Rumu is an emotional game. What may happen if artificial intelligence was given a bundle of human emotions, and what it’s like to be a vacuum cleaner designed to love. The title of Robot House provides a fascinating narrative, even if it occasionally gets a little lost in its presentation.
The action takes place in the near future, when a couple of bright, if flawed, scientists try to totally automate their house, imparting more or less limited intelligence to everything from the toaster to the rough and rather unpleasant alarm system. Sabrina, an artificial intelligence that acts as housekeeper and helper to the creators, oversees the entire operation. She is the one who brings the titular Rum to this bizarre world, an intelligent vacuum cleaner designed to enjoy everything.
It sounds a little like a parody: the player’s purpose is to clear away dust, stains, and other precipitation, and his “hero” opens every statement with “I love you.” Although the initial few minutes may appear to be a joke, we rapidly realize that there is a deeper purpose to the narrative, Sabrina does not tell us everything, and none of the characters are as flawless as they appear at first. The idea of an AI reflecting on our every action may conjure up images of the Portal and the malevolent GLaDOS, but the developers serve their own tale. Rumu is more than a logic game; we are presented with a succession of puzzles to complete, yet none of them last long. Walking into the large house and gradually getting to know the hosts was done at a leisurely pace. We gaze at computers, read books, and send e-mails amongst the characters while performing our everyday tasks, waiting for the day when our adoring rumba will begin cleaning. We don’t have a lot of stuff here; the chats are brief and to the point, with the goal of telling a narrative and providing advice on what to do next.
There are simply too few of them at times. Although we learn a bit about the relationship, the development of the characters, both real and synthetic, is at times rather primitive. Small nuances salvage the scenario, such as David’s dry quips, which demonstrate his occasionally ridiculous humor, or lines from literature, ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Dick’s Electric Sheep, which define the way innovators think. Not everything also fits properly. The creators swiftly go from providing us mundane housekeeping jobs to delivering us stories. While it is natural that excessive cleaning and mopping may get tedious, Rumu appears to hurry a little too much, losing the right flow of the tale somewhere along the line. What disturbs me the most is how little the world is. Throughout the game, we go between consecutive, wonderfully designed chambers, each of which contains a wealth of detail, but even when we reach a forking hallway, there is just one open door waiting for us – there is no value in even a little exploration if it does not add to the main story line.
However, this does not stop us from appreciating the tale that has been constructed. The play of light when significant events occur, Sabrina’s very well-chosen voice, and Rum’s occasionally amusing responses make us think of this little adventure, focused on attaining the objective, as condensed rather than incomplete.
There’s also a lot of energy here. Human and machine-felt emotions make sense and correspond to what the designers intend to communicate. Even the most cliched answers build up to something intriguing, and the overall story ending is a bit of a surprise. It’s worthwhile to spend time with an emotional roomba, just as Rumu enjoys her little, fascinating environment.