I love real-world escape room experiences. You’ve got an hour or so to sort out an extended puzzle, find your way through a couple of different challenges and, ultimately (and usually with the assistance of a group of friends), make your way out in time. Escape rooms prove that a lot can be done in an hour. That a game designer can set a scene and create a narrative, that players can be taken on a journey, and challenged on the way. Seven Doors is about an hour long, and based on the title and the screenshots, I had hoped that this was the kind of experience I would get out of it.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. It’s not a bad game, but it doesn’t give us the creative energy or intense experience of an escape room game. This is a much more down-the-like puzzler. Once you get comfortable with that, though, you’ll have a brief bit of fun with it.
Seven Doors presents players with a series of challenge rooms. Each features a single puzzle that, on solving it, rewards you with a golden skill that unlocks the door to the next room and puzzle. These puzzles are fairly standard fare that play out in small 3D spaces – solve riddles, navigate mazes, pair items up and so on. There’s nothing offensive about how any of this is presented, but what is immediately unfortunate about it, however, is that there’s no layering of these puzzles. Each one exists in isolation, and once you’ve solved it, you move on, with little to connect them to one another. This is a missed opportunity. An intricate web of puzzles, spread across seven rooms, and perhaps challenging players to backtrack and link solutions between the puzzles together would have been better than seven distinct, simple, single-solution puzzles back-to-back. Still, as steadfastly traditional as these puzzles are, they are at least executed decently well.
The lack of a meaningful narrative bothers me, too. There is an attempt to set up an atmosphere in Seven Doors. The game aims for a horror atmosphere through the ambient soundtrack and by presenting each of the rooms as being chilling in their aesthetic design. But the developer doesn’t do nearly enough to explain what’s going on, and with the absence of that context, it’s hard to really connect to the action. Even when your character is killed when making a mistake in some of the more deadly rooms, the response from the player will be less sympathy, let alone fear, and more a case of “well, this time I’ll turn left rather than right.” Horror themes and dispassionate, academic gameplay don’t generally go well together.
From the above, it probably sounds like I didn’t much care for Seven Doors, but the reality is that I enjoyed it for what it was. It wasn’t an escape room or Myst-like intricate blend of adventure and puzzles that the screenshots had led me to believe, and that was disappointing, but I got over that. Once I realised that it was more akin to one of those hidden object games that were a big thing in casual gaming a few years ago, I enjoyed it on that level. It was something with some nice production values that you can whip through without having to commit a lot of time to, and enjoy the basic mechanics on offer.
There was a definite place for these kinds of experiences, and there still is. Not everyone wants to sit down after a long day to have their minds bent and contorted. Nor do you always want to play something for an hour and feel like you’ve made no progress because it’s just that drenched with content. Seven Doors offers up a single evening of easy-going puzzling, with some nice production values and a subtly creepy atmosphere, and it delivers to that brief nicely.
Am I going to be raving about Seven Doors for years down the track? No, of course not. It’s not a game of the year, it’s not going to wind up on those “1001 games you must play before you die” lists and books. But Seven Doors is a good way to spend a few dollars, and something you can enjoy without stressing about what the game demands back of you. It’s too easy to overlook these kinds of games, but they have their place.