In a nutshell, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward is fantastic. I think this might just be my favourite game of the year so far.
That's not to say it's for everyone - far from it. In reality, this is destined to be another cult classic, just as previous entry in the series 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors was.
However, if you've any interest in visual novels, room escape games, or just a game that excels at portraying tension, you need to check out Virtue's Last Reward.Escapism
You play Sigma, a college student whisked away in the middle of the night by a masked villain and dumped in a large warehouse. From there you meet eight other characters with very different backgrounds from your own, and you're pitted against them in a game where the first prize is freedom and all of the other prizes are death.
You have a watch-like device strapped around your wrist, and it keeps track of how much BP you have - a currency awarded for participation in a game of trust and betrayal. Should you reach nine points, you're free to escape (potentially leaving your compatriots behind), but if you hit zero then it's Game Over by way of lethal injection.
It's essentially a video game version of The Prisoner's Dilemma. You enter a room with a terminal and are asked to vote to Trust or Betray your opponent, who is sealed away in another room. Points are then awarded based on how your vote tallies up with theirs.
If you both choose to trust one another, you get two points. However, pick Betray instead while they pick Trust, and you'll get three points, and they'll lose some.
You'll need to carefully think through whether you can put your life in their hands, and consider their potential reasons for betraying you. It creates this fantastic tension throughout the entirety of the game's discussion-driven narrative - a level of paranoia rarely experienced in interactive entertainment.
The pièce de résistance to this setup is that one of the nine characters is also Zero, the mastermind behind the entire game, and a serial killer. There are different endings based on your actions, and there are some truly chilling twists in the tale to discover.Ambidextrous
When not attempting to figure out who's out to get you, you're solving puzzles in individual rooms. Finding objects, combining them with one another, working out what riddles mean, interacting with the environment around you - it's structurally basic fare, but executed well and very playable on a touchscreen.
Though the puzzles can be complicated and elaborate, there's an Easy mode available that helps give you a nudge in the right direction should you need it, or should you just want to get back to the main visual novel gameplay.
You may be assuming at this point that it's all a bit Saw-inspired. While the premise is the same, it's nowhere near as gory. There's a bit of the red stuff, sure, but the oppressive atmosphere emanates from exquisite dialogue, brilliant voice acting, and a deliciously desperate situation.
This is a gripping, deep story combined with smart brain teasers that can leave you scratching your head for hours. It's a slow and methodically paced title, and aside from the room escape sequences there isn't much in the way of traditional gameplay.
But that really doesn't matter - you'll be far too tangled in Zero's web of deceit to care.