Behind Closed Doors: A Developer’s Tale review

It’s Monday morning and Ethan is reluctant to go to work. With his first child due any day, he doesn’t have much of a choice. Being a game developer may sound like an easy living, but with emails from irate gamers to answer – in addition to hurriedly programming an uninspired pixel art platformer, just to please the bosses – Ethan is feeling burnt out. Mondays, am I right?

Behind Closed Doors is a short (2 hour, approx.) story-driven affair that’s spread over a handful of genres. Given the mere £4 price tag, the amount of variety is surprising. The initial premise is a draw too – we’ve seen a few games detail the drudges of modern-day life, but not many viewed from a game developer’s perspective. That’s unless you count WarioWare, which is a bit of a stretch.

The first half an hour of play is formed from a purposely repetitive adventure-style game, in which you move from left to right, talk to other characters, and interact with items. It’s intended to highlight how tedious Ethan’s life has become: he gets dressed, eats breakfast with his wife while engaging in small talk, brushes his teeth, and then heads to work to carry out his joyless job.

Programming and sarcastically replying to emails are handled by button bashing – or d-pad flicking, to be more precise. Some of Ethan’s responses are humorous, and at the end of each programming session, you get to play the latest build of the aptly named Dungeon Crush.

While this sounds neat, Dungeon Crush is again purposely bland, highlighting the fact that Ethan’s heart is no longer in it. Over the space of a few days, it goes from being a bare-boned platformer to having enemies, collectible coins, and background graphics. With a one-hit death system and no checkpoints, it isn’t much fun to play. Deadlines, am I right?

This pattern continues for four in-game days. Then, on the fifth day, Ethan begins a descent into insanity. Without wanting to spoil the story, this descent entails a twin-stick shooting game, another 2D pixel art platforming section, and a trip to a snow-covered world that resembles a 16-bit RPG – all in which you play as Ethan himself, still dressed in his PJs.

These mini-games are, unbelievably, each worse than the last – and unlike the game’s first half, there’s no reason why they should be purposely bland for storytelling reasons. The twin-stick shooter sections (think Robotron 2048) have broken cursor-driven controls, forcing you to manually aim a crosshair instead of simply moving the right analogue stick. The platforming section – which somehow looks worse than Dungeon Crush – has leaps of faith, bizarre checkpoint placing, and inescapable spike pits.

The top-down RPG-esque section, meanwhile, made me believe I had accidentally escaped the game’s boundaries. On top of all these problems, I had to restart the game twice due to cut scenes not loading correctly, forcing me to replay around 15 minutes of lost progress.

Behind Closed Doors was clearly made on a limited budget (the majority of assets come from the Unity store) and was intended to tell an imaginative story. This doesn’t excuse the fact that the mini-games are either broken or bland, with awkward controls that see the experience go from being tolerable to inexcusably poor.

A spot of polish would have made a world of difference; until the game’s second half, it was looking at a higher score than what’s below.

Behind Closed Doors: A Developer’s Tale is out 18th May on all formats. It first launched on PC in 2021


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