In today's ocean of indie titles, a unique look is one of the best ways to help your game stand out. And being made entirely of over 8,000 photographs of clay, Anton Riot's isometric action romp, curiously named Don't Open the Doors, has definitely turned some heads. Add to that the fact that it's simply a great game regardless, and I wouldn't be surprised if it engenders a solid fan base going forward.
Don’t Open the Doors stars a yellowish, unnamed man who’s been sent to deliver a “megabomb” to the guarding forces of a city overrun by mysterious doors. Through the sheer idiocy of the guards, our hero is separated from his bomb, run out of town, and forced to collect the ingredients needed for a second megabomb. As you guide him on this quest, you’ll encounter plenty of obstacles to overcome and twists to unravel. All the while, you’ll pick up armor, explosives, and a mallet to squish your way to victory.
Aside from the text and a few interface elements, everything here is made of clay. This is brought to life through a combination of stop-motion animation and digital stretch-and-sway. Often, pre-rendered games have an inherent look of gloominess to them, but Doors avoids this by constantly using bright colors and fat, rounded shapes. As you’d expect, it runs in HD, but much of your surroundings are pleasantly blurred in a subtle way that gives the world a feeling of depth. What’s less expected is its on-again, off-again slowdown, which gets to be a real problem when you pull out the Cactus Gun. From start to finish, though, it never ceases to look striking. Also commendable is the soundtrack, which utilizes traditional symphonic instruments and quiet electric guitar accompaniments to deliver a series of catchy tunes. It all comes together and registers with great success.
While it looks completely unusual, this game plays like a traditional isometric horde-slayer, sticking out somewhat by using the modern WASD standard for movement. While most of your time is spent in the real world running errands for various characters, you’ll find plenty of the game’s namesake doors scattered about. These serve as portals to what are functionally dungeons filled with traps, treasure, and (mostly) adorable monsters. It’s a tried-and-true formula, and one that the game itself practically uses over its 10-hour length. But while it doesn’t break the mold, its well-balanced mechanics and clever writing ought to keep you hooked for hours at a time.
And seriously, Don’t Open the Doors is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. Characters speak in chat bubbles, often choosing hilariously rude and vague ways to convey their thoughts, and you always get to choose what you say back to them. Their fickleness, strange phrases, and tendency to fling insults at you are reminiscent of the strangers you’ve probably run into while playing games online with text chat, an effect that’s amplified by the lack of voice acting. It’s a weird world, but more than that it’s a world full of weirdos. And it elevates the whole game considerably.
I did run into a few issues, aside from the slowdown, that persisted throughout the experience. For one, it’s often difficult to get your character standing in the direction you want, as the keys don’t really guide him with the best precision. This gets easier to adjust to as you continue playing, but it never completely goes away. I also found that, when you’re at full health and trying to pick up an item next to a health pickup, you can’t pick up either. This can be particularly frustrating when it’s in a room where you can’t hurt yourself.
Despite a handful of persistent flaws, Don’t Open the Doors is a charming, hilarious, and memorable experience that completely engrosses the player in its world of violence and absent-mindedness. With its satisfying gameplay and nonstop sense of humor, it does quite enough to be worth a spot in your library. It's not a masterpiece, but Don't Open the Doors is good old-fashioned breezy fun with a superb sense of humor that pushes it into greatness. Plus, it’s just cool to play something made out of clay.