So February has arrived upon us once more and the waft of surface deep romance begins to blow in our direction. The TV tells us it is time to buy chocolates and flowers for our loved ones; the radio plays “Love is in the Air”, “I Will Always Love You”, and other brain deadening ditties that will leave you foolishly believing in love’s brilliance and splendour to such an extent that you may even find things so wholly contemptible in other circumstances enjoyable, like walking through a sewer, having your thumb sawn off or listening for any amount of time to Ricky Gervais.
This is not a diatribe by someone bitter with love or the general whininess of people who loathe love that appears to manifest itself around this time, skin-deep or otherwise. I’m all for love really, though from reading what is supposed to be a game review, it may not sound like it. Rather this is a gripe against the whole “lovely-dovey” world were are presented through the media in all its forms that seems to show everyone, young or old, rich or poor, sane or Ricky Gervais, that the season of love has arrived and you must be involved in it.
Well thank St. Valentine for Serena, and thank you gaming industry for bringing Serena out close enough for the season of love for me to enjoy it and to reminisce over it while people send each other mawkish mail.
Serena is about a man in a log cabin. He seems to have been waiting for a long time. Dust coats everything in the cabin. He’s sitting at a table. Just sitting there. In front of him is a photo of a couple. It’s of you and… a woman. Serena. You remember her name. But you can’t see her face. Not even in the photo, no matter how hard you look. Where is Serena? Has she left? Is she coming back? Did you do something? It’s up to you to find out.
Serena is billed as an indie point-and-click adventure game but don’t expect to be climbing every hill and fording every stream, as you are confined to log cabin you call home, giving the game slightly claustrophobic feel that adds to the story. However don’t think that there is nothing to explore, the cabin is full with little stories. Everything: the cooker; the chairs; the windows, all of it can be clicked on and you will begin to reminisce about your life with Serena, bringing back the memories of your relationship and bringing colour back to the photo on the table.
If there is something to criticise about this game, it is the restrictive movement. You can’t move freely, rather you have to click to move to certain areas, yet your feet will always remained anchored to one particular spot. But then again, it all lends itself to the feeling of restriction that is quite crucial for the ever lingering sense of something being not quite right.
The game relies on repetition, somewhat reminiscent of The Stanley Parable, though without the dry wit and prospect of multiple endings. Repetition in this game, by checking the photo, looking at all the items again and again, bring you through the astutely narrated memories of the husband, as well as little bits of Serena’s voice filling in the memories as well, through the early whimsical days of their romance to the troubled, spiteful, darker days that almost appear inevitable to arrive.
While this game ends in a somewhat predictable manner, it somehow doesn’t matter. It leaves you with a short vignette (roughly an hour of gameplay) of a life lived within the confines of not only the wall of the log cabin, but also within the mind of the husband, forever denying redemption, a chance to escape, in a manner quite Faustian.
For a game that was made by fans and designers of adventure games, this free game is better than the usual dross floating around Steam nowadays so it allows itself to be a pleasant, if somewhat twisted, surprise. Serena won’t win any awards, will only garner a small fan base, and has the detriment of having no replay value of any kind, but its refreshingly simple and quick paced storyline, somewhat tense atmosphere, and feeling of confinement with a sense of some horror hidden in the background allows this game to be enjoyable for the time you play it for. Oh, and hope you all have a happy St. Valentine’s Day!