Crimson Room: Decade Review

If you grew up during the 2000s, chances are you made your way to websites like Newgrounds or Ebaumsworld.

Working around school internet firewalls during IT lessons or computer lab, you likely laughed at classics such as “Schfifty Five” and “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny”. This era also produced many browser-based escape-the-room games, including the original Crimson Room. Ten years later (and ten dollars more), we now have Crimson Room: Decade, a remake/spiritual sequel. But perhaps this series should have stayed in the past.

Like the original Crimson Room, the newer Crimson Room: Decade places you into a small, half-furnished red room. Your objective: get out. Your tactic: click every single pixel on the screen hoping that it will unearth some new item or puzzle. Along the way, you will discover hidden scraps of paper that reveal a tragic family story.

Like its predecessors, Crimson Room: Decade is a pixel hunter. It’s not uncommon to spend 20 minutes or more wandering around the room looking for the next missing piece of the puzzle. For the most part, you can find items tucked in tiny spaces in plain sight. Occasionally, though, things hide in barely distinguishable features on the scenery.

These scavenger hunts work much better in the browser game. For one thing, the plain coloration and bold lines in the original game made item nubs stand out while still being tough to pinpoint. In Crimson Room: Decade, the improved visuals and richer textures actually detract from its playability. Sure, the realism of stained floors and mold damage creates atmosphere. But in most hidden-object games, those imperfections are the first thing you’d click. Here they yield no rewards. It plays with your expectations, but unintentionally.

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Sometimes it plays with your expectations in a clever way. Everything you remember from the original Crimson Room reappears here with a literal coat of dust, but none of the puzzles (save one) are the same. In fact, trying to solve these puzzles as you would in the original causes totally different results. That is neat enough, but it’s fleeting innovation.

Unlike Crimson Room, which had fixed camera angles, Crimson Room: Decade has full WASD and mouse control. Again, in theory this is an improvement, but it needs more work. The pointer’s ability to interact is sometimes limited by which way you face and won’t always target unless you stand in a certain spot. That’s probably a Unity problem, but it doesn’t help the game. The pointer will also “snap” to certain parts of the environment, but more often than not it “snaps” to marks you can’t even interact with meaningfully.

As you progress, the orientation of the room changes. This is cool at first, but since the game itself is so barebones, only so much could be done with the mechanic. Only two changes occur, and after each one you use the same items on similar puzzles. I will give the game credit, in that it telegraphs upcoming puzzles well. Certain items, visible yet inaccessible in the first version of the room, become available when it flips over. Crimson Room: Decade hides nothing, while simultaneously hiding everything.

This is the ultimate paradox of Crimson Room: Decade. Everything is there, but nothing is. You can’t pull an item out of a dark drawer until you shine a flashlight in it. Why? Because the game says so. You have a pencil to mark days on a calendar puzzle, but instead you have to perform a convoluted activity to tally up marks instead. And it’s all “just because”.

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And most of this is by design. It’s not objectively bad; after all, the Steam community for the game has a discussion board with dozens of responses from players working together to find solutions. Much like Crimson Room and its clones ten years ago, Crimson Room: Decade has brought people together to test their wits.

No matter how you slice it, though, it’s hard to justify the asking price. My first playthrough of the game took two hours, but I spent at least half of that time walking around spamming left-click everywhere. It was joyless monotony. My second playthrough (after a few days away) took only eight and a half minutes. Since the feeling of discovery is the only real draw here, it gives you no incentive to replay after you’ve solved it once. The story, while well written, isn’t all that spectacular. And I actually felt mocked by the midi-heavy final cutscene. There’s just not enough here to justify the $10 asking price.

I have to be honest: I did not enjoy Crimson Room: Decade. It has good intentions and elements of suitable design, but it’s mostly fluff. I think there’s a reason we don’t see many escape-the-room games top the charts or get the highest scores… they are artifacts of the adolescent internet. Some, like the Zero Escape series, have broken through the mold, but only by incorporating elements of visual novels and interactive cinema. “Core” experiences such as these are perhaps best left to the past.

Crimson Room Decade is available on PC.