Dying RebornFebruary 28th, 2017
Escape rooms have quietly become one of my favorite genres of gaming in recent years. There’s just something about the carnal thrill of creatively seeking escape from a locked room where the threat of death looms overhead. Having only access to the tools and items strewn about forces the player to come up with abstract solutions in order to escape. The recently-released Dying: Reborn tries to be the Saw game that never was, but players should ask themselves: Do they really want to play this game?
Being presented as a Saw-esque horror game, with Jigsaw being replaced by an unknown assailant with a comically oversized fish head, Dying: Reborn takes the player into a horrific trip through six different rooms to escape from and try to figure out the truth. I certainly was left wondering just what the hell was going on once I saw the ending (and secret ending) and scratching my head as I tried to wrap my head around what I had just played. The main character’s sole motivation for enduring these death traps is to have a chance to rescue his wife and see her once again but there’s little story impact beyond this singular focus. Our hapless protagonist, Mathew (with one T), spends most of the four-hour experience whining and griping with no real character development even as the story draws to a close.
Dying: Reborn makes a few fatal mistakes with how the puzzles are presented. The thought of having to combine two halves of a screwdriver to create a functional tool is smart the first time around, but this same trope is repeated again in a later room. Why the main character wouldn’t carry it with them (especially when other special items are carried over from room to room and used to unlock the secret ending) is beyond me. This isn’t the only time that Dying: Reborn makes this continuity error, as similar environmental puzzles require a repeat solution in later chapters. It’s disappointing to see such a unique experience with unique puzzles fall back to having to reuse content when there are so many other ways to torture the player.
Some of the escape puzzles that Mathew must endure in Dying: Reborn are cryptic and not necessarily in a good way. While many puzzles are straightforward (and reused on occasion), there are some that require abstract thought that must line up perfectly with the developer’s focus. I found myself looking at a puzzle and immediately seeing its solution, only to stumble along from Point A to Point B, trying to wrap my head around just what the developer intended. The urge to look up a walkthrough was tempting, but I never succumbed to that temptation until after finishing the game and trying to discover what the hell I was supposed to do with half a key and a plastic toy.
One of the core tenets of successful ‘room escape’ design is to limit the player’s ability to solve a room’s traps by the tools that they can discover in that room. The primary exception, of course, being the own player’s logic and memories, as is the case with the Zero Escape series. Dying: Reborn breaks this unspoken rule by throwing in random objects that the player can collect that aren’t put to use in that specific room. Instead, these are carried over from room to room and can just as easily be missed if the player isn’t seeking out every nook and cranny.
During my brief playthrough, I missed one such item in the kitchen level, as there was a pumpkin of dubious nature sitting around and I attempted to cut it with two of the knives in the room. It wasn’t until later on that I learned that the third knife in the room was the necessary tool to carve open the squash and retrieve the knick-knack inside. This, of course, turned into an item that needed to be used in a later chapter for something else towards the end of the game with no indication of such. I thought we were finished with the King’s Quest era of game design, but it seems some bad ideas still persist through the years.
Despite being touted as a horror-themed puzzle game, there’s very little in here that will scare the player. Not counting the few jump scares that seem to pop up in any horror title, nothing about Dying: Reborn puts the player in any immediate danger. Only a single instance has the antagonist try and pursue the player but that very scene requires no interaction on the player’s behalf in order to escape.
Dying: Reborn does have some interesting puzzles, I’ll give the team at NEKCOM that. However, the six-chapter adventure has an astonishing lack of content that doesn’t do much to engage the player beyond some brain-wracking puzzles and repeated content. If you own a Playstation VR, a similarly titled experience is available with only half the content but still enough puzzles to entertain a player for an hour or two. Player beware: Saw, this is not.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (code provided by the publisher). You can buy it digitally for PS4 via Amazon.
Dying: Reborn is a textbook example on how to set up the groundwork for an 'Escape Room' experience, but it largely feels unfinished and content is repeated in order to fill in those gaps.
- Interesting puzzle design (the first time around)
- Nails the horror movie aesthetic
- Story has some interesting twists
- Reuses content in such a brief time
- Story feels unfinished