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When we look at the world of casual gaming, and more specifically, escape the room games, there are those who pioneered the genre, and those that continue to perfect it. While Mateusz J. Skutnik may not have been around since the beginning, the ETR genre simply wouldn’t be the same without his contributions.
Enter Submachine, the first major release from Skutnik to hit the internet, and a game that, from humble beginnings, spawned a slew of sequels and prequels.
Submachine is often classified as an escape the room game, but in truth the playing field is spread out over a series of rooms stacked up on each other in a kind of easily navigated grid. Still, while there may be more than one room in this escape the room game, most of the standard mechanisms are in place. Finding itmes, solving puzzles, and ultimately, figuring how to get out of the strange complex in which you find yourself.
Skutnik’s style in game making is unique and almost immediately recognizable. His artwork typically has an organic, hand drawn quality to it, while his puzzles tend to be more mathematical and technical based in nature. That’s not to say that you’re going to need to pull out a calculator, but to solve a real deep Skutnik puzzle does require assessing a presented system, analyzing coded clues, and applying it all at once, or in sequence to produce the required result.
As a result, while Skutnik’s artwork tends to be easily approachable and pleasing to the eye, his puzzles can get downright nasty.
Happily, Submachine is what one might call a perfect introduction into the dark worlds that Skutnik creates in his games. There are traces of classic Skutnik craftsmanship; from the bell puzzle to the industrial framework of the field of play, but compared to later installments of the Submachine series, everything is toned down and made extremely accessible to the player.
On its own, Submachine has been out in the field for a while, and still manages to stand tall as a great game. The choice of providing small static rooms, as opposed to larger rooms that can be observed from multiple angles, truly gives a cramped feel that fits perfectly with your alien surroundings. Meanwhile, the sparsity of sound only enhances the slight unease that you may feel as you navigate the series of rooms towards your goal.
As for the puzzles, compared to his later work, Skutnik has provided for he most part simple mental obstacles that are challenging, but by no means frustrating. All one has to do is keep a watchful eye out, and remain persistent, and you should eventually find everything you need to find your way.
As far as drawbacks are concerned, there aren’t many. For hardcore room escapers, Submachine will seem like a walk in the park, but never fear, later installments get much more difficult. Aside from that, the only thing that I feel is missing from this game is the more personal touches that Skutnik adds in his latter games. Specifically the artwork, and his unique ability to create at the same time a sterile, industrial, mechanical environment that still manages to convey an organic, living presence.
But these are incredibly minor, and should not stand in the way of enjoying what has become a room escaping classic.