Month: December 2014

Year Walk

Y

Solve strange puzzles and encounter stranger creatures on a quest to foresee the new year.

PC Release: March 6, 2014

By Ian Coppock

My entire life, people in religious communities the world over have advocated fasting to me as a means of self-improvement and seeing into the future. Never are the holes in this theory more obvious than when starvation-induced delirium hits the frontal lobe. If I go more than four hours without my coffee, for example, that’s when I’m most convinced the world is out to get me. Year Walk taught me that fasting will also cause you to run headlong into a frozen forest and hallucinate, among other things, a vampire doll, a woman who lives inside a tree, a horse that eats drowned babies, and a demonic goat that lives in churches. You tell me what’s so great about fasting and I’ll consign myself to a church of your choice. But, while you’re prepping that argument, I’ll tell you what’s so great about Year Walk.

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Year Walk is a ghoulishly charming indie gem whose title refers to an ancient Swedish method of vision questing. Participants spend the entirety of New Years’ Eve locked in a dark room with no food or water, and then venture out at midnight to roam the landscape and see what joys and horrors await them in the coming year.

The custom has been dead for centuries, even in Sweden, but Year Walk seeks to resurrect the practice by placing you in the shoes of a… what would it be, a year-walker? Anyhoo, out we go.

Y1

Year Walk’s Burton-esque aesthetic and strange folklore immediately create a very eerie, foreign feel.

After telling my secret love that I was off to conduct a year walk, despite her protests that it led to a cousin’s violent death, I set off into the frozen Swedish forest to see what the coming year held in store for me. The first aspect of the game I want to point out immediately is its one-of-a-kind combination of side-scrolling and 3-D movement. Your character moves from side to side in a first-person viewpoint, but can jump into upper or lower scenes of the game whenever the need arises. It’s a neat way to move about.

The second aspect of the game I immediately liked was its extensive encyclopedia of Swedish folklore, compiled by a history professor who worked with the dev team. The encyclopedia contains entries not only on the tradition of year walking, but on the many creatures and puzzles you might expect to bump into out here. I’m disappointed that this exposition wasn’t woven into the narrative, but the entries are just vague enough to preclude you knowing exactly what to do when you find one of its topics up-close.

Y2

The Swedish forests of yore are home to many strange creatures. Some are helpful, some are dangerous, and some are both.

Within the first ten minutes, Year Walk was reminding me less of reflecting upon the New Year and more of The Divine Comedy or Heart of Darkness, in which a protagonist is shunted along a series of fascinating and horrifying spectacles. In order to get to the church and see your future, you need a key, but the creatures of the forest are inexplicably hell-bent on preventing you from getting it. Not even at the end of the game is this antagonism fully explained, but it does provide a vehicle for the encounters waiting for you in those dark woods. Each meeting comprises a handful of puzzles aimed at getting you that key, before the next creature takes it and sends you storming after them.

Some of these encounters are less than pleasant.

Y3

SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!!!!

Like I said, many of these creatures are not friendly, but jump-scares are very rare and you’re never in mortal danger. Much of the game is also spent exploring this strange forest, rich in atmosphere and strange sights. Sometimes you’ll come across something you can interact with, like a burnt out fireplace or a stranded cart, and these props add some exposition that’s otherwise all stuffed into the encyclopedia.

Year Walk‘s narrative is propped up almost entirely by puzzles. Some are clever, others are stupidly easy, and some are entirely vague. The game includes a hint system if you get stuck, which you will, because many of these puzzles rely on anything but logic in their solutions. Finding the proper number of dots corresponding to a random configuration of gravestones sounds more like a trial-and-error frustration-fest than a true puzzle, and indeed it was frustrating.

Y4

Christ on Sale, how is this fun?!?

A good puzzle is not running around a forest finding random clues and rubbing them together to hope for a solution. A good puzzle relies on logic, pieces that fit together, a sequential order of things. Almost as much as bugs or glitches, bad puzzle design can take down a game like that. You don’t want to see this sort of thing in any game, but luckily for Year Walk, it’s not overly common. You may need to consult that hint system once or twice, though.

Year Walk‘s saving grace in the face of occasionally frustrating gameplay is its atmosphere. The game’s visual style is gloomy and foreboding, with soft textures that look like they were spun together by a Victorian-era occultist. Year Walk also benefits from good sound design; the cold winter gales, the soft trudging of snow, sounds in the dark, all create something that is very pretty to both look at and listen to.

Y5

Soft. Literary. Brutal. Year Walk is a visual and audio masterpiece.

My recommendation of Year Walk depends on your love of atmosphere and your patience with a few badly designed puzzles. I quite enjoy these little atmospheric trips, enough to overlook these flaws and still enjoy the game, but if you have a short attention span or are a puzzle-holic who will take nothing less than Portal-levels of puzzle design, I’d save yourself some anger.

The game could also have benefited from having more exposition presented in the narrative itself, rather than hidden away in some encyclopedia. Maybe some sort of ghoulish wood nymph or Wednesday from the Addams family could have showed up in-game to guide you. That would probably mean more character development (which is nonexistent as is because your character is a silent one) and a chance for more dialogue.

Y6

Even better, have one or two of the damn monsters talk to you. Their interest in keeping you from the church is a mystery for the entire game.

My final word on what was wrong with Year Walk is that I had little reason to care about the protagonist. Year Walk’s apathy toward its character is exacerbated by the reason why the creatures are hindering your progress, or perhaps more accurately, the apparent lack of a reason. Cause to care for your character’s well-being creates a stronger bond between character and player and thus a more powerful experience. Year Walk remains powerful, but it and games like it could be so much more so if they caused players to have a bit more heart. Year Walk has less to do with a personal journey and more to do with visiting some haunting museum pieces.

End rant. I don’t hate this game, I promise.

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You can buy Year Walk here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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Antichamber

A

Solve brain-bending puzzles and explore a vivid digital landscape.

PC Release: January 31, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Originally I meant for this to come out on Saturday, but a stray kitten quite literally fell into my lap and I’m now sharing my abode with Midnight, my new baby. At first, I was a single man who loved horror games, but now that I’m a single man who owns a cat (and a black cat at that), my journey to creepy serial killer is complete.

And speaking of serial killing, Short Horror Week III has me worn out on horror games. It’s time to do a hard reset in terms of both written content and game design, so allow me to introduce Antichamber, a game that will have you physically and mentally exploring existence, life, love and all other that good shit.

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Antichamber was introduced to me by my friend Bret, a gentleman to whom puzzle games are what horror games are to me: an obsession. He hooked me up with Portal, and now we’ve arrived a game that looks like tripping acid in cyberspace.

A1

Holy hell…

Antichamber belongs in that .001% of puzzle games that bill themselves as fresh and unique, and actually carry through on that marketing tagline. You start off in a giant room adorned with a single map, and it’s up to you to explore the entire Antichamber for… well, whatever you make of the game. It’s a first-person adventure behind the wheel of a silent protagonist.

The game is split up into dozens of separate chambers that rely on total brain-bendiness to solve. Each puzzle is prefaced by a quote that is both profound in its message and hinting as to the puzzle’s solution. In one instance I came upon a chamber marked with the words Sometimes Choice is Meaningless, and then preceded to two staircases that both wound up in the same place. Only by thinking about the quote did I realize I had to go back the way I came, and thus progress. Pretty cool, right? Lateral thinking is the name of the game in Antichamber.

A2

Each puzzle begins with a quote sign like this one. You’ll have to decipher its meaning in relation to the puzzle it prefaces.

The objective of the game is to solve the vast majority of Antichamber‘s puzzles. Working in cahoots with the game’s abstract level design is the cube gun, a device that can suck up and spit out little cubes that you’ll need to get past most chambers. Antichamber combines the abstract puzzle element with these obstacles, which will see you hopping walls and plugging in door switches to move to the next area.

While the combination of these elements is neato, I’m not sure how well game designer Alexander Bruce combined them. The two pieces have very little in common and as Antichamber goes on, it seems to strictly divide itself between cleverly worded illusion puzzles, like the staircase example, and cube puzzles relying almost purely on physical action, with no reliance on the quote. I personally thought the first element was a lot more original, but the cube puzzles are still fun. It just stood out jarringly from abstract theme the game was going for.

A3

The cube puzzles may rely on physical action but they’re still psychedelic, and plenty hard sometimes.

As to a larger plot and narrative, the game largely leaves that to you. The quotes tell no larger story, at least that I could see, but they did express a theme somewhere along the lines of “life is strange and amazing and sad sometimes”.

Which I think we can all get behind. Messages veer between uplifting and depressing, but their nuggets of truth will leave your brain with more than the actual game to grapple. They’re not pretentious… they contain elements of life wisdom that all of us can appreciate.

A4

Whether silly or somber, Antichamber’s messages leave a lot to be thought about.

Antichamber‘s visual art is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a warm, fuzzy haze of bright colors and objects, constructed to form a cubic world that is vibrant but never garish.

Everything is decked out in thick outlines, almost like a graphic novel, and the textures are just as soft and personable as the colors. Most of the game is bathed in asylum-style white light, but this can vary from time to time. It’s an engrossing world to be in.

A5

(creepy slobbering noises)

The game’s pacing leaves a lot to be desired. The first half or so of the game relies on lateral puzzles, while the latter half is made up of physical platforming puzzles that rely more on accuracy with a cube gun than wrapping your mind around a new way of thinking. Like I said up top, the physical puzzles are still fun, but they hardly stood out in comparison to the staircase examples.

Still, for what it sets out to do, Antichamber is a bold success laying claim to an unusual amount of creativity. Alexander Bruce crafted a soft world with some down-to-earth messages, and forces you to absorb the information in more ways than mere contemplation.

The lack of a narrative is supplanted by this wide, beautiful world, and the splendid sound design, awash with everything from ticking clocks to seabirds, is absolutely sublime. I’ve seen much worse first-person puzzle fair than Antichamber but not much better… and I’ve played a lot of really awesome puzzle games. This one is now my favorite.

A7

Trippy, deep, fun, and not without self-deprecation.

If you like puzzle games, Antichamber is the breath of fresh air that the conundrum genre desperately needs. It comes wraps in the vestiges of platformer-puzzles that don’t truly challenge your brain, but the parts of the game that do make the entire experience more than worth it. You can pick this up on Steam for a few bucks. If you want a game that plays with your head and your heart at the same time, then I give Antichamber a full recommendation.

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You can buy Antichamber here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Five Nights at Freddy’s

F

Take the night shift at a pizza restaurant being stalked by murderous animatronics.

PC Release: August 8, 2014

By Ian Coppock

First, it was being alone in the woods with a faceless murderer. Then, it was being caught in a randomly shifting maze with blind bird creatures out to peck your heart apart. Now, a Short Horror Week finale visits a locale I’d never expected. It’s a Chuck E. Cheese’s facsimile that, granted, looks like a Chuck E. Cheese’s that Tim Burton might have designed. But, Five Nights at Freddy’s is the Short Horror Week III finale for a reason, which means there’s a lot more to being a night watchman at a pizza joint than one might expect.

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Five Nights at Freddy’s jumped out at us from the indie scene about four months ago, and has since reigned supreme as one of the most popular indie titles of all time. It’s certainly one of the most viral video games we’ve seen in years.

The game’s mundane premise is that a summer vacationing teenager named Mike, your player character, takes a job as a night guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. On the surface, the place couldn’t look more innocent. Pizza parlors, rides and games, and even a floor show featuring a band of animatronic characters.

F

This place doesn’t seem so bad! I mean, it’s tacky as hell, but is this really a horror game?

But when night falls, after the kids have left the restaurant and you’re left to keep an eye on things, its veneer shifts to an eerie gloom. The cheap bastards who run this place lend you an office, armed only with a camera view screen and some (occasionally) functioning security doors.

So, as I settled in midst a plethora of old souvenirs and fast food wrappers, a message left for me by my predecessor told me that the animatronic characters of the Freddy Fazbear band “tend to get a bit ‘quirky’ at night”. But, whatever. On to an uneventful night. I decided to pull up the security feed to check on the puppets:

F1

Okay, everyone’s all there…

But then I checked it again two seconds later.

F2

Alrighty, time to check on- where the hell did they go?

The animatronic characters in this game are very much alive. They slip from their resting spots at night, to hunt you. They know where you are, but do you know where they are? Your only means of self-defense are checking the cameras, which slows their movement, and closing the heavy security doors that eat up your limited electricity (cheap bastards). Survival in Five Nights at Freddy’s means maintaining an intricate balance of both defenses.

Technically, this game is point-and-click. You cannot move from your location in the office, lest you get ambushed and torn to shreds out there in those dark hallways, those unlit music stages, those tacky-as-hell rides. All you can do is feverishly switch between camera feeds like a madman, using your mouse. You can also click to close the security doors and illuminate their exterior hallways. The animatronics can’t move if you’re looking at them, but there’s four of the damn things. Time to perform the world’s most terrifying balancing act.

F3

The animatronics move between rooms when you’re not looking at them. Lucky for them, you can’t watch them all at once.

Five Nights at Freddy’s is an exemplification of horror game creation. The game breeds enough paranoia to make Stalinist Russia look tame by comparison. Each of the five nights you survive last only about 10 minutes, but you’ll spend what feels like hours feverishly switching between camera feeds, hoping to slow the puppets’ approach toward your position.

Heaven forbid one actually shows up at your door, because if you don’t keep an eye on it, you’re dead. They can show up while you’ve got your eyes on the camera as well, so you have to rapidly switch between cameras and doors so as to not get jumped. If they do make it into the office, it’s game over.

F4

GEEZUS!!!!

The tension of Five Nights at Freddy’s is cut thickest in the unpredictability department. The characters are each expertly programmed to behavior unpredictably, moving randomly around the restaurant so that others can inch closer to you. This brings me to reiterate the mind-shredding paranoia I mentioned before, but the notion that one of those bug-eyed freaks could barge in and murder you at any second with the slightest slip-up is horribly frightening.

The second component of the game’s scares and screams are the stills. The game features very few animations, but when you catch the characters on film, the relief you might feel at having pinpointed their location is quickly crushed by the puppets’ unmistakable look of pure evil.

F5

GAAAAAAAAH

As you can infer from the look in that fox’s eyes, it’s no accident that they’re roaming the restaurant at night. They’re looking for you. They will find you. And if the GAME OVER screen’s picture of blood and organs stuffed into an animatronic suit is any indication, what they’ll do to you if they catch you makes the game even more terrifying.

All of this, of course, pales in comparison to when they make it into the office.

F6

Ole Freddy Fazbear himself, giving me a very good view of his eyes through one of the feeds.

Okay, I’m a bit mentally exhausted just writing about this… what have we covered? The horrible paranoia, the tense unpredictability of the characters, the artwork creating pure dread… oh yes, did I mention that each night gets harder to survive? The characters become more aggressive as the weekend approaches (not unlike myself during a slow week), so you have to employ more strategy and reign in more fear with every round you survive. The game is emotionally exhausting.

Aside from the scares, the main reason why I love Five Nights at Freddy’s is because it utterly destroys the notion that you need money to innovate. The game is very cleverly designed, and that’s talent money can’t buy. Does the game look particularly high-budget to you? Because it’s not. And yet, despite what corporate apologists who support diluting games for too many audiences will tell you, a low-budget creation was still a success, all because of pure hard work and sheer design talent.

F8

(shivers)

Game designer Scott Cawthon deserves a standing ovation for this masterpiece of horror and original game design. Not just because he did it all by himself, but because he has proven, as countless indie developers have, that a video game’s potential for success or failure comes from creativity and a willingness to try new things, something the Triple-A industry seems to have forgotten.

But yes, this game is scary as shit and you should totally buy it. Seriously. Go. Right now.

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You can buy Five Nights at Freddy’s here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Slender: The Arrival (Version 2.0)

S

Search for your friend and flee the Slender Man in an expanded adventure.

PC Release: September 24, 2014

By Ian Coppock

Imagine, if you will, a universe in which video games are released in a completed state. The concept has been rendered rarer than gold dust these days, as more and more developers release a portion of the game for $60, and then dole out the rest of it in pricey chunks (I’m looking at you, Destiny).

Usually this an accusation I hurl Phoenix Wright-style at the Triple-A world, but the original release of Slender: The Arrival proved that even our darling indie underdogs can succumb to grievous under-delivery. After witnessing the server-crashing success of Slender: The Eight Pages, indie dev Blue Isle Studios, well-meaning but inundated by the opiate of profit, released Slender: The Arrival, a game not much less skeletal than that gentleman up in the title card. The Arrival proved that indie developers are also susceptible to slipping up on releasing a full game, but I’m pleased to announce that they recently released the rest of the game! Or did they? Let’s find out.

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Slender: The Arrival was originally released on March 26, 2013 for PC, and as I reported in my original review, the game wasn’t all that impressive. It was poorly optimized, could be beaten in about half an hour, and featured identical, repetitive gameplay. Find eight pages, or eight generators, or eight close-able windows, or eight corners to cry in for when Slendy shows up.

Ultimately, the game fell short of its potential, but Blue Isle’s recent re-release of the game features a plethora of new content, including updated visuals, new collectibles and several new levels. You even get to play as new characters in certain portions of the story.

S

Hooray! More tall faceless demons and hooded serial killers!

As in the original game, the story sets off with Lauren, the player character, dropping by a secluded house in the woods to visit her dear friend Kate. A few troubling discoveries at the house and a bloody murder scream from the forest sends Lauren off on a terrifying journey against a grim adversary: the Slender Man. For those of you who hide from the Internet in primitive caves, the Slender Man is a gaunt, faceless creature that slowly kills you the longer you look at him. Why he torments the people he does and what his goals are are unknown.

What you soon find out is that he’s very interested in Kate… and you.

S1

So much for dry underwear.

Lauren is a silent protagonist, so there’s not much character development to be had with her. Slender: The Arrival takes a much more active stance of showing, not telling, in this update. You find more items and pieces of the story scattered about the environment. Everything from an old family photo to a child’s drawing of a burning house fills in gaps of the story. Blue Isle was much more proactive about this approach with the new version of this game, and it pays off well, weaving more and better exposition into the game world.

These tidbits of story are what develop the other characters in this grisly tale. Kate’s increasingly disturbing drawings and the notebook pages she nails to trees paint a ghastly portrait of insanity, while letters left behind by her friend, the mysterious CR, detail a man’s desperate attempts to fight this menace.

S2

The show-not-tell approach is fitting for a faceless, silent monster.

Whereas the game’s original release focused solely on Lauren and left too many questions unanswered, the update adds new levels and characters to flesh out the narrative. In addition to our heroine, you also get to play as Charlie, a little boy who disappeared under mysterious circumstances years ago.

You also play as CR himself, and spend some time following his own investigation of the Slender Man. Both of these new subplots feature longer levels with badly needed changes in gameplay, focused more on puzzles and confronting enemies than pure exploration.

S3

The new levels are great. They deviate from the game’s primitive find-8-things formula and expand the story nicely.

As you may have inferred, the update also features a new enemy, one whose presence in the plot both deepens the story and fills out the tragedy that is the Slender Man universe. With these updates the game felt substantially closer to the Marble Hornets Youtube videos, which feature three filmmakers’ battles against the Slender Man. They were involved with this game from the beginning, so maybe they had more say in the update.

Just watch out. You will scream.

S4

When you see it, you will cry.

The game’s updates expand beyond new content. Some nice tweaks were made to the existing levels and their mechanics. Opening doors can now be done with a click instead of clumsily pointing and dragging, so now it feels like opening a door instead of opening a door you are glued to.

Movement controls have been refined, the game’s been optimized to run at a consistently smooth framerate, and the game finally got fitted with proper lighting and shadowing effects. It makes for a gorgeous piece.

S5

Here, a break for your eyeballs.

Although I have nothing but glowing praise for this update, I must once again reiterate that this new version of Slender: The Arrival should have been the version that was first released over a year ago. I get needing to make an update here or there, but the original game was shunted out deformed and unfinished for what I presume was a crack at a hungry audience. Show your fans a little respect by making a full game. They’ll thank you for the wait. But, I can thank Blue Isle for this update, and can now say that Slender: The Arrival is a fully realized version of that little forest terror that came out two years ago. Get it. It’s now worth the money for any horror fan.

Before we get to the next review tomorrow, if you’re interested in getting into the Slender Man universe a bit more, I highly recommend checking out that Marble Hornets series I mentioned. It’s a found footage-style series that actually established a lot of the lore and recurring themes in this mythos. It recently wrapped up after about four or five seasons, and what awesome seasons they were.

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You can buy Slender: The Arrival here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Serena

A

Await your wife’s arrival in a spooky old cabin.

PC Release: January 30, 2014

By Ian Coppock

During each of my Short Horror Week lineups, I like to deviate away from terrifying violence to give at least one nod to the weirdos among you who don’t enjoy getting chased around by mutants or monsters. Despite what the tagline I slapped on this article might imply, Serena is not a Cabin In The Woods-ian affair, but a more thoughtful experience that seeks to conjure dread through story and atmosphere, more than physical violence. I still urge my fellow hardcore pscyhopaths to take a seat for Serena; a butt-clenchingly chilly game that will suit those of you looking for a horror experience without all the wet shorts and girly screams that come with the rest of Short Horror Week III.

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Serena was released on Steam this past January for free, joining a short list of free-to-play titles available on the service right now. The game’s premise is simple enough: you’re chilling out in a remote getaway cabin waiting for your lovely wife Serena to come join you.

In this game, the horror and dread come from the dreary atmosphere presented by the cabin, and the unfolding complexity of what seems like a simple task. If your wife isn’t here yet, what’s taking her?

A1

Never have I felt such a combination of cozyness and goosebumps.

But, as the day goes by, your wife has yet to show up, so your nameless protagonist decides to wile away the time by exploring the cabin for mementos of days gone by. You navigate the cabin by pointing and clicking, and the character will address the items you look at in a soft, grandfatherly voice rich with remembrance and perhaps a bit of sorrow. Each object contains its own story, from a fond memory of first meeting Serena to the annoyances of coping with ancient camping technology.

But, each item is more than just a story. They are pieces in the game’s larger narrative. Your character’s memory is not as sharp nor as accurate as you might think. Certain items have a tendency to contradict your mission of waiting for your wife.

A2

Huh. If she hated ivory mirrors, why is there one on her vanity?

The game builds atmosphere through the startling lack of music. The only sounds to comfort you in this dark place are the creaking of ancient wood and your solemn footsteps about this prehistoric shack. The voice-overs cut startlingly through the silence, which I never got used to. Bird cries and the sounds of life outside are muted, if not outright absent. All of this is also great prep for the mournful drafts that sweep in behind you.

The game’s visuals were designed to look like old photographs, and by golly do the developers pull that off well. The point-and-click genre, for whatever else can be said about it, does allow for much more detailed and rich visual work than the more popular 3D variant. Moving about the cabin is easy, almost as if the game is ashamed to be eschewing that mechanic and wants it over with as quickly as possible. You examine items with the mouse and hear their stories; sometimes these anecdotes are a bit rambling, but aren’t a lot of old stories?

A3

I don’t understand the subconscious art fad.

Going back to the actual narrative, though, Serena is one part detective game and one part atmospheric soak. Though these mechanics are blended together nicely, the game suffers from a terrible lack of direction. It wasn’t apparent to me what you had to do to advance the story, and the alleged “hints” dropped by the protagonist were no such thing.

Basically, you have to fill in a portrait of your wife with the memories sparked by the items you find, but you have to check back with the portrait every so often in order for the next set of clues to become accessible, which is absurd. The game punishes players for exploring the cabin, yet you must do so in order to beat it.

The thing is, unless you do so in the order laid out by the developer, which is an order that seems completely nebulous and subjective to me, you’re screwed. You’ll have to tear through the cabin numerous times to re-examine the same old items, boxes will suddenly become unlocked because who cares, and the portrait will fill out in what is a very arbitrary fashion.

A4

The only way to fill in the picture’s nose is to find the hand mirror. Obviously the stove isn’t going to do that, you moron.

Despite these serious design drawbacks, though, Serena does build up to a good conclusion. It’s not unpredictable and draws heavily from Shyamalan-style plot twists (God help us) but it was a good enough game. Serena‘s horror stems from the growing realization that what you’re seeing isn’t quite what is actually there, as well as the atmospheric elements we discussed up top. The greatest tension that drove me forward was wondering what that grayed out face would actually become. Is it a charming spouse… or something more sinister?

I probably won’t pick up Serena ever again, but everyone should do so at least once. Even if you need help finding some of the items and the story seems to be riddled with arbitrary barriers, the atmosphere alone is worth the experience for one playthrough. Download this off Steam when you have an hour to kill and OH YES IT’S FREE! So you have no excuse to not at least try it.

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You can buy Serena here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.