App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Rusty Lake has established quite a reputation for making odd and surreal adventure games. The White Door is their latest, and my first venture into this developer’s work. What I found was a beautiful and haunting game, though not one that I found particularly intelligible or clever.
It’s never entirely clear what exactly is going on in The White Door, but you start the game playing out Robert Hill’s daily routine. He wakes up, eats breakfast, brushes his teeth, goes through a check up, plays a memory game, eats dinner, performs a recreational activity, and goes back to sleep. Once asleep, you also get a glimpse into Robert’s life via his dreams.
With this odd routine, it’s not hard to start piecing together Robert’s life situation, and The White Door starts fills in some backstory as to how he got where he was during dream sequences. The entirety of The White Door takes place over seven days, and through each one you have to solve different kinds of puzzles in his routine or his dreams to keep pressing the narrative forward.
The puzzles in The White Door aren’t particularly unique if you’ve played adventure games before. There are times where you have to move objects in a particular sequence, arrange symbols according to a pattern, or scrounge through objects to find passwords and answers to questions posed by your doctors.
I’d go as far to say that if the White Door didn’t look and sound the way it does, it wouldn’t be a particularly remarkable game. Fortunately though, this game establishes such a surreal vibe that you just want to see where you’ll end up next. Special mention here should go to Victor Butzelaar, who composed an incredible soundtrack. Multiple times when playing The White Door, I stopped everything I was doing just to listen to the music in the game.
Don’t overthink it
As long as I kept moving forward in The White Door, I was having a great time. Seeing more of that world and its unique style was what I found most satisfying and propulsive as I made my way through it. Whenever I got hung up on a puzzle though, all those great feelings would come to a screeching halt.
Toward the back quarter of the game, The White Door starts throwing puzzles at you that aren’t quite as straightforward as the ones before, and they can be frustratingly obtuse. Some of the visual design around these puzzles can even create ambiguity that may prompt you to start overthinking things and trying solutions that are overly complicated.
I’m all for puzzles and ramping up difficulty as games progress, but for The White Door, it doesn’t seem necessary. In fact, the difficulty curve in this game does it no favors. Finding late-game puzzle solutions prompted sighs of frustration rather than any sort of personal satisfaction, to the point that I was relieved when it was over.
The bottom line
The White Door communicates so much via its style that its probably worth putting up with a few annoying puzzles to experience for yourself. I’m not sure how this title measures up against related titles like Rusty Lake Hotel or Cube Escape, but it seems like a solid standalone adventure for anyone that is up for a short, stylish experience.