From the beginning, everything about Senscape’s new indie horror game, Serena, feels hazy. However, the haziest thing about Serena is your memory. The game begins with your protagonist, voiced by Josh Mandel, lamenting on his inability to remember anything at all about his wife, the titular Serena. Told from the first-person perspective, Serena has you pointing and clicking your way through the aforementioned cabin, clicking on the various pieces of furniture, books, and plenty of other things along the way as you slowly piece together your broken memory.
Every click jogs his memory in different ways, but what separates Serena from other adventure games is the way it packs meaning into almost every object every time you click on it. Certain objects trigger a progression in the husband’s memory of his wife, which in turn change the lines of dialogue associated with all the other objects in the cabin. It’s a very clever and efficient way to get a lot of mileage out of one simple environment, and its the best thing about Serena. The story of Serena is told entirely through repeatedly clicking on an object and then listening to what the husband has to say about it, which can be clumsy at times. It’s a very haphazard way to tell a story — but it actually works extraordinarily well as it almost perfectly captures the scatterbrained feeling of trying to remember where it all went wrong. At its best, Serena’s game of random association can be breathtaking.
Unfortunately, that’s about all that is good about Serena. The story is predictable, to the point at which I already knew the twist before my initial viewing of the teaser trailer ended, and there really isn’t much else going for the game. Graphically, it looks fine, albeit unremarkable, but certainly not an eyesore. That’s the biggest problem with the game, however, you have to trudge through the archaic system of pointing and clicking to move throughout the cabin without much to really gawk at or get excited over. Every moment that isn’t spent listening to what the husband has to say is a pain, and for me, too much of the game was consumed by trying to work around the clumsy engine. Furthermore, some clicks on the objects will eventually yield the same phrases over and over again, and it can be hard to find the right object at the right time to move the story forward. There are some references to other games found in some of the objects you can interact with, but these only served to take me out of the world and disconnected me from the story.
For a free game, Serena isn’t a bad use of one’s time, clocking in at just barely under an hour, but it’s hard not to think that this game could’ve been better. While the way the story is told is something unlike anything I’ve seen in a video game, the story is middling, predictable, and lacks any sort of real twist. Nonetheless, Serena had a few moments that were genuinely impressive, but by the end all I could do was shrug and say, “I guess that’s over then”.
Serena is currently available for free download on Steam from game publisher Senscape.