After first reading the description of The Guest, it reminded me of all the “escape the room” flash games I’d play in computer class when my teacher wasn’t looking. Those games required the player to find objects that would assist in their escape – clues written behind bookshelves, or never knowing exactly if you will need the triple-A battery you just picked up, but you do anyway just in case. The Guest takes the same classic elements and expands them. Combing simple, carefully crafted scenery as the base to hide all its secrets, this game uses its horror undertones to give every puzzle a sinister touch and to literally open doors that tell you nothing about where you are going next.
You awake to a ceiling fan rotating against a wooden backdrop, with only one visible door that is missing its doorknob, a fist pounding from the other side. The digital clock on the nightstand is stuck on 4:23 AM. It’s October 25, 1986, and you have no idea what you are doing there until you start poking around at the various documents and other objects lying around the room. From letters on a coffee table, you learn that you are in Massachusetts for the Annual International Science Congress, for which you are the main speaker. Your name is Doctor Eugueni Leonov. You are from Russia. An empty pill bottle next to the clock tells you take Fluoxetine, also known as Prozac.
Once getting the only door out of the room open, neon blue words flood every surface and objects on the counter top begin to float in the air. “I need my pills,” you say. A medicine cabinet on the wall has the pills you need, but they are not the same ones your doctor has prescribed; the bottle is labeled “Amydal,” and it has the same DNA logo as the papers of the letter addressed to you from the AISC. You take the pills. Everything becomes calm once again.
These are the kind of unexpected twists and turns The Guest uses to create a narrative, to create a sense of dread. As you move from room to room, you’ll find newspaper clippings referencing an Irene Seydoux, who was scheduled to present her new book at the 15th annual European Sociological and Psychological Association, but went missing for two weeks. This side-story works well to bring out the subtext of Doctor Eugueni Leonov’s own situation, calling into question if he really is where all his travel documents say he is.
The Guest utilizes a variety of puzzles and forces the player to use different intelligences – musical, cryptex, spatial, and the good ol’ power of observation and memory. However, even though there are a variety of puzzles, there is an uneven spread between the difficulty of each. Getting out of the first room relies heavily on finding and combining objects, which can be done in a matter of minutes. From there on, solving a number of math and dexterity/spatial-based puzzles is the key to moving on to the next phase. I found those puzzles to be not particularly difficult (discovering how to solve those puzzles is very easy), but time consuming. I spent an excessive amount of time rotating three valves on the face of cabinet under a projection screen, moving one valve moved another one at the same time, and not to the same number of clicks.
And don’t get me started on the puzzle underneath the bathroom sink. Even though I was able to solve it, albeit with some help, the anxiety still hasn’t washed away.
For the amount of work involved in solving each puzzle, it made the ending worth it and not worth it at the same time. As I previously mentioned, paranoia about Doctor Eugueni Leonov’s situation is planted not-so-subtly, so that leaves the player to question early on what will happen if or when s/he gets out. Once the “big reveal” does happen, it could leave the player with a sense of futility – that solving all those puzzles meant nothing in contrast to the context of the narrative. Or, if you are the kind of person who loves a good dystopia, the ending may feel complete, even if one of the puzzles is too on-the-nose in that regard. There’s a highly symbolic quality to the ending, either way.
Many of the puzzles are easy to solve and the narrative might be too open, but for 3-4 hours of gameplay with very low replayability (aside from collecting all the Steam achievements), The Guest is a nice re-imaging of those classic flash games many of us grew up with.
Platforms: Windows PC | Developer: Team Gotham | Publisher: 505 Games | PEGI: 7 | Controls: Mouse/keyboard
This review copy of The Guest was played on PC via Steam and was provided by the developer.