact item to proceed, which requires you to laboriously comb through every area of an unexplored map. Without a quick reward, it is very easy to quit the game all together unless you are incredibly patient or look up a walkthrough.
So, what do you think about the game?
Have you ever read or seen Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road?’ If that story had a game, I would immediately point to A Dark Room. It’s amazing to see a crudely crafted game embody an expression of loneliness and uneasiness while traversing an environment explained only through words alone. Following a questionable character and uncovering the full story behind this apocalypse has left me speechless and that feeling alone has allowed me to recommend this game to any who desire to experience the secrets of a dying world.