Rusty Lake Hotel
[Note: Please be warned that this game contains some graphic violent content some players may find upsetting. Read the rest of the review for details.]
Rusty Lake, as we all know by now, is a very special place, but you might want to think twice before you check into the Rusty Lake Hotel, no matter how scenic it is, because you never know what, or who, is on the menu. In the developer's first paid title, a surreal point-and-click puzzle game available as a download for Windows and Mac, or on Android and iOS, a group of six guests have just arrived, and it's up to you to make sure their stay is... pleasant. They're all there for their own reasons and expect you to give them what they want, and that includes serving them up fine dining every day. Your toady chef is only to happy to whip up three star recipes, but you'll need to find the ingredients yourself. On a wholly unrelated note, why don't you pay a visit to your guests after hours... ?
As you might have guessed, the morbid premise behind Rusty Lake Hotel is making sure your guests have a dinner they never forget by making sure it's their last. You're given a list of recipes, and, wouldn't you know it, each protein just so happens to correspond to one of your esteemed visitors? During the night, choose who you pay a visit to in their room. They may want to show off their magic tricks, for you to make them a drink, or any other number of demands, and while you're seeing to them, you may also find a way to, ahem, collect the meat you need. Just tap (or click) on things to interact, and use the tiny black arrows at the edges of the screen to move around the room. Once you pick a guest to visit, and you can only choose one per night, you can't leave until you've dealt with them, and each room is filled with strange puzzles and mechanisms to solve. Tap an item in your inventory to pick it up for use, and make sure to think outside the box if you get stuck. While each recipe technically only needs the base protein, you can boost its rating with your clueless dinner guests by finding two optional ingredients for each recipe. Remember, you have to cook for them each day, so consult your recipes by tapping the icon in the upper-right corner to see what special ingredients you may have found, and maybe choose who to visit based on that.
This game is weird. The creators are weird. We're weird for playing it. With every installment in their series, Rusty Lake has managed to intrigue and creep us out, and while Rusty Lake Hotel is no different, there's something especially sadistic and unsettling about the premise this time around. You murder your guests in some fairly horrible ways, all of which take place right before your eyes, so it's a little different than simply seeing the aftermath of violence or the abstract gore from the previous titles. The creators have always had a great eye for presentation and the surreal, and Rusty Lake Hotel goes all out in this regard. Every frame seems to drip with tension and menace, and the soundtrack keeps you constantly on edge. The storytelling in Rusty Lake Hotel feels a lot more vague than in previous titles, though it's still there if you know where to look. It's not an obvious direct continuation of the events in the previous games, though it's obviously related in significant ways, and most of your time is going to be spent supremely creeped out with a big series of question marks over your head as you play. Which isn't really all that different from how I function in day to day life anyway, so I personally felt right at home.
Each room you visit is well designed, with a satisfying chunk of self-contained puzzles that vary wildly in difficulty and complexity. There's little to no hand-holding, so it's up to you to explore every nook and cranny and figure out what to do. So many of the puzzles have abstract clues hidden in the scenery, or are simply odd, that solving them brings a special amount of satisfaction. While there aren't a lot of hotspots hidden in unfair places, however, so that playing on your phone without a changing cursor isn't as big a handicap in a point-and-click game as it usually is, the game is still exceptionally fussy about how to tap/click on things. More than once I got stuck simply because I had been trying the right thing all along, but hadn't tapped on something in precisely the right place for the game to accept it. It's moments like that when the game's lack of feedback to your actions becomes a hindrance, and you're left spinning in circles, getting more and more willing to murder that smug deer with every passing second. Despite that, it's still easy to get sucked into Rusty Lake Hotel and want to blaze through the entire thing in a single sitting. It's of a satisfying length, the optional recipe ingredients give incentive to replay if you can't find them, and the price is frankly nothing compared to the time, dedication, and work the developers have clearly put into this and all their other games. With cunning puzzles and a gorgeous but macabre setting, Rusty Lake Hotel is more than worth your check in.
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