Cooperative puzzlers are, by their very nature, extremely ambitious projects. It was with Portal 2's multiplayer mode, perhaps, that the idea of the cooperative puzzler became baked into our shared consciousness. Though far from perfect, it created an early template for the genre, serving to define the modern take on this style of game. Without it, critically acclaimed cooperative puzzlers like It Takes Two, A Way Out and even We Were Here (Total Mayhem Games' debut title) may well have looked very different.
Like its predecessors, We Were Here Forever requires two players. However, it is far more than a mere reiteration, offering challenges of sufficient variety and ingenuity to keep even the hungriest puzzle-glutton satisfied. Though marred by the occasional bug and a somewhat clunky hints system, Total Mayhem Games' newest offering not only stands tall on the basis of its gameplay but also deftly weaves its narrative into its puzzle elements, making for a unique and worthwhile experience.
This game was reviewed with a code provided by the publisher.
A Cold Open
We Were Here Forever begins by dropping you and your partner in a pair of parallel jail cells in the middle of a mysterious and trap-ridden castle surrounded by frozen wastes. Your task is simple: escape with the help of your partner.
Before anything else, the game introduces you to its most important mechanic: your walkie-talkie. In the age of Discord, this may seem like something of a gimmick. However, through the use of the humble hand radio, Total Mayhem has identified and capitalised upon what is, unquestionably, the most salient mechanic of any cooperative game: communication.
Press LT, and your radio will transmit. Your partner will be greeted with a blinking red light and the dulcet sounds of your voice. By recontextualising player communication within the boundaries of the game itself, We Were Here Forever is able to effectively captivate its players through what amounts to an act of game design sorcery. It makes for an extremely atmospheric experience.
With only basic movement, the radio, the inventory system, and the action button, one quickly learns that there are no complex player mechanics in We Were Here Forever. The developers are keen to let the puzzles speak for themselves and, given the strength and variance of the challenges on offer, they are clearly right to do so.
One Big Escape Room
Between them, both players will have a complete picture of any given puzzle. One explorer might have access to a codebook, while the other might have to make sense of a console while being fed information by their partner. Perhaps your partner will be stuck in a maze and you'll have to guide them from your vantage point above. The game avoids bogging itself down with the familiar ultimatums of death or damage, occasionally making use of countdowns to add frenetic energy to its challenges.
The lack of an absolute fail state is something of a boon. It allows players to progress through the puzzles at their own pace. It's refreshing not to see a foreboding red ring around the screen when your character falls off of a platform for stepping on the wrong tile.
The puzzles are extremely varied. In the first two hours of gameplay alone, my partner and I traversed a timed floor puzzle, reactivated an engine, deciphered a bizarre code machine, and even recreated several dioramas of the history of Castle Rock. It is rare for a puzzle in We Were Here Forever to overstay its welcome.
The Bigger Picture
What sets We Were Here Forever's best puzzles apart, however, is how they reinforce the title's worldbuilding. This is not a case of a series of puzzles with a story lazily bolted on; rather this frigid puzzler tries and often succeeds, to use its puzzles to create a distinct and captivating atmosphere.
The game's first act has its pair of heroes escape from a complex system of dungeons beneath Castle Rock. Through the puzzles themselves, it becomes clear that this was no ordinary prison, but a means by which its owner could subject its occupants to psychological torture for his own amusement.
The dark tones continue throughout the game. Exploration of the ruins of Castle Rock soon reveals the presence of otherworldly forces, Faustian pacts, and human suffering. Against this backdrop, the majority of the puzzles feel like acts of exploration.
Almost every completed challenge offered a subtle revelation as to the nature of the foreboding environment in which our unfortunate heroes find themselves. We Were Here Forever is keenly aware of the horror and mystery elements at its core, and readily harnesses them so as to render its puzzles more engaging and atmospheric.
The puzzles themselves are not necessarily the most complex head-scratchers out there, but, what amounts to a simple matching game becomes so much more than that when slathered in the context of We Were Here Forever's storytelling.
An Arduous Journey
That said, We Were Here Forever is not without its flaws. Though the way it entwines narrative design and gameplay is refreshing, the story itself sometimes suffers from a lack of depth. Though it is often engaging, the story often paints in very broad strokes and lacks subtlety.
In addition, the game suffers from several minor shortcomings. One is likely to run into the occasional bug. My partner and I occasionally found ourselves clipping through terrain and falling off of lifts. Despite the charm of the emote system, we found that our avatars would occasionally become stuck in animation loops. The hint system, too, is somewhat convoluted and rarely seemed to offer useful help when we were stuck.
However, for fans of cooperative puzzlers or eerie horror, these problems should absolutely not be considered deal-breakers. We Were Here Forever is a novel, engaging and entertaining title. Its emphasis on communication, the variety and quality of its puzzles, and its ability to build a compelling atmosphere through gameplay make We Were Here Forever a strong and noteworthy entry into the cooperative puzzler genre.
We Were Here Forever will be available on Steam and the Epic Store from May 10th.
Cat Bussell is a Games Journalist from London. She is very glad not to be stuck in a creepy frozen castle.
Special Thanks to Oliver Moss, my partner through the harrowing halls of Castle Rock.
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