Handpicked Apps: A Dark Room
A good app is one that you get hooked on. One where you find yourself picking it up to play during every available minute of your day, throughout your lunch break and finally on the way home when blindly stepping into the road, engrossed in the game in your hands. A great game is one that not only includes all of the above, but one where you receive frustrated texts from your friends late at night asking you how the hell the completed a certain bit and how they can do the same.
For me at the moment, that game is ‘A Dark Room’. I’d seen the app several times before, and upon glancing at the description and images, I dismissed it. But seeing it slowly work its way up the app store chart over the past few weeks led me to take the time to read the reviews, almost all of which gave it 5*.
…And there were over 700 of them and I was more likely to believe that this many were not fake or shady. The general consensus was vastly mixed, with the majority of reviews giving it 5* and some other giving it 1*. Almost all the positive reviews pleaded with me to play on through the first bit, with the guarantee that it would get better. Most were seriously positive, with some even quoting that it would ‘Change my life’. I figured for 75p on the app store that that was a very good deal indeed.
Initially the basic screenshots of a black and white, text based screen was a little off-putting. Text based games – boring right? But the sheer volume of highly praising reviews made me close my eyes pay with the finger scanner. You start with a near total dim blank screen, with your only option to press a button that brightens the page and starts a few lines of text suggesting that you should continue to ‘stoke’ the fire, leading to the next buttons to press.
Not going to lie, for the first fifteen minutes playing, I thought it was the biggest waste of money going and I thought I’d been duped. But then as I carried on forcing myself to play on, willing for it to get better just as everyone had promised, I gradually reached certain milestones and was able to build more things. Within half an hour of play, more options and additions opened up.
By the time I’d built my fourth hut and a workshop, I realised that my tea was cold. I was hooked.
I don’t actually know why it’s so strangely addictive, because to look at, it’s actually incredibly boring. There’s no colour or images, and the whole functioning of it revolves around pressing very plain and very simply buttons while you watch your supplies slowly increase with every few ticks… Even describing it sounds pretty boring.
I can’t understand why the creator(s) of it didn’t put that tiny bit more effort into adding more of a theme to it, to hold people’s interest in the early stages. I’ve no doubt that those that gave up on it right at the start would have done so because it all initially seems very pointless.
As the game progresses you can prepare to explore using a map made from ASCII characters, it looks like the type of game you’d play on a seriously old computer, and not one I’d be interested in. But it just goes to show how some of these games spend millions on fancy graphics and fully immersive environments in order to keep you interested, when a simple game of algorithms can still hold your attention for a few hours.
My only downside was that there didn’t seem to be any clear cut theme, collecting wood and building huts for villagers that randomly show up out of the ‘forest’ and the slow development of mining iron and then developing steel weapons later led me to believe it was a fantasy genre sort of game. But then – without giving too much of the story away – you discover abandoned cities, guns, explosives and then eventually even a bloody spaceship. Without any graphics, I didn’t know what I was playing and this could have been fixed easily, with the simplest of graphics, or even more detail in description. I can only assume it was some sort of dystopian post-apocalyptic world. I get the whole idea of the game is that you ‘wake up’ in a dark room with no idea of what is happening until it slowly unfolds as you go along, but I felt this could have been better.
At the start it’s very repetitive in its theme of pressing buttons and that style of play continues as you carry on, but as it progresses you have to think a little more strategically about gathering your resources and as you get used to the simple functions of the game you get better at making decisions.
I’ll admit, if you don’t have a decent imagination you’re going to struggle. I like to think that I have a good imagination, I could easily forfeit my TV licence for a cardboard box to entertain myself with instead, but even I had to blink a few times and get on with it. In the beginning the overwhelming disappointment will have you holding your finger on the app icon until it begins to shake.
Don’t – force yourself to play on.
I’m going to take an educated guess and assume that the people who left 1* reviews were so underwhelmed at the start that they didn’t give it a chance. I know, I almost was one of those people.
There was some sort of story that went along with it, but I didn’t really follow it too well. I seemed to piss off my villagers a lot too, at one point the term ‘Villagers’ turned to ‘Slaves.’. Oops.
I completed the game in 214 minutes. Apparently this wasn’t a bad score. Awesome.
I don’t quite know if it changed my life like I was promised, but it was a seriously good game once I got into it, and definitely worth a recommend.
If you try it out, Stick with it, it actually gets better.