Serena is an unusual game in a few ways. One is that it is a point-n-click adventure game, a genre which is not nearly as popular now as it was back in the 1990s. Another thing which makes Serena stand out is the game is a sort of mystery/romance tale and the game is almost entirely story-driven. There is relatively little action in this game, it’s more of an interactive story than a video game in the classic sense. Finally, the game appears to all take place within one room. These unusual quirks were enough to draw me in and get me to download the free-to-play interactive story.
The game is told (and displayed) entirely from a first-person perspective. The story opens with us (a male, possibly middle-aged) standing in a cabin in the woods. We are looking at a photograph of ourselves and a woman. The voice-over supplies an on-going narrative which talks about our relationship with the lovely Serena. As we move about the cabin we can examine objects, look in drawers, look through the bookshelf, and get a closer look at items around the cabin. As we wander about the voice muses about items, talks about his relationship with Serena and throws in bits of trivia. And a few things begin to take shape.
One thing which stands out right away is the narrator tends to talk about Serena in the past-tense: “We were happy,” “She sat there.” This raises the question of whether she passed away, or left us or maybe we killed her. However, sometimes the narrator talks as though Serena is still around. In fact, sometimes there is a sense she is expected back at any moment. In at least one instance the narrator mentions he is suffering from bits of memory loss and doesn’t remember details of certain recent events. All of this builds the mystery of who Serena is and where she is and why.
The game is relatively short and I do not want to give away the ending. The environment is detailed, the story is dark and intriguing. This isn’t a horror game, but there is a sense of suspense and darkness about the story. I was sometimes worried about what I might find behind cupboard doors, for example, but the game is pretty clean (there isn’t any gore). The warmth and sadness that enters the narrator’s voice really sets the scene and little details like a ticking clock and certain other items left around the cabin greatly add to the atmosphere.
There are a few aspects of the game I did not enjoy as much. One is that moving from spot to spot in the cabin is not fluid. We click on areas we want to visit rather than walking smoothly to them and this makes movement feels a bit jerky. Another thing I found off-putting was that the game blocks us from doing certain things without a solid in-game reason. Some items we cannot open right away because the narrator doesn’t feel like it, we can’t go outside because, the narrator says, he is not ready. Most of the time the game drew me in with the story and atmosphere. The times when I was told I couldn’t do something, like open a cupboard, took me out of the interactive experience a bit. It is fine to tell a player an object is locked and to find a key, but it breaks the flow to tell the character, “I don’t feel like looking in there right now.”
All in all, Serena is a short game, an interesting story and different enough to be intriguing. What it lacks in action or intensity it makes up for in atmosphere and good story telling. It is the video game equivalent to a written short story, rather than an action movie and I appreciated what it is trying to do.
One of the reasons I was drawn to Serena was the game was put together using the open source Dagon engine which is being used (I believe) in the upcoming Asylum game. Keep an eye open for that one as Dagon looks like a polished game engine.
Have an open source game you would like to see reviewed? E-mail me your suggestion at firstname.lastname@example.org