You awaken, head throbbing, vision blurry. It’s cold, dark, and as far as you can tell, you’re alone. Better start a fire. That’ all you’re given when starting a fresh game of A Dark Room. It’s a text-based exploration game. After lighting a fire, you find you have a companion who’s a builder and who can make use of the wood you find in the nearby dark woods. Gather resources, create buildings and trade to construct and improve a village. Venture to the outside world to learn more about the mysterious place you find yourself in.
I’ve played a lot of text-based games in my time. I’ve even made a few. The best games in this genre play like the choose-your-own adventure books, the only fiction books I actually enjoyed reading as a kid. A Dark Room is just what a text-based game would be if someone from the 1970s had a touch screen to program for. When I saw this on our list of games to review, I immediately raised my hand. I had to play it.
The game UI in A Dark Room is as bare-bones as they come. The closest thing to a graphic this game has is a progress bar. There is, however, a map created entirely with ASCII. Without all the clutter, A Dark Room ranks pretty high on the list of intuitive interfaces. It’s impressive to think that a game with an interface entirely outside of today’s box is intuitive enough to not need a tutorial to navigate. It’s a good thing too, because the developers don’t give you one. It’s a complete flip from devoting time and effort to create visuals to describe your world and instead focusing on gameplay and intuition to drive the experience.
A Dark Room is full of mystery. Where am I? What kind of world is this? What’s outside my village? Am I leader of an ancient civilization or a runaway slave? The lack of graphics builds this mystery of the world. Every encounter gives you little clues about your circumstance and where you are, but it’s your imagination that creates a picture of the landscape. There isn’t even sound to help you determine what you’re facing or where you are.
I won’t spoil the story of A Dark Room. If I’m honest, after playing for hours I’m still not sure what the story is. To figure that out, you and your villagers have to gather resources and explore the outside world, against the advice of your companion, I might add. It’s almost like a sensory deprivation experience where as you go along, you get a peek of the outside, only to be shut back in with more questions about what you just experienced.
A Dark Room is full of exploration. It’s a very difficult and cerebral experience trying to make decisions based on such incomplete information. The sense of danger, mystery, and your own frailty is palpable in this game. The longer you play, the more comfortable you become in thinking that you’ve become powerful, only to find out the hard way how weak and vulnerable you really are.
The world is a dangerous place. Not only can venturing outside mean your demise, but visitors and even your own villagers are ever-present threats. I have more questions having played the game than I did when I started and I’m still having a lot of fun with this game. Considering A Dark Room has managed to create a sense of mystery, fear and curiosity that games with a hundred times the visual appeal hasn’t, we consider it well worth the our money and our time.
A Dark Room Review: What is This Place?
- Intuitive gameplay
- Great homage to text-based gaming
- Mysterious and dangerous world
- Very hard to make it back alive