If there’s one thing I can take from Doors, it’s that hopefully we can all agree as an internet collective to perhaps put the “bacon is better than Scarlett Johannson and Firefly put together” meme to rest.
Or maybe I’m just being optimistic.
Lord knows the developers of Doors were.
Doors is a first person indie puzzle game developed and published by Calvin Weibel and released on PC February 12th, 2016. It takes more than one note from games like Limbo and The Stanley Parable, and if I’m being honest, it does that well.
In Doors you play a nameless, faceless character who must make their way through a black and white hellscape of door puzzles. What sort of puzzles? Well, do you remember the talking riddle doors from Labyrinth? “One of us tells the truth, and the other one always lies”? Yeah, it’s pretty much those sorts of puzzles over and over. Which can be fun if you like that sort of thing. They’re the sort of logic-based math puzzles that you may have seen during the SATs. They’re interesting, and may even cause you to break out a notebook to write some of them out. They’re challenging, but the process of trial and error is also forgiving enough to keep you from losing hope.
One of the puzzle doors leads to certain death, and the other one leads to delicious bacon: the internet’s favorite breakfast and ice cream topping. You solve one puzzle after another, all the while being given hints that the world isn’t what it seems to be: that’s there’s a darkness behind the game. The game takes more than a few steps to give you an idea of what they’re going for here: the bleakness of Limbo, with the 4th wall breaking and black humor of The Stanley Parable. And it isn’t as if the designer goes out of his way to hide these tilts of the hat—in some levels it’s painfully obvious.
So I found it sort of funny that my major gripe with Doors was that it didn’t steal quite enough.
As I’ve said, Doors doesn’t do anything to hide from its influences. On the other hand, these reference points don’t last, and the game ends up being far more banal than it was trying to be. It’s as if Doors knew that we would recognize where it borrow its ideas, but was too afraid of being judged on that merit to allow the ideas to sink in. It makes me think of that old chestnut: “Mediocre artists borrow: great artists steal.” Ironically, if Doors had stolen a little more, I might have had far more positives to throw it. But that isn’t to suggest that the design of this game is completely without merit. It’s basically impossible for amateurs and clowns to create quality atmosphere.
If Doors is a bit derivative of other indie darlings (and it is), that is the one thing I’ll say for it. Atmosphere is not something you can just pull out of thin air, even if you’re largely copying something that someone else did. Take a look at modern remakes of horror movie classics and you’ll see what I’m getting at. Doors does a good job at creating an atmosphere. The somber ambient sounds mix with the black and white backdrops for a solid sense of foreboding. And when you start to see cracks in the reality of the world around you, it’s genuinely intriguing and frightening. My hat’s off to the designers of Doors for making me feel this sinister world. That is no small feat.
But in the end, all that Door’s creep factor and 4th wall breaking leads to is a genuinely intriguing proof of concept. After less than an hour of play, I didn’t feel like Doors was finished. And more than that, I don’t think it gave itself enough credit. There’s a foundation here that I would love to see expanded on in future games. But beyond that are tired memes that don’t quite push hard enough. To put it simply: The Stanley Parable made us think about games and what it meant to be a character in one of them. To have our lives taken out of our hands by unseen forces that we don’t understand.
Doors, on the other hand, mostly makes us think, “Oh man—remember how good The Stanley Parable was?”