Developer: Amirali Rajan
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.4
App Reviewed on: iPad mini Retina

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★½☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

A Dark Room is a text-only, RPG reading experience that sticks players in the middle of nowhere just as a stranger bursts into their cabin and changes everything. From there on in it’s a tale of survival, expansion, and community as players are tasked with housing and creating work for more and more people as they descend upon the village looking for refuge. It’s definitely a page-turner (if there were pages), though progression is slow as players collect wood from the forest and empty traps of animal scraps. While the shadowy figures in the forest add an air of mystery and looming danger to the experience, they don’t stop the actual process becoming laborious as players select jobs for the townsfolk to do and continue to collect supplies indefinitely. It gets a lot more interesting when players are able to venture out of their small village and have to fight off crazed wanderers while investigating various shelters.

IMG_0033 IMG_0036A Dark Room is clearly about engaging players in an experience that will negate the need for fancy illustrations or an attractive interface. However, while the experience is certainly enticing, the interface is just plain ugly. I didn’t like the awkward layout with the narrative on the left, the options in the middle, and inventory on the right. It just felt counterintuitive and not at all user-friendly, especially since players are dropped right into the story without any introduction to the game screen. Things certainly improve as players venture out into the surrounding land, but again there is little to no guidance provided. The in-game prompts that pop-up too suddenly are also too easily discarded with an accidental tap.

Although the visuals are clearly not the focus here, making them just plain garish actually detracts from the experience. Making use of the screen space is a must for an iPad version, and to me it just looked squashed. Size-wise the story should be the main focus, with the actions second and the inventory last of all. The whole thing is like getting a great birthday present that’s wrapped in used bandages. Sure the gift inside might be great, but who wants to volunteer to unwrap it first? That’s what I thought.

A Dark Room is interesting and certainly has a wealth of depth to it, but the slow progression, drawn-out processes, and lackluster game screen can often make it a drag.

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