25th October, 1986.
Esteemed scientist Dr Evgueni Leonov has been invited to attend the University of Boston’s 9th Annual Scientific Congress. The university were kind enough to put him up in the exquisite colonial Oak Wood hotel. At 4:23 am, Dr Leonov woke to the sound of a knock at his door. He rose lethargically and took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimply lit suite. The knocking persisted. Evgueni scuffed his way to the door. When he opened it, Evgueni discovered that neither the Oak Wood Hotel, nor his visit to Massachusetts, were quite what he expected them to be.
That’s the opening sequence of The Guest, a first person exploration game developed by Team Gotham, based out of Madrid. Team Gotham describes The Guest as an exploration game, although it would be far more suitable to describe it as a puzzler. The player spends their time trapped in Dr. Leonov’s hotel room, solving a series of increasingly difficult puzzles, in an attempt to escape and hopefully determine why this is happening to him. Being confined to a hotel room certainly limits the scope of the gameplay, although it is by far the largest hotel room I have ever seen. Plus there are several surreal dream-like sequences that shake up the core mechanics of the game.
The puzzles in The Guest are challenging. They’re not the most original designs you will find, more akin to the PC and mobile point and click adventures. This didn’t make the puzzles any less interesting. The puzzles cover a broad spectrum, from word jumbles, through to memorising and reciting audio ques in sequence. I’ll admit that I found the puzzles quite difficult, and may not have solved one or two without the assistance of a strategy guide. One issue that I have is the large amount of items to collect and add to your inventory that serve no purpose at all. It became tedious trying to interact with certain items, and frustrating when I realised I’d been wasting my time.
The Guest stumbles when it asks you to engage with the story, as it suffers from a serious identity crisis. Without revealing any spoilers, The Guest leads you down multiple paths through reading the clues hidden on notes around the suite. As I delved deeper, these notes altered my expectations again and again. Just when I thought I’d worked out what was happening to Dr. Leonov, the story shifted again and finished somewhere completely different. Normally I would praise a game that’s narrative can surprise me and exceed my expectations. The problem is that the closing scene clashed with the clues I’d read, and by the time the credits rolled, I felt like I had been misled. I enjoyed The Guest’s ending, I’m just not sure how the narrative reached this conclusion.
While there were missteps in the narrative, The Guest makes up for it with a brooding and tense atmosphere. Early on, the visual cues led me to believe I was playing a horror game and question the protagonist’s psychological wellbeing. Team Gotham expertly made use of light and sound to create an unsettling environment. Light creeping in through the fogged up windows, and the muffled voices interrupting the radio channel were disturbing. My favourite element was the simple trick of placing a light switch on the far wall of a room, forcing me to walk through total darkness just to flick the switch. Even though there was nothing hidden in the dark waiting to devour me, these moments were still haunting.
The Guest clocks in at around 3-4 hours. The total play time really depends on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. The presentation is excellent and this is where the game really shines. This experience will have me questioning my wellbeing while staying in hotels, at least for a while. The Guest is available for a decent price of just under $10 U.S. and I highly recommend it. I just wish I was as engaged with the story as much as I was with the atmospheric Oak Wood Hotel.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer out of Newcastle, Australia (any time of year, you can find him here). You can follow him on Twitter at @DrVane