It's a strange little thing, to be sure, but I'd definitely recommend A Dark Room to people who appreciate off-beat RPGs, fans of experience-driven games, or really anyone looking for something a little bit different from usual.
Is it a perfect game? No. But for what it sets out to accomplish, I definitely feel that it almost entirely hit its mark. It has taken the app store by storm, but I suspect its negative criticism ultimately comes from the fact that a large number of people on these devices are casual gamers, which there's nothing wrong with but the demographic definitely seeks different goals than a more core gamer base.
For me, The Dark Room is almost a meditative process, and certain plot points which I won't spoil really resonated *hard* with me when I first realized what was going on. It's a game that forces you to think, to roleplay a little bit, and to really put yourself into the shoes of The Wanderer. Things start to go wrong (again, no spoilers) with absolutely no fanfare, simply a single sentence, and honestly many players miss it at first like I did. Then as you start to realize what's going on, many people including myself became more and more uneasy but continued seeing it through to the end.
What really stuck with me through all this is that were such an event to play out in real life, that's basically how it would happen as well. It's difficult to say much more without any spoilers but I'll leave you with this thought: everyone believes themselves the protagonist in the story that is life.
This game is for reading, thinking and exploring. It's simple and leaves out a great deal of fluff or instructions. Find, explore and think. The UI could be cleaner, it just doesn't scream polished, but it doesn't matter. I love it. If you've played zork, or love complicated stories you will love this.
I think this game is as good as you allow your mind to wander. It's short, maybe 3 hours, but purposeful and interesting and at times beautiful. It's ascii characters, white on black, black on white. No art, no UI. But no less unique.
I had a friend tip me off to Zork in the infocom pack for an iPad i had lying around. Man that was a blast from the past. So I went searching for more. Found planetfall hidden away, just as hard as I remember, and then found a dark room. This game brings so many of the feelings of great text adventure, the awe, the wonder, but it doesn't really bring the gameplay at all. That's not what it is. It's an experiment. Trying to be something sifferent. It is that, and it's worth your time to check it out.
An objective rating is impossible for this game. If I would have to pay for it then it's an underwhelming experience with a crude GUI and a lot of boring moments when you just sit there and wait to collect enough resources for the next step. Exploring the world can be very punishing so overall "playing" the game cannot be describes as much fun. The interaction with the "builder" never really takes off and overall the atmosphere could have been much improved.
If you get the game for free then it's a bit different because you mainly play to find out how it will end. Yes, collecting resources is tiresome, exploring is not really satisfying and the atmosphere could have been improved but you haven't spent any money and the critical voice in your head needs to step aside.
Try it if you can get it for free.
People have been ranting and raving about how good 'a dark room' is and how simplistic it is. That is not only it's greatest strength, but also it's greatest flaw.
Don't get me wrong, I grew up in the age of Pong, Zork and online Telnet games known as MUDs.
But there's a huge difference between these games and a dark room.
While games like Zork had an ever progressing storyline, much like reading a book, a dark room's narration is few and far between and often times incredibly vague.
While MUDs offered big worlds to explore, dozens if not hundreds of monsters to slay and piles of loot and gold to collect, a dark room is incredibly isolated, often punishing players for exploring. The game largely revolves around resource grinding, so you'll spend a lot of time just watching your screen until you have enough resources to progress.
Eventually when you finally get to the real meat and bones of the game, it's mostly anticlimactic. You will spend most of your time going from place to place to collect more resources until you have what you need to progress.
I believe a lot of the praise for this game is largely undeserved. The current game industry is in strange state right now where people are responding strongly to games that feature very little. As it is, a dark room brings nothing new to the table and offers very little as far as gameplay mechanics are concerned.
A dark room is slow, tedious, boring and largely non-interactive. If you enjoy grinding for resources and doing little else besides looking at your screen, this game is for you, everyone else avoid at all costs. There is a reason this game only costs a dollar.