room13 is a new early access platformer game developed by The Paper Robot. They’ve made a few other games but this is their first venture onto Steam. The basic idea of it is that you’re trying to survive an onslaught of the hellish dead. The game starts off with a nice little tutorial to teach you the basics and shortly after drops you into the thick of it.
First off the art style in this game is great. It’s got a very cutesy tone in as much as grotesque abominations can look cute. If you’ve seen The Binding of Isaac then you’ll know what I mean. The whole thing reminds me of the Thing-thing flash game series and the colour palate is kept very simple much the same, giving it a very spooky atmosphere. Combined with the eerie sounds it emanates a feeling of unease which is perfectly suited to the game. Variations in “rooms” are very cool and keep you on your toes whilst giving you something to marvel at whilst trying to fend off the dead.
One of the worst things about a lot of early access game is that they are often riddled with bugs or have no content at all, making them virtually unplayable. In this case, that’s not so. You start off with a basic gun and fend off zombie-like creatures with a limited supply of ammo. As you collected their gibbed body parts you gain your way to filling your progress meter for that level. At third intervals progress halts until you collect a battery that appears at a random location in the room. These aid you in opening the door to the next stage and keep the dead away for a short time. You have to do this however as the onslaught continues, making it a much harder task than it first seems. Fail to collect a battery in time and you’ll instantly be killed but rush carelessly towards it and your foes may lead you to the same fate.
In addition to the batteries, during the levels there are the occasional health and ammo drops which ensure you can keep the fight going. Without these the game would be impossible. Ammo still can be an issue even with them though. Running dry with enemies in your path doesn’t necessarily spell death, as you can try to ram them out of your way or out manoeuvre them, but it does make it significantly more challenging. The balance with drops seems about right though. It feels as if there’s almost always an opportunity to stock up if you do run out however it actually being possible to reach the pickups really depends on your skill in getting around the terrain.
At the end of each level, when the door is open chests can spawn which may or may not contain upgrades for guns or more health and ammo. The upgrades are where room13 shines though. There’s quite the variety. Different ones become available as you reach new milestones such as killing x amount of enemies. They’re really cool and an important dynamic to gameplay. Shotgun barrels make your gun launch multiple projectiles at once. Machine gun barrels significantly increase the fire rate. There are a bunch of different slots on the gun so you can mix and match as much as you want. As the levels get harder you’ll rely on having your preferred gun mods drop. Whilst all certainly have their pros and cons, it’s still really up to you what you go with. All choices are pretty viable but they tend to match differing playstyles. Personally I like running with the Shotgun barrel and the double strength bullets even if they do restrict my ammo more heavily. A single firing gun with oodles of ammo is still a strong choice as the further you progress the more you’ll rely on having that crucial lead for perforating your enemies.
There are a decent variety of foes in the game. Generally they seem to follow the same or a similar attack pattern but that’s okay as enough of them look different for it to be interesting. There are some specials thrown in to mix it up though which is great for keeping it feeling fresh. Exploding enemies provide a challenge when you can’t run from them or get a clear shot and the stronger tank sort of enemies can catch you off guard when you’re not expecting them.
A gripe I do have though is that whilst there is a decent amount of variety to gameplay it’s not something I could sit down to and sink hours and hours into. I love the tight claustrophobic feel the “rooms” give you but it certainly would benefit from perhaps having some larger maps too. It would be nice to be able to roam a bit more as it would give you a lot more freedom in choice and the added space would actually allow for more complexity in level design. This could open it up to the potential of multiplayer too. I can definitely see myself going head to head with friends in a bid to escape before them or even working together to survive against even more extreme odds. A map editor or workshop support would be a frivolous addition – unimportant but would add something extra to help longevity of the game. The only other thing I’d have to say is that stairs are really the bane of the game. They take a lot of getting used to. I feel as if the controls for navigating them aren’t quite right. Playing with an Xbox controller as the game recommends results in me often walking past them when I’m trying to ascend. It requires you to pull the stick diagonally in the direction that you want to go, which actually sounds pretty reasonable at first, however with the frantic nature of the game it’s easy to not pull it up enough and just stroll on past. If you walked up stairs when coming to them by default and dropped down through them or walked past when pulling the stick down that would make it far easier and simpler for the player to correct missteps and mistakes in pathing.
All in all it’s pretty good. I really like the game and it does have huge potential. If things like multiplayer and larger, more complex maps could be added then I’d expect it to be a huge hit. As it is, it’s still really fun to play and you’re already getting your money’s worth if you buy the game now. Yes, you probably won’t be able to binge it quite like some other games but it’s got so much replay value that over time you could keep coming back to it and still have something enjoyable. I’d recommend this game to just about anyone but if you like good fast paced action and difficult platformers then this is definitely for you. I look forward to seeing what The Paper Robot does with this game and any creations in the future.