I honestly had no intention of playing this game, nor had ever heard of it, until I just happened to check my Steam & saw that I already owned the game — because it’s free. After reading the game’s page & seeing that Serena was supposed to be a sort of homage to old-school adventure games, I figured I could give it a shot. I happen to be a fan of adventure games, which are becoming a dying breed. So how did Serena fair even for a free game?
In Serena, you don’t actually play as the title character, but rather her husband, who’s been waiting in a secluded cabin for her return. But you appear to have some memory problems. You don’t know how long you’ve been waiting for her. But as you continue to explore your little paradise, you start to realize that maybe there’s a reason she’s gone…
The controls for Serena are very simple. You simply move your mouse around & click on various objects to hear the husband narrate various thoughts & memories. He’s very verbose & will have multiple things to say about nearly everything you find in the house. As you examine the right combination of items to trigger key memories, things in the cabin will start to change, unlocking new memories & objects to examine until you uncover the truth.
Narrative: The blurb on Serena’s page claims that it’s like playing through a short story, & I’d have to say I agree. While the story isn’t overly long or complicated, it’s well-developed through the course of the short game. Like with any good adventure game, the more you explore & interact with the world, the more complete the story becomes. I liked that the PC usually has numerous lines of dialogue for every item you can interact with. Serena does a good job of showing the relationship between the PC & his wife & I liked the way things evolve as you progress through the story. Things start all bright & rosy, but gradually evolves — or rather, devolves — into feelings of anger, bitterness, sadness & regret. The game does a good job of showing how complicated emotions can be in a relationship. For example, at one point the husband goes on a depressed rant about changing the light bulb in a broken lamp in case Serena comes back before angrily berating himself for thing that. As for the story itself, while the first twist was pretty predictable, the ending totally caught me by surprise. It was probably one of the most surprisingly sad endings I’ve ever seen in a game. So overall, I think it did an excellent job of telling its small story in a minimalistic fashion if the player really gets into it. Score: 5
Mechanics: Serena’s gameplay is done in classic point-&-click adventure style. You simply move your mouse & the cursor changes to indicate if the object can be interacted with. The game is helpful in that pressing Space will highlight important items. But your interactions are very limited. You can only pick up very specific items. You also can’t move the PC directly aside from looking around. To move to a new area have to click the area. But you can only move one area at a time. So, for instance, if you want to go from the bed to the bookshelf (on opposite sides of the cabin), you can’t go directly there. You have to keep clicking until you reach the proper area. This didn’t really bother me, because that’s how adventure games work, but other might not like that. I didn’t, however, like that you spend most of the game interacting with the same sets of objects. You don’t really get any new stuff to see as you progress to each section of the game. It does make the game a bit too easy. And strangely, there were some things you can’t interact with that, in my opinion, should warrant a comment. Like the creepy pictures. So overall, everything works properly, but is hardly compelling & can get a bit tedious. Score: 3
Aesthetics: Visually the game is impressive, especially for an indie title. I think Serena was actually created to showcase the developer’s engine, which is being used to create another game on Kickstarter. The cabin looks really good in a dilapidated sort of way. There isn’t a lot of music except to signify when things have progressed, but the sounds of the cabin (creaking floorboards, the ticking clock, etc.) adds to the atmosphere. That’s something that the game does really well; creating atmosphere. While I wouldn’t say the game is scary, it does do a good job of creating a sense of foreboding. The main voiceactor, Josh Mandel, does an excellent job & perfectly portrays the range of emotions the character expresses. But Serena’s voiceactress felt a bit… off to me. Not bad per se, but the sort of thing where it obviously sounds like your acting. Overall, very impressive. Score: 4
Replay Value: Low. One playthrough is probably enough for most people. But the game is pretty short, especially if you don’t take your time exploring every nook of the cabin. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Serena’s old-school adventure controls won’t make it appeal to everyone. But despite its short length, the atmosphere & interesting story may appeal to fans of adventure games like Scratches. And it’s free, so you can’t really go wrong either way.
Release Date: January 30, 2014