After powering through The Guest and The Room Three in succession, the parallels between these first-person puzzle adventures became effortless to draw. They share similar foibles, like protagonists whose identities and occupations are secondary to the mystery at large, and that each title seems something of a misnomer. The Room (the first one) plants players in a space barren of detail, apart from an elaborate and ornate box, while The Guest thinks nothing of the player as a visitor in its world. The hotel suite that somebody traps you in ‒ a setting burdened with riddles ‒ establishes itself as the star instead.
The Guest replicates the inherent technology of 1986; ergo, I envisioned my lodgings as a time capsule, combing corners of the room for finer details beyond puzzle solutions. A record player replaces surround sound stereos, a projector fills in for modern cameras, and a typewriter gets more love than any computer. The minutiae steeps the accommodations in personality. Novels upon novels suggest residents are well educated, while scattered papers and boxes propose a greater obligation to one’s hectic work life.
But the remaining junk you find and pocket ‒ a headless bust, a pencil, a shampoo bottle, etc. ‒ lacks the character, the insight of objects essential to exploration games such as Gone Home. Sticking plates in somebody’s pants does not aid the story. Although legible notes are a smart touch, as is the freedom to rotate and examine knickknacks intently, hoarding body gel or an unsmoked cigarette brought an undesirable complexity to the puzzles. Every souvenir collected created a snowball effect. I spent more and more time digging into my inventory, deciding what mementos were gimmicks or integral to proceed.
Progress nevertheless came in fits and spurts. I’d knock out two or three puzzles back to back, then slow to a plod during riddles outside my wheelhouse. If you want to assess your range of mental acuities, The Guest is a must. I was a rat in a Skinner box ready to be substituted out whether I failed or fulfilled my goals, and I did both splendidly. A voltage meter required basic addition and multiplication skills, a decoder ring and anagram called for reading comprehension, and a melodious password relied on music recognition.
The Guest will vary in challenge, naturally, though one conundrum ‒ an alignment puzzle ‒ in its stable of dozens still felt diabolical. Sometimes the developers give you the tools to dial in a solution exactly; on some puzzles they don’t. I rotated two rings around a polyhedron to match a nearby image. I solved the puzzle early and arranged the symbols accordingly, but The Guest denied gratification until I evened out the illustration ‒ millimeter by millimeter, no allowance for error.
Another enigma wanted me to repeat a sequence of notes played by a music box, à la Simon Says. But the buttons you press in response do not match the pitch of the music box perfectly. While they differ in frequency and volume slightly, the disparities transformed the puzzle into a guessing game. Once cranked, the music box cannot be shut off; you must distinguish the notes produced by the buttons as the tune loops. It deceives a person’s short-term memory, trying to process one stimulus only for another uncontrollable force to interfere every second.
I expected a narrative payoff for all my troubles, and that blame partially rests with me, as The Guest succumbs to the confusion that plagued The Room Three. If The Guest was par for the course, consumers would peel back the fictional layers until the developers at Team Gotham smothered their burning questions. But my basic queries were never answered. Players control one Evgueni Leonov, a scientist by trade. Why must he undergo a labyrinth of analytical riddles?
When I deduce the answer to life, the universe, and everything, give the details to me straight. Talks of a furtive “benefactor” and “new beginning” raised questions, but Team Gotham did not deal the clues to devise an explanation. What makes Dr. Leonov special? What do his prayers and hallucinations achieve? Scratch your head as you will; I’m still trying to parse a mid-game drug trip.
Team Gotham paid me back with the atmosphere. As the developers attest, I promise you that The Guest is not terrifying in the least. Gone Home’s ending is the closest The Guest comes to achieving horror, too, yet I was just as on edge throughout each trial. The equipment that does populate the room evoked foreign and nostalgic feelings, including the suspicion that someone had watched my every move. The subtle background arias instilled comfort, but I dared not loiter.
A sharp wit and three hours put an end to The Guest and its puzzles, though I wasted another couple wrapping my head around the “plot.” Maybe you don’t agree with my assessment of the story, but when studios label their work as “a first-person exploration game,” I anticipate some exploration of the characters, settings, anything. At least the puzzle variety buoys The Guest’s better qualities: the room’s ambiance, the initial narrative mystery, and so on. I love riddles that test more than Portal’s goofy physics or Resident Evil’s object memorization.
Team Gotham asserts itself as a welcome genre newcomer in that sense, so one can hope a successor to The Guest has the answers it sorely lacks.
This review is based on the PC version, which we were provided.