Developer: Yorick Postema
Release Date: April 9, 2021
I’ve been on an escape room style game kick for a bit, and although I don’t usually seek out hard games, I don’t mind an overly challenging puzzler now and again. I don’t even mind when a game requires you to know things (or be able to figure out how to look them up) outside of the information the game gives you.
What I was not expecting, however, was for that to extend to how to actually play the game.
Disclaimer: This is another title I played for far less than the hour benchmark I’ve set, but after taking a quick peek at a walkthrough, I knew there wasn’t anyway this game and I were going to ever be on the same page.
For a game that describes itself as having “no hand holding”, The Cryptologist Room fills an awful lot of the screen real estate with text. Initially, it seemed like the few tasks the game had set for you to escape the room would take far less than the 45 minute timer that was counting down. I spent the first several minutes pixel crawling across the dark bookshelves in the room, desperately looking for something I could interact with – other than, of course, the door which just kept telling me I did not yet have the key.
After my fourth or fifth trip around the room, I caved and went looking for a walkthrough. If, for some reason, you think you might want to play this one yourself, please stop reading here.
The books are not, in fact, on the bookshelves. This isn’t what put me off. I should have known that the books wouldn’t be on the bookshelves. But when a walkthrough is a brief as the one for this game is, it’s hard not to read ahead a little.
I’m sure I’ve said this in the past, but puzzle games either sink or swim on the strength of their puzzles. Puzzle games that require extreme leaps of logic aren’t satisfying, even if you do manage to (eventually) guess the next step. Sure, the instructions are to “crack the code” but actual code breaking normally requires that you have a key, and here, the expectation is that you’ll try all permutations of a specific type of cypher that’s not indicated by anything at all in the room.
For me, that’s not a fair puzzle, and maybe if the game was doing everything else right, I might have pushed through it. But discovering that there are only three “puzzles” to the entire game made me even more uninterested. It wasn’t going to get better than this, and I was already sick of the slow movement and the dark room and the very very few interactables, and … I really just didn’t want to be in The Cryptologist Room anymore.
Thankfully, the only key I actually needed to get out was the escape key on my keyboard.
Even with escape room puzzles starting to find a broader audience on PC, this game doesn’t seem to be finding any part of that success. SteamDB estimates that The Cryptologist Room has sold somewhere between 100 and 400 copies on Steam – even the bargain basement price point isn’t enough to draw folks in. It is ranked 9756 out of 10,967 games released in 2021, having found no success either in sales numbers or in garnering positive reviews.