This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Going back to an old haunt comes with a bittersweet type of nostalgia. Remembering good times is a happy escape from daily trials and tribulations, but being conscious of the distance between how you were then and where you are now, as well as what you’ve lost along the way, can sting. It’s almost impossible to evoke how a physical location can stir such emotion in a person, but that’s exactly what MARIE’S ROOM sets out to do.
In MARIE’S ROOM, you play as Kelsey, who was close with the eponymous Marie during high school. Upon entering Marie’s old, abandoned house and going up into her room, you find her journal. Interacting with it will transport you back to the state the house was in during Kelsey and Marie’s high school years, where Kelsey reminisces as she rifles through her old friend’s belongings, vaguely reminiscing on the event that ended their relationship, and leaving it to the player to figure out what exactly that pivotal moment was. Clicking on various items around the room, like a poster or a shirt, will prompt Kelsey to monologue a little about its meaning, and may even cause her to add her own entries to Marie’s journal. Not only does the journal offer a peak into Marie’s life in days past, it also offers the player hints as to the specifics of Kelsey’s current circumstance.
The game could also be called “Marie’s Dorm Room.”
If the dual mystery narrative sounds a little bit convoluted, don’t worry, you’re not alone, but in practice, MARIE’S ROOM does an effective job at growing streamlined threads from the initial confusion. Snooping through the bedroom delivers the same rush as going through a friend’s stuff while they’re in the bathroom: intimate and nostalgic, yet revealing, all at once. While it’s common in film to reveal information to the protagonist alongside the audience, Kelsey begins the game with a full deck while the player is left hanging in the wind. This dichotomy is what makes our character as intriguing as the mystery.
It’s obvious the game draws deeply from influences such as LIFE IS STRANGE and GONE HOME. Like those titles, MARIE’S ROOM communicates more through observation than dialogue or action, and the titular room itself looks like it was transplanted directly from Arcadia Bay. All three games also revolve around a pair of young women who share a strong bond with palpable romantic tension. However, this one veers from its predecessors in how it chooses to develop its story. A serious conflict exists between Kelsey and Marie that isn’t explicitly resolved within the context of the gameplay. It feels messy and realistic, like a real relationship, and in that respect feels more like the AIM simulator EMILY IS AWAY than the polished narratives of those aforementioned games. The jumbled, almost casual manner in which the plot is revealed compels the player to continue exploring.
This game makes me feel personally attacked
The other big draw of the game also comes from the quality graphics and art. Considering that MARIE’S ROOM is a free game designed by a duo, Kenny Guillaume and Dagmar Blommaert, the amount of work they put into realizing the room is staggering. GONE HOME let you explore a house, and LIFE IS STRANGE an entire town, and each presents an impressive amount of eye candy for your perusal. MARIE’S ROOM is limited to that single space, and so places emphasis on quality over quantity. The attention to detail throughout the environment is exponentially more intricate, with even small objects like a movie ticket or a shirt having far more artistic detail and attention, less like a series of objects you go through to tell a linear story, more like the eclectic possessions of a teenage girl’s room that together paint a picture of who lived there.
MARIE’S ROOM is not without rough edges. The game opens with a disclaimer that it doesn’t support saved states because it’s meant to be played through in one sitting. Therefore, the story is concise, taking around 40 minutes to play depending on your speed, but if you have to close tabs for whatever reason, it’s back to the very start. Additionally, while the majority of the game is paced well, the final stretch feels somewhat rushed. The story is as engaging as it is because of how relatable both of the characters are, and not exploring the repercussions of their past actions to the fullest extent feels like a disservice to the rest of the game. That being said, MARIE’S ROOM does get to tell its whole story, and if anything, it made me want to go back and replay the game to experience the narrative with a new perspective.
Marie’s writing is far more neat than mine can ever hope to be
A free game that can be played in a single sitting is an easy sell, and the fact MARIE’S ROOM is a captivating tale at that makes it all the harder to pass up. It may have some slight flaws, to be sure, but was really impressive in story and detail. It fits in well with the mood of other female-focused exploration games, as well as having a distinct voice and tone. It’s an experience that will take up less than an hour of your time, but leaves you reminiscing about the relationships that have grown apart, as well a solemn reminder to not take everything, or everyone, on their initial appearance. For better or for worse, life is a messy surprise, and this game perfectly emulates that truth.
Reviewed on PC