“What do you love, Rumu?”
Developer: Robot House
Publisher: Hammerfall Publishing
Released: December 13, 2017
You know, as much as she was an awesome villain, System Shock’s SHODAN really didn’t do a lot of favours for the overseeing, benevolent AI community. One too many AIs get a god complex and suddenly we start expecting the worst from our ever-present artificial assistants. Now we think they’ll get fed up with cleaning up after us and decide that a bit of murder would finally stop all that pesky mess once and for all. Or they’ll come up with a psychotic plan to take over mankind because Issac Asimov decided to stop at only three laws of robotics before calling it a day.
So it’s surprising to see a game like Rumu come along and scold us for making such bigoted assumptions about its own AI housekeeper before we’ve even gotten to know her. As it turns out, much like that teacher from third grade that didn’t like you very much, even digital beings are capable of having other emotions beyond abject contempt for humankind. Perhaps we just haven’t given them much of a reason not to.
Rumu just so happens to see you playing as Rumu, a futuristic Roomba with adorable LED eyes designed for two vomit-inducing purposes: to clean and to love. As you would expect from a game about a robot vacuum cleaner, you’re tasked with cleaning the house of your eccentric creators while they are out doing more interesting activities like bike riding or arguing about the nutritional value of snack cakes. It’s a nice idyllic life for Rumu. That is until you discover that the house’s sentient AI, Sabrina, is trying desperately to keep something from you. And when the little dustbin starts becoming self-aware and a little too curious, your dust-decimating adventure soon becomes a search for your creators’ secrets.
Outside of cleaning up spills and broken tea cups, the game plays more along the lines of an isometric point-and-click adventure game. You can interact with text logs, have one-sided conversations with the house’s other sentient appliances, and use your handy “Data Vision” (aka: Detective Mode) ability for some circuit puzzle action.
However, it becomes apparent early on that the gameplay is taking the backseat on the story’s emotional rollercoaster. Puzzles are pretty and straightforward, with solutions that basically boil down to “find the text log with the password to the locked door” or “use Data Vision to reroute power to/away from an appliance”. Not that this is really an issue for me, mind you. It’s clear that the game is more focused on delivering a compelling narrative than brain-taxing puzzles. But a little bit of a challenge definitely could help the game’s three-hour playtime feel a little more satisfying.
That being said, I think Rumu’s greatest strength lies in its storytelling. I’m still amazed at how well a story about a happy little robot vacuum cleaner could offer both a gripping mystery and thought-provoking concepts surrounding the notion of successfully giving emotions to AI. What really stood out to me, however, was the wonderfully-written relationship between Rumu and Sabrina, which only became more complex and relatable as the story unfolded. It’s just fascinating to watch Sabrina transition from this nurturing and almost motherly figure to Rumu at the start of the game to something significantly more aggressive as he becomes more curious and rebellious.
And when accompanied by a sleek futuristic art style and beautifully poignant soundtrack, it all works together to create a compelling sci-fi tale of love and loneliness. Even if it could use some more challenging puzzles, Rumu more than makes up for it with a captivating mystery and a strong, if surprisingly empathetic antagonist.
Cleaning up spilt tea and broken ceramics has never been so captivating