My time with the “room escape” genre has been relatively brief. Outside of 999 and its stellar follow-up Virtue’s Last Reward, I generally lack the patience required to get very far. What really pushed me forward in those aforementioned titles was the intricate story and surreal twists that would populate the spaces between each puzzle, as inputting numbers and pulling levers was never much of a pay off to me on its own.
Rusty Lake Hotel takes a different approach, though no less effective. Created in Flash and using a simple point and click interface, you are to welcome a party of five anthropomorphic socialites to the titular establishment with a series of exotic dinners. A quick glance at your guests and then the recipe book will give you a pretty good indication of how you are to go about… ahem… acquiring the meat for each meal.
The game has a very distinct flavor, pardon the pun. Though primitively animated, there’s a disarming bit of charm to the proceedings, a veil of surrealist humor hiding something much more sinister. Though the game is obviously not going to focus test well with PETA, it’s hard to imagine anyone going through the game without feeling just a little bit shaken, even if your victims are mostly arrogant rich stereotypes. The exchange with Ms. Pheasant in particular took a very dark turn that I wasn’t expecting.
Of course, to reach the darkest corners of Rusty Lake Hotel, there is a significant amount of puzzle solving. In most cases, clicking on everything imaginable will at the very least give you a full inventory to play with, but I’m humble enough to admit that I needed to look at a walkthrough just get out of the first room. I don’t do well with numbers and there was a particular moment involving three beakers that I didn’t want to keep ramming my head against, but for the most part, things are manageable. Certain rooms feel less like a puzzle than an virtual soundboard, as if you were suddenly transported into Panic or one of the old Monty Python DOS games where you simply clicked around to see what other wacky thing would happen. When I’m hallucinating a dark forest due to opium fumes from a boar that needs me to hand him toilet paper before I put a gash in his skull, I can’t really say that the contrast doesn’t work in its own weird way.
Granted, that’s a very specific experience, but one that I find massively appealing. For two bucks, it hard to justify not giving it a try, even if you not a complete sicko like me. Partial sickos should find something to like as well.