Serena [Review]

Game Info

  • Genre: Point-and-click Adventure
  • Platform: PC
  • Developer: Senscape
  • Publisher: Senscape
  • Release Date: January 31, 2014

I’ve played a few adventure games before, with titles like Post Mortem ranking high on my personal list. There is also Indigo Prophecy that I liked at first, then grew to despise as I got to near the end of its story. Adventure games are all about the story, and this is a short and bittersweet one.

Serena is a free point-and-click adventure game by Senscape, composed of Agustin Cordes and a group of other developers. It is about a man waiting for his wife Serena to return to their quiet cabin home. However, it seems he doesn’t remember why he’s alone, where she went, and why she left in the first place.

This game was made as a tribute to Serena Nelson, a big supporter of the Kickstarter campaigns for adventure games who was in the center of a drama that went horribly wrong.

Story

screenshot_serena_01 screenshot_serena_03

The game starts off with the protagonist lamenting the absence of his wife Serena, and there’s a picture of her on the table. You then go around your little house looking for clues as to what happened. At first, the protagonist genuflects on how much he loves Serena and why she is so wonderful. But as the story progresses, the tone becomes more negative and the photograph on the table will change and give clues on what had really happened between the two.

A few things about the protagonist are learned from rummaging through the house. For one thing, he seems to be a man of letters, as hinted by Serena. That’s a lot like the dad in Gone Home, who had been a published author of pulpy Robert Ludlum-style novels before suffering from poor sales and writer’s block. It then becomes a sticking point as his dreams and aspirations were mentioned to be mostly unrealized, which touched a nerve in me as I’m basically in the same position.

Once that facet of the protagonist was set, he ceased being just a character and I assumed him. It was like if I myself got married, I’d have problems like that as well. But that was when things started to get a bit dark as the protagonists becomes angrier, as indicated by the hammy voice acting. The twists leading up to the ending are not big shockers, but they’re still written quite well into the story.

While good on its own, it didn’t hit me with the emotional impact of Gone Home when I finished it. Perhaps it’s because of the backwoods horror thing that kept me from being totally immersed in it, but it’s still a story that was told fairly well.

Presentation

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When you start it up, it jumps right into the game with no menus and intro screens whatsoever, which is appropriate in this case since there’s not much else other than exploring the house. A title card comes up and the protagonist starts voicing his lamentations about being alone and missing his wife.

The graphics aren’t exactly the latest and greatest, but that’s to be expected from a free-to-play indie title, and it doesn’t look half-bad either. It does remind a bit of the horror game Anna with the whole dark cabin look, which adds a lot to the game’s creepy atmosphere. It does seem to play in a 16:10 aspect ratio, and it’s quite resistant to attempts at recording gameplay footage of it, which I found rather annoying.

It’s not the stifling kind of creepiness like in Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast, but more of a subtle and gradual one. Perhaps there’s something about an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods that gives it a bit of that backwoods horror vibe. Being in such a small house, it also can get a bit claustrophobic as the story slowly takes on a darker tone.

Most of the game features the player character verbalizing his thoughts and emotions while interacting with the objects around the house and trying to remember why his wife left, as well as Serena herself in letters that detail the couple’s past and present. The voice acting is quite alright for the most part, although a lot of parts had a community theater tone to them.

Gameplay

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Compared with recent games, this is a bit like Gone Home, although in a much smaller scale. The controls are more like Post Mortem with the point-and-click interaction and exploration, with the protagonist talking about the object and its relevance.

You have to get used to the mouse movement and realize that it’s not exactly the usual first-person fare that most gamers are used to. The mouse cursor is a hand, and it changes to indicate if you’re pointing at are either an object you can interact with, a location where you can zoom in, or the edge of the screen to turn and move to that direction.

The mechanics boil down to interacting with just about everything, then interacting with key items in a particular order to progress the story further. You know that you’ve interacted with an object sufficiently when the protagonist starts repeating what he says. There’s a lot of going back and forth involved to find those key objects, taking up most of the time and tedium here.

It’s a short game, being only an hour long for most people, but it does seem to acknowledge its own shortness by taking you directly into the gameplay at the start and rolling to credits as soon as you finish it. For those who aren’t big fans of point-and-click adventure games, this could either be enough to make you turn away or be a good entry point since it’s free.

Final Score

Serena
7 out of 10
Pros
  • Free to play
  • Well-written story
  • Good atmosphere
  • Dark and emotional
  • All about exploration
  • Twist ending
Cons
  • Very short
  • Dated graphics
  • Repetitive interaction
  • Mouse movements awkward at first
  • Some difficulty in interacting with certain objects
  • Slipshod voice acting
  • Non-fans of genre won't get it
Summary
For a free-to-play game, it was a memorable experience, albeit a very short one. It was made well enough, but its shortness and its mechanics are things that most gamers won't gravitate to. I know people who can't grasp how Gone Home is played, so it seems that there's a barrier that keeps most from enjoying games like this. The atmosphere and narrative of Serena are pretty, and it's free. Those are reasons enough to play it, but only if you understand how.
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