I recently talked about puzzle design philosophies, and one of my complaints was the use of obtuse puzzles that make no sense in the context of the game’s narrative or setting. The objective of any puzzle game is to make those obtuse puzzles not feel jarring or inappropriate for the scenario. The Guest is a game which manages to employ various types of puzzles to create a mysterious, yet rich narrative.
You wake up in a hotel room in Belmont, Massachusetts. Here for the University of Boston’s 9th Annual International Scientific Congress, you are locked inside your room with no escape. It’s a nice hotel though, and the people who arranged everything didn’t skimp on luxury. They even left you with some magazines, newspaper clippings about a missing person, and even some drugs. Being lauded as “a first-person exploration game,” The Guest rarely tries to shy away from making you have to do some digging into every nook and cranny for clues as to what to do next. Sometimes it’s in the environment, and sometimes you’re digging through your inventory, but regardless, the game wants you to explore.
The benefits of this exploration is that you get to that point when a puzzle surfaces that would seem confusing and daunting if this was your first time experiencing it. But along the way you’ve seen clues as to what to do, or found an item that you know means something, yet you can’t quite pinpoint what it is. This is a game where observation matters most, and if you’re not paying attention to details, you’re probably going to spend more time in the game than necessary.
Fortunately, the game is willing to guide you on occasion, even if some of the times it is a bit unnecessary. I had one puzzle that ended with me being told where to look next, but it wasn’t really necessary because I had already spent time in the room and would have noticed something different to see. It’s a minor complaint, but when the game is as smart as it is about puzzle placement and design, it is a bit disappointing to see it still have to help some players.
In fact, the game’s narrative is compelling once you start uncovering some of the weirder elements of the game. Without going into details, the reason you start being able to piece puzzles together at a quicker pace is because more things begin to stand out as weird in the hotel room. The puzzles and the story both go from something natural and grounded to surreal and high-concept. Just as I did in The Witness, I had to take photos and notes for reference to some puzzles. The longer the game goes on, the better the puzzles get and in my opinion, the easier they are to understand.
But like any good adventure game, the puzzles aren’t the only element that matters. The story starts off fairly conventional as you’re trying to piece together why you’re locked in the room, but the narrative slowly escalates with very big moments punctuating the mysterious nature of everything you’re experiencing. Those big moments are visually appetizing, something which is a welcome change from the monotonous layout of the hotel room.
Atmosphere is also a big factor in what makes this game compelling, though it hits most of the basic notes of a game like this: white noise from TVs, static radio transmissions, very muted score, and fitting sound effects. It isn’t exceptional, but it makes for an immersive enough experience, especially with a pair of headphones on. The game also supports the Oculus Rift according to The Guest‘s official site, which would likely be an incredible experience. Those big visual moments mentioned earlier would be absolutely stunning in virtual reality.
This is also the first game from Team Gotham, and it demonstrates an attention to detail in both storytelling and gameplay that isn’t seen that often. Both feel like they are connected to one another, as the game’s puzzles get more difficult as the story becomes even weirder. I’ll say that the final moments of the game left me with a lot of questions that I’m not sure are answered. The ending has a bit too much ambiguity and doesn’t really pretend to provide closure either. By the time it reaches its conclusion, though, you’ll be happy you were a guest in this wonderfully surreal narrative.
A PC code for The Guest was provided by 505 Games for the purpose of this review