Written by sPINDRAFT 9/28/2013
This is another one of those moments when I go Hmmmmm! and it is not necessarily because Doorways is bad its just, well, its seemingly lack of continuity suggests it is tracking on multiple wires all deriving their power from different sources. The game is actually a true enviroment puzzle masterpiece that this game fan would say takes inspiration from the mechanics of a classic like MYST but it is short (even with two more chapters coming out next year) and thus it tries to cover too much territory leaving the player feeling a bit bounced around and befuddled.
HAG covered the beta release on Sept 6, 2013 in the “In The Near Gloom” column which was basically a pre-release of Chapter I. This chapter changed not at all in this the full release which includes the Chapter II portion of the game. In Chapter one we were introduced to the first of the four bad guys, Jake Gibbs “The Professor”, who is a maniacal kidnapper bent on torture and the evil devices used to deliver it. In Chapter II we read the Doorways profile on the second nasty piece of work called “The Sculptor”, a Mr. Felix Lundberg, who holds a prominent position in the local community as a consultor of fine art. From the information given in the profile sheets one is given the impression that their is some sort of linear connection in the work of these two individuals with the sculptures exhibiting a decisive end to the tortured kidnapping victims which leaves the roles of the last two criminals (yet to be named) open for speculation.
The characters you are hunting define the puzzled enviroments for their respective chapters by virtue of their heinous criminal activity and this part of the game design is superb but lets take a look at the segregations that exists within each chapter as you travel through the game world.
Chapter I starts out with a tutorial that takes place in a semi developed cave system for reasons unknown to the actual story line. It is however a very good tutorial that takes you neatly through the basic concepts of gameplay in a sort of treasure hunt mode where you must find the items that make up your characters inventory containers. This training session is smartly delivererd but does nothing to set up the stories direction. Moving into the active portions of Chapter I we land in a place called ‘The Forest Of Stakes’, this is an awesome and surrealistic landscape with some dire moments of extreme navigation in the dark but in the end I failed to find any real physical connection to the upcoming story. The best I could come up with is like a dreamway into some psychic connection with the residual energy of the suspects you are searching for.
From here you move into a medieval castle that unless the Professor and the Sculptor have lived multiple lifetimes makes no sense of a current timeframe at all. The castle is awesome with some pretty cool floor puzzles to negotiate but the sense here is that we are looking far into the past and the only connection that can be discerned is that our bad guys may have been studying some form of historical witchery.
Now we move into something that resembles where the actual game should live on a more concise level. After a little more wandering in the twilight zone we come across an old abandoned house and we are given our first real sense of adventure thus far. The place is creepy with broken windows, boarded doors and a locked cellar; it is dark, cloudy and erie outside and you must find a way to get inside. It is here, in the bowls of this broken house that the best of ‘Doorways’ resides. This is the lair of the Professor and you must get inside his evil mind by learning about each of the torture devices you discover here. The landscape within the house is beautifully rendered and you actually feel like the game play makes sense for a change but as you can see you have travelled through three distinct zones with seemingly independent lives in just your first hour within the game.
Upon completeing your toture device training ‘Doorways’ quickly moves into the second chapter where are second maniac has set up shop. Chapter II maintains continuity right from the beginning, no more dreamland states to try and piece togehter here. You arrive inside another castle like structure (although it does not appear to be the one from the surreal journey in Chapter I) where the enviromental puzzling gets real, interesting, fun and frustrating all at the same time. We will not go into a linear rundown of this chapter because 1) its as short as chapter I and 2) the masses did not get to pre-play this section so we will leave it as fresh as possible. Suffice it to say that ‘Doorways’ seems to find itself more and more as it goes along and I don’t mean the story per-se but its gaming potential as a navigational puzzle.
There are some moments when you are confronted with some ghostly apparitions that may or may not try to attack you but they do not represent a real, dire threat unless you walk all the way up to them. In truth they are actually well designed puzzles themselves and are not used in the traditional scope at all. This type of puzzle, that actually fights back, is a great achievement for ‘Doorways’ and one of the brightest, creative moments the game has to offer.
Overall the game is graphically well done, it looks good, the puzzles start out good and get better as you go (you will really enjoy the rooms of lost souls in Chapter II) and it keeps you engaged. Saibot has built an intriguing landscape here but its short lived virtual reality and somewhat discordant delivery leave one in a mild state of disappointment although the navigational issues that must be overcome in Chapter II go a long way towards redeeming its various shortcomings. Hopefully Chapters III and IV will strive to push the puzzling boundaries of a visually good but otherwise flat effort to their strained seams. I will wait on the final two chapters to see how the written story plays out or if it does at all.
HAG Score - 8.3