“There are two kinds of people in this world- the people who spend their lives helping others, doing good, caring about the world… and then there’s you.” In Forgiveness, this is the greeting you receive when you “awake” in a strange room with symbols painted on the walls, with a challenge that if you escape in thirty minutes or less, you’ll earn your way out of purgatory. At least, that’s what the guy on the loudspeaker claims.
If you’re a fan of escape rooms, Forgiveness might be right up your alley. Each level requires you to solve three to four puzzles in sequence in order to finally unlock the door. And like most popular escape rooms, these all have a theme- the seven deadly sins.
Players can choose to take a personality test, choosing between two options in a series of “Would You Rather”-style questions, and having your very own Deadly Sin chosen for you. This allows you to experience the “story mode” version of the game where you hear the charming introduction of Dr. Benjamin Smith, supposedly the new God, and solve an introductory puzzle as a sort of tutorial, gathering clues to discover the code to unlock the door.
Aside from Dr. Smith’s initial speech, there is no additional dialogue, although in “Normal” mode, an audio cue will play whenever you discover an item relevant to solving one of the puzzles. Players also have access to a “hint” function in all levels including the tutorial (listed as “Prolog” in the menu). As far as I can tell, there is no penalty to your final time for using the hints.
Escaping the Prolog room luckily does not count against your thirty minutes. It also never changes. If you’ve solved it once, you only need to remember the door code in order to move to the actual level. The doctor’s dialogue also remains unchanged.
Players also have the option to choose the level directly, which also gives you the ability to choose by difficulty level. Only the Prolog room is “Easy”, 2 sins are “Medium”, 3 are “Hard”, and Wrath and Envy are “Insane”. These descriptors are, depending on your experience with puzzles, somewhat accurate.
Experienced players (especially veterans of classic adventure games) will quickly recognize certain mechanics – coded messages on walls, clues hidden in the titles of books or paintings on the walls, or obstacles that require the use of tools (an axe to open a locked chest, or a crowbar to prise something off the wall, for example). In some cases, first instincts will be correct- in others, players will need to scour the room for additional information pointing them to the puzzle’s solution. There are always one or two red herrings that might draw attention away from the true goal and end up eating a lot of the allotted time.
While the timer is always running, it is only in Extreme mode that the clock will run out at thirty minutes. You also lose access to hints and the audio cue. However, winning in Extreme mode does not offer additional dialogue or any kind of bonus material. It also doesn’t affect whether you earn the achievement for the room.
There are some fun easter eggs hidden here and there, but Forgiveness does its best to impart a sense of horror in its players without resorting to jump scares. The soundtrack is changes from room to room, varying from ambient haunted-house style noises to adrenaline-fueling scores you’d expect to hear played when deciding whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire. While most of the puzzles are fairly harmless, one true moment of horror was in the Gluttony room where part of the puzzle requires that you eat a dead rat. There’s not a key inside of it or anything, but you still have to eat it. It’s not even gory – you don’t see it disappear bite by bite or anything – but it seriously gave me the heebie-jeebies.
Win or lose, you don’t meet Dr. Smith. There’s also no question that you really are dead, experiencing some sort of pre-hell afterlife; Smith’s dialogue specifically says that he hasn’t killed you yet. For those who devour horror-game lore, there’s definitely fodder for some theories, particularly in the Pride and Envy rooms.
Win or lose, you don’t meet Dr. Smith. There’s also no question that you really are dead, experiencing some sort of pre-hell afterlife; Smith’s dialogue specifically says that he hasn’t killed you yet. For those who devour horror-game lore, there’s definitely fodder for some theories, particularly in the Pride and Envy rooms. The Pride room is a study/library style area, and one of the puzzles involves collecting a series of books- all about psychology. Could Dr. Smith a psychologist? The room with the most narrative gameplay, Envy, is set in the loft apartment of someone named Jean. Part of the puzzles involve reading the chat logs on her laptop, and the only time an item description is less than straightforward is when you look at the shoes next to the bed. A pair of white flats simply read “Jean’s shoes”, while a brown hiking boot reads “I don’t know whose shoe this is”. The only other voice actor listed in the credits is for Jean’s voice, which you hear in a different part of the puzzle. Like I said, lots of theory fodder for those so inclined.
Since the puzzles never change, replay value is not particularly high. However, the game has good atmosphere, solid theming, and each room offers a unique challenge. There is little to no overlap in the mechanics of each room’s puzzles, meaning that solving one does not give you any advantage for solving another. My best recommendation? Buy the game, invite a bunch of friends over, and hook your computer up to your TV. The game only costs about ten dollars on Steam, so you’re saving money over a real-life escape room by about ninety bucks. And hey, if enough people do that, maybe they’ll come out with a sequel, where we finally learn more about the enigmatic Dr. Smith.
Forgiveness is available on Steam, 50% off until May 13, and you can visit game publisher Chaos-Minds at their website.
It’s Like Resident Evil, But Just The Unlocking Doors Parts
Forgiveness is a well-themed, engaging puzzle game that is certainly on trend with the rise of real-world Escape Rooms. None of the aspects of any level are randomized, lowering replay value, but with the character of Dr. Benjamin Smith, the game has some potential to join the host of lore-loaded indie hits of recent years.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.