I don’t know about you, but just the idea of being locked in a bomb shelter and forced to solve puzzles isn’t my idea of a vacation. Apart from crazed conspiracy theorists, I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone either. Still, if that’s your idea of a good time, I’ve got great news for you: ng Zero Time Dilemma should be right up their alley.
Developed by Chime, Zero Time is the third entry in the Zero Escape series after Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and Virtue’s Last Reward. Originally released back in 2016 on the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS, it wasn’t long before this claustrophobic puzzler found its way onto Windows that same year. At long last, it’s finally available on a proper home console like the PS4, which is where my adventure in the series took place.
Nine participants are thrown into an underground facility, imprisoned with a strange black bracelet clamped onto their wrists. In order to escape they’ll have to play a game featuring deadly consequences to get their freedom. The rules state for the survivors to make their escape that six people have to die for the hatch to open. Who lives and dies depends on the decisions made in each scenario. Old and new faces from the rest of the Zero Escape series also participate in this deadly game with a slew of others to conclude the long standing series.
Zero is the antagonist who captured these nine and crafted the Decision Game he’s now forcing them to play. Think Jigsaw from SAW, only better dressed. Among his ‘participants’ are childhood friends Akane and Junpei, now working to save each other. Carlos is a young firefighter with a Captain America complex who is dedicated to saving his sister. My favorite is Sean, a strange little kid who wears a ball or pod device on top of his head that can’t be removed. Diana is a motherly nurse who despite the dire situation, is cheerful everyone will survive if the right decisions are made. Eric is a nervous ice cream shop clerk who freaks out over the situation and doesn’t work well with others.
Mira, Eric’s girlfriend, is typically level-headed and doesn’t withhold her opinion when it comes to the situation at hand. Sigma is a mystery, claiming to be a 67 year-old in the body of a 22 year-old who has gone back through time to save humanity. Phi is a quiet young woman with white hair who may have been betrayed in the past. This group of misfits makes up the cast and at times it can be difficult to relate to keep track of everyone when they’re interacting with each other.
Don’t get me wrong, I like 3DS games as much as anyone, but one of the compromises of playing on a small screen is that visuals are usually compromised. This doesn’t mean the game looks bad, but the graphics are hyper-stylized to make up for the lack of detail. On the 3DS, this works great since I can focus more on gameplay and still have a good experience. Take a 3DS title and blow it up to HD-standards and the formula starts to break down.
Zero suffers from this and the graphical flaws became apparent as everything looks oversimplified. The appearance of the characters are okay if you don’t mind robotic movements and plastic complexions on the characters. The only place where the graphics didn’t bother me is when it came to the escape rooms. While the textures for many of the rooms had a plastic appearance to them, they were detailed enough that it helped to overcome the initial flaws of blowing up a 3DS title on the big screen.
The voice acting did ruin the atmosphere since the characters could range from sounding bored to talking as if they were reading from a script. Character interactions felt forced and most of the time I found it distracting when their conversation would turn to dumb topics. Eric for instance develops a weird fixation on Sean wearing an od pod like helmet. Eric insists on having it removed at one point trying to forcibly remove the helmet from Sean’s head. Seriously, why care about if a character is wearing a helmet?! You’re locked in an underground bunker with whom I assume is a crazy person. There is more at stake than another person’s odd choice of fashion.
Where Zero shines are the escape room portions, which were pretty awesome. I loved being able to figure out the puzzles and see how to proceed to get through an area. During one puzzle I had to start a fire, place a wooden box in the fireplace, then retrieve the box with a poker to find out what was inside. Another puzzle had me match numbers to a chart to figure out the code on a roulette wheel. There’s even a bit of hand-holding when things got tough; when I got stuck on a puzzle the characters would comment on what was going on and offer hints on how to proceed.
Ironically, it’s when conversations switched from voice-acting to text I enjoyed them the most. They’d comment on items I found or share their preferences over a bottle of liquor they enjoyed or offer information about their personal lives. This helped to round them out as people to me and did help to make-up for my earlier annoyance with their voice acting.
Zero Time Dilemma has its flaws and it’s not my first choice out of a game meant for a small screen to put on the big one. Still, people who are fans of escape rooms and enjoy solving puzzles will probably love this one. Heck, the characters might even grow on you while solving some of these puzzles. It won’t be for everyone, but those who enjoy games like this are bound to find something to like here.