This Bed We Made: Review

This Bed We Made is a narrative driven noir game which follows Sophie Roy, a snooping maid in a 1950s hotel. It channels all the best things about Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window into a clever four and a half hour story, in which you must solve the mystery surrounding the hotel’s residents. The game tempted me with the promise of film noir, and delivered so much more. It’s truly a game about first appearances, and how they can be deceiving, and the things we place value on in our lives.

The game starts with Sophie in classic black and white, about to be interviewed by the police. This neat framing device sets up the thriller well. We know something is going to happen, because you don’t get the police involved if it’s just a complaint about room service. We then flash back to the start of her day, where she’s cleaning a single room and trying to piece together the story of its resident.

It might not seem like it at the time, but this opening gets at the heart of This Bed We Made. It’s a game about the stories we tell through the objects we own. Cleaning or throwing out objects will tell a different story to leaving them there. Being careless in your snooping will have flow on effects to your employment, as will forgetting to clean at all. Seeing the choices about what to clean and what not to clean play out has me wanting to play the game all over again.

These choices about what to put on display and what to hide away also have a symbolic meaning. As the story progresses, characters open up about their own hidden secrets, and what is hinted at in the newspapers around the hotel in the first act, unfolds into a character driven examination of McCarthyism. It’s not as subtle as it would like to be; your first suspicions are likely to be the right suspicions, although it’s worth scouring the rooms until you’ve exhausted all the clues.

Many games use this similar mechanic of picking up and examining objects, but This Bed We Made does an excellent job of imbuing these objects with meaning. These examinations are not a purposeless egg hunt to get a trophy, but each piece has been carefully considered as to how it adds to the narrative. In that way, I was more engaged with these objects and their stories, than I have been in other games. Added to this are some light cleaning sim elements, although if you’re looking for a more expansive cleaning experience you’re better off playing House Flipper.

What’s most impressive is how the developers create a sense of a larger world within the limited scope of an indie game. This is a perfect example of how to tell an expansive story when you’ve got limited budget. The game is limited to three locations, but these feel fleshed out by the attention paid to period details, like lighting, architecture, and furniture. Sophie doesn’t have a reason to go outside the boundaries of the reception, breakroom, and hotel rooms, because she’s at work in a snowstorm. Much better to be inside.

While there are five on-screen characters you interact with in the game, there are many more told through overheard conversations, letters, and photographs. Reading through these stories adds a richness to the world within the constraints of the game’s scope. It’s a testament to the writing, and a great lesson for any would-be indie developers on how to make a game feel bigger than it is.

Instead, the game invests in voice acting, which adds a depth that wouldn’t be present if it was simply a text based game. It would have worked, but not as well as it does with these solid performances. Instead, it feels like a taught psychological thriller, the camera pulling close on Sophie and her confidante’s face as they chat on the phone, hoping never to get caught.

Puzzles need to be solved in order to further unlock the story (and the suitcases), including some rather clever codebreaking. It helps to take notes while playing the game; while the evidence is added to your menu in text format, you often need to look at the in-situ evidence for clues. Zooming in on the clues is essential, but it took me a while to figure out I needed to do this in the game.

There’s a layer of tension here created by Sophie’s low-key crime of snooping. It’s not murder, but she risks a lot by doing it and getting caught. This psychological thriller will leave you wondering until the very last minute who is responsible for the crime. Much like Sophie, you’ll ask yourself why are these mysterious residents staying at the hotel? Is it all a coincidence? Or is a sinister blackmail plot afoot? Or is she just a bored maid?

Despite the threats that the hotel guests might return at any minute, after a while, I realised that I had free-reign in the rooms. When you realise no one is returning, it takes away from the tension of the game, although there are a few moments when you might be caught by the hotel manager. In these dialogues, you can lie to him. Victoria Diamond’s performances in these moments carry the hesitation of Sophie’s character. But don’t get caught in the lie…

You’re accompanied in your investigation by a confidante, in the form of charismatic hotel receptionist Beth, or nerdy bookworm Andrew. These two acolytes add more replayability to the story, given there are multiple endings depending on what you uncover or throw away. I played the game through with the irresistible Beth, whose cheeky and seductive performance by Zoé Tremblay-Blanco played off Sophie’s timid persona to perfection.

This is a game for people who like narrative driven storytelling combined with the period setting of games like L.A. Noire. At four and a half hours, it’s a tight ship that doesn’t need to be any longer than it is. But with more budget, I’d love to see this mechanic applied on a much larger scale, such as in a wintry mountain lodge or a grand hotel, with more characters and suspects.

The word that keeps coming to mind with This Bed We Made is clever. The game is clever in its use of period aesthetics and story development through objects. It’s also clever in the puzzles that need to be solved in order to uncover the truth.

But what it’s most clever about is using the limited scope of an indie game as an advantage; in focussing on three main locations and creating characters off screen, they create a sense of a world bigger than their budget. And that is clever indeed.