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Challenging but Unresonant, August 13, 2010
The Empty Room begins with a contradiction; if the room is empty, how are you in it? Who you are is described in such a way to whet your appetite, but the meal never comes. That, unfortunately, is symbolic of the entire game. Many times TER whets your appetite with interesting descriptions, samples of high-tech (and low-tech), but there's no follow-through. There is no greater resonance.
Instead, what you have is a game that successfully encourages you to keep playing by gradually revealing changes in your environment. It's very linear, but this is one of a few games where the linearity works. Even after having played and won, I'm still not clear on what I just did, so while it's engaging, and challenging, it's not terribly clear. I suspect this is another part of the bare-bones mentality that never bothered with the answering why you are in the room, why you are dressed like that, and all the other big questions that will bother you while you're playing.
With all that said, the implementation is a bit, shall I say, odd. If there is something on the floor, for instance, the room description will not tell you that. Oh no. You have the examine the floor. The same thing goes with complex objects that you discover. You have to examine sides, walls, ad nauseum. The same thing goes when you do something. The game will not always inform you of the results, so it's back to examining things. This often places you in a somewhat frustrating and tedious cycle of "Do X. Examine Y." Now all of this would absolutely sink this game IF the puzzles were hard. Fortunately they are not, and so you can make progress quickly.
When you do win, the ending itself is probably the greatest let down since winning 1942, or the "endings" of Twin Peaks and The Blair Witch Project. There is a momentary elision of joy, but nothing is explained.
TER deserves three stars, because it can be won, it is challenging without being frustrating, and despite its linearity and its one-room nature (arguably), I played it to the end, and I managed to win.
And yes, the help system? Avoid it if you can.