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Serena (PC) artwork

Serena (PC) review

"ďA disturbing gift for fans of adventure gamesĒ"

Serena is an oddity. It goes to great lengths to describe itself as a thank you gift to fans of adventure games, but is purposefully wrapped up in misery and confusion. You can download the entire thing now for free, and you totally should; the hour or so long game has been lovingly constructed like a patchwork quilt, fashioned by dozen of contributors spread across the genre. I could spend hundreds of words launching into the reason the game came to be but it doesnít change things. Serena is an emotion driven experience, an experiment in evolving narrative from the Edgar Allen Poe line of thought.

Whether or not it succeeds I canít help but believe is going to wildly differ from person to person. The dated interface employs the old Myst mechanic of rooting the playerís perspective to fixed spots rather than allowing the freedom of free roaming while the entirety of the game takes place in a remote open-plan wood cabin. Itís isolated and claustrophobic, leaving the player little to explore or interact with. It all starts with the protagonist sitting at a table, staring at a photo of himself and his wife, but with her face blurred out. It transpires that he finds it hard to recall details about her appearance or his past, and the exploration will lead him to reminisce on what collection of memories he has available. His wife, Serena, is the driving force behind this narrative, as he tries to cobble together the missing pieces of his life, the jarring absence of his spouse, and the reason for his baffling amnesia.

It successfully compresses all these things into such a small space by offering much more meaning to the seemingly mundane decorations than you might normally expect. A salt shaker isnít just a salt shaker, but a reason to ruminate on the yard sale it was picked up from, ponder if perhaps his reliance on it wasnít somehow insulting to whoever was doing the cooking that day, or casually remark how they always meant to get around to employing something more healthy, like sea salt, but instead made do with the regular table variety. Each item initially supplies several new lines of dialogue per click rather than the industry standard couple of sentences offered out of obligation before being repeated. Itís in triggering these memories that you finally start making headway into the narrative; finding items that unlock certain retentions slowly change the protagonistís frame of mind. His emotional responses to the stimuli around him radically changes throughout his journey.

It can be very involving; following threads of discontent and tying them up with physical representations sometimes sees the protagonistís reactions to certain items change from whimsical to anything between rage and abject horror. Progression is jerky, purposefully so as it wraps the short story up in emotive reactions that rear up within seconds, changing the entire canvas of the plot. As the darkness of the tale slowly dials up, the intensity of fury or fear keeps pace. That salt shaker that once offered vibrantly cheerful memories suddenly becomes melancholic as the narrator gives way to more destructive recollections; the small space youíre trapped in is essentially reinvented as everything around you is draped in darker overtones.

It will probably take you less than an hour to discover the reasons behind the repressed memories, and thereís a very solid chance you might well figure it out long before itís revealed, but the inventive chronicle is well worth experiencing for the radically different and fresh elements it injects in a genre decades old. Serena largely benefits from its brevity, taking a small collection of elements from a fixed location and slowly perverting them all towards the writerís grand goal by not just subverting their meaning, but allowing them a small, private history of their own. Itís storytelling through re-exploration and viewing identical scenarios through differing emotional veneers.

Dare I end with a corny line about this free release being worth every penny? Nah, I think Iíll skip over that. That would be incredibly lame.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 04, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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