Containment

by Kevin Mintmier

2010

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Suspenseful but with snags, September 7, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Inform

Containment touches on a familiar concept, a nuclear plant on the verge of a meltdown. The game pairs this with the trope of a lone security guard who runs into a crisis that they alone can fix. This setting and premise come together to create a story of danger and suspense. You are a security guard working the night shift for the city's RPV-1 power plant. After falling asleep on the job, you are awakened by an alarm that informs you that the plant is in danger. The one technician assigned to your shift is seemingly absent. It is up to you to prevent a disaster.

To ramp up the heat the UNDO command is forbidden. Oh yes, save often.

Gameplay
A coolant line malfunctioned and the reactor is about to go critical. The main objective is to activate the failsafe device but the door to the failsafe room is not functioning. This leaves you with no option but to take the long route by navigating the lower levels of the facility to reach the control room’s back entrance.

Containment centers its gameplay around a single puzzle type of manipulating hatches, valves, and other machinery. Each level has a water reservoir stacked on top of each other, almost like an elevator, and on top of the water sections are walkways that are raised and lowered by turning valves. A reservoir must be filled to a level before it can be explored.

While this concept is straightforward the puzzles were challenging to complete. This was a game where I needed to draw my own map. It was hard to visualize my progress as more hatches and valves were, and as I made small adjustments, I often felt that I was undoing my work. Because of this I became stuck relatively early in the game and had to use the walkthrough. The idea of being the only person in an unstable facility with mysterious circumstances is a thrilling concept, but the technicality of the puzzles sometimes dulled the thrill.

This was my initial progress: (Spoiler - click to show) The first two valves encountered in the gameplay are the drain valve and backflow valve. If both valves are open you can walk across reservoir 1 but not reservoir 2, and the opposite occurs if both valves are closed. But once you make it across reservoir 2, an overflow valve is added to mix. While I could alternate between levels one and two, I could not figure out how to use all three valves raise the water level 3. That is where I resorted to a walkthrough.

There is some roughness of implementation. If you try to open the failsafe room door at the start of the game you get “A door stands defiantly in your path, refusing to open. Something is very wrong here -- your security badge should provide unrestricted access to all areas of the facility. Perhaps a closer look at the door is in order.” If you examine the door, you get the same message, and if you try “x badge” the game says, “You can’t see any such thing.” I feel that a little more attention to these details would refine the gameplay.

Story
The protagonist is gender-neutral and has no other details aside from their job at the facility. The game is not story intensive, and its premise does not need an elaborate storyline. There are five endings. To reach a (Spoiler - click to show) decent one you simply need to fix the failsafe device and leave, but you can improve the outcome if you investigate the whereabouts of the maintenance person who was supposed to share your shift.

There is an inherent build-up of suspense (nuclear plant about to go critical) during the gameplay that makes you eager for an explanation of what caused the malfunction of the failsafe device. But the ending seemed somewhat dismissive. When you are in the failsafe room (Spoiler - click to show) you realize that the door was sabotaged so that it could not be opened on the other side. Your first guess may be that the technician was behind the malfunction. That is, until you open the cabinet and find the technician’s body. This means that some unknown entity was behind the thwarted accident and death of the technician. But who (or what)?

Even with the (Spoiler - click to show) best ending we never know what agents or potential agents are responsible. The protagonist escapes, tells emergency responders about what happened, and become a local hero for preventing a catastrophe. I understand that the game focuses on gameplay mechanics rather than story, but I was expecting a little more context into what happened. The game does not feel incomplete, but it does leave the player with unanswered questions.

Setting
Now, this game has effective ambience of approaching doom. As you burrow into the innerworkings of the facility the game throws out phrases such as "A low rumble in the walls heralds the growing instability of the reactor core" which create a strong sense of urgency. But now that I think of it, is it possible for the plant to go off while you are inside? If you (Spoiler - click to show) leave without activating the failsafe, you get the ending where everyone dies within a mile-plus radius. But if you wait with the intention of running out of time to see what would happen, well, nothing happens. I think part of the thrill is to be racing against the clock. On the other hand, given the technicality of the puzzles it might be frustrating to have to start over because you ran out of time. I wonder what other players think.

Final thoughts
This game is perfect for players interested in fiddly mechanical puzzles. The gameplay has an exciting atmosphere and features multiple endings. For non-technical players you may want to consult a walkthrough halfway through the game to get past stubborn puzzles so you can experience a winning ending. Still, it was fun.

Also: The gameplay in Containment reminded me of the game Oxygen by Benjamin Sokal because it focuses on mechanical puzzles. While Oxygen does not feature a failing nuclear reactor it has another type of crisis: a mining station is running out of oxygen after an explosion, and you need to decide on how to allocate it.