By – Thomas Faust

Serena

The term “gaming community” gets thrown around a lot these days, and its meaning has probably diluted somewhat in the last few years.  Such communities form around all kinds of games, but they’re mostly taken to mean “people who play said games”.  However, when a collective of individuals, developers and players alike, band together to create something, that’s kind of special.  This is what happened around the close-knit adventure community, and the result of this cooperation is now available for free from Steam.

The credits of Serena read like an All-Star roster of the adventure gaming scene.  Headed by Senscape’s Agustín Cordes, creator of Scratches and the upcoming Asylum, with contributions from Jan Kavan, Lukas Medek (both CBE Software), Josh Mandel, Scott Murphy (both of which are responsible for some of the best Sierra adventures), Laney Berry, Ben Chandler, and lots of other well-known contributors, this is impressive.  It’s a wonderful statement of what a group of like-minded people is able to achieve, a love letter to the medium as well as the eponymous Serena, and yes, probably also a reminder that adventure games are still not dead. As if anyone would doubt that by now.  Incidentally, it marks the first cooperation between veterans Mandel and Murphy in a long time, even if both of them just lend their voices to the game.  Nevertheless, if you’re interested in the history of adventure gaming, this should be somewhat exciting!

The game does what its creators do best: to delight and to disturb, if you will.  It seems to be a short, atmospheric piece about a missing wife and her husband, who “comes to a disturbing realization”, just like these things usually go.  I haven’t played it yet, but despite the somber tone I expect it to be filled to the brim with in-jokes and little details, like only a living, breathing community is able to bring forth.  The game also works as a showcase for Cordes’ versatile Dagon engine, which will fully rear its tentacled head in Asylum later this year.

Serena might only be a small, free game, but it is also a piece of adventure gaming history. You should probably take a peek, if you dare.

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  • http://www.jack-reviews.com/ ~Jack~

    Eh, it was okay. Didn’t really like the story though although it could have been more interesting in a longer game. Ultimately it felt too much like Gone Home just that I had to click on the same objects over and over and over again. And Gone Home had a better story in my opinion.

    • Adam Ames

      Could they have done something differently with the story to make it better?

    • http://www.buysomeindiegames.com/ Thomas Faust

      Only slightly disagreeing there. If it was a longer game, I would have been disappointed with its plot. As it stands, half an hour of playtime seemed perfect for what they were trying to achieve, I think. Oh, and I don’t know about you, but I think the ending was interesting. I felt my expectations steered into one direction, and then basically the opposite happened. And yes, lots of in-jokes, of course (most of them so obscure that most players won’t know what to make of them).

      As for the Gone Home comparison: both engines as well as the gameplay seem alike, that’s true. However, Gone Home – which has writing that I’d consider to be almost perfect – is a $20 game, while Serena is free. I actually hate to bring pricing into this argument, but yeah… Gone Home took a while and a whole bunch of money to make, while Serena was made in a relatively short time.

      In any case, it’s an interesting little thing. You might like it, or you won’t. But it’s not taking too long and it’s free. Oh, and it really accomplished what it was trying to achieve. That is one awesome love letter.

      • http://www.jack-reviews.com/ ~Jack~

        Well, if it had been a longer game they would have to change it up a bit because having to click on the same items over and over again wasn’t that interesting.
        And while I agree that the ending was different from what I expected it also seemed a bit stupid because if I was the protagonist I wouldn’t have remained inside the house just to listen, especially because he already knew what would happen after the first conversation he overheard.

        Ultimately I wouldn’t call it a bad game it just wasn’t as good as it could have been imo. Of course that’s somewhat alleviated by it being free. So I hope that The Asylum turns out to be a better game.

        And about Gone Home: While I liked the game I wouldn’t have paid $20 for it as it was way too short for that amount of money.

        • Amber

          Did you… did you try clicking on the doors and windows as the house was burning? There was supporting dialogue for interacting with routes of escape – the door was locked, windows wouldn’t open, etc.

          Did you just resign yourself to burning to death?

    • Troels Pleimert

      The game was really meant to be like a short story; a mood piece. It wasn’t meant to be a long plot-driven story. There’s just three characters in the story, one location, and you’re sort of in the aftermath of something that’s happened, trying to figure out what that something was. Serena is more about immersion in mood and piecing together the story.

  • Elle

    This game is boring. That’s it. I’ll admit I was intrigued at first. I liked the basic idea, of a person waking up (as it were) in a cabin with only some dim memories which become clearer and more menacing over time. However, unlocking those memories was repetitive and tedious. I walked around that cabin fifty times clicking on the same things for the plot to develop, and as it did, I became more and more disinterested in the whiny, self-righteous main character and the story at large. Here’s the deal: an overgrown man-child and his equally dull girlfriend/wife hole up in a cabin in the woods. They get sick of each other. Everyone whines and all the players get to relive that time they got dumped and feel self-righteously indignant. End of story. Or, I guess end of story because I didn’t make it till the end. I was so thoroughly sick of the characters and the repetition that I quit. Obviously, my quitting means I can’t make as detailed or nuanced a review as others, but my quitting out of sheer boredom and frustration also makes a statement. Blah.

    • http://www.buysomeindiegames.com/ Thomas Faust

      Well, to each their own. No problem if you prefer lighter fare (although the Steam store page should have been an indication of what to expect).

      Oh, and that was obviously not the end of the story… but no spoilers here.

      • Elle

        “Lighter fare.” That’s cute. At what point in my review did I complain about the darker subject matter, exactly? I dislike dull fare, not dark fare. And, yes, obviously that’s not the end of the story. The point is that I didn’t care enough to wait for the actual end. But whatever makes you feel better about having your opinion challenged, dude.

        • http://www.buysomeindiegames.com/ Thomas Faust

          Umm… not quite sure what I did to offend you there, I certainly didn’t mean to. However, the only person who seems offended at having their opinion challenged is you, actually. You know, it’s okay to not like things… and so on.

        • http://www.buysomeindiegames.com/ Thomas Faust

          Umm… not quite sure what I did to offend you there, I certainly didn’t mean to. Let’s leave it at that: I like it, you don’t. Fair enough on both accounts. All good?

  • Eric Duncan

    At first, I thought this game was trying too hard and was boring. Then as he got angrier and angrier, I started to laugh my butt off at some of the things he’d say. That’s when it started to get really entertaining! His dialog alone made the game to me. I was having a good time until he found “it” and **** got real. I HAD to finish it from that moment on, all the while looking over my shoulder, for what the atmosphere said I should be afraid of.