The adventure genre is a storied one, with ups and downs in its history. A good number of the recent adventure titles have been met with both acclaim and criticism, the latter of which had people question if they were games to begin with in the strict sense of the word. They still get good play time and some even become favorites. In Steam, where a lot of newer adventure games are tagged as “walking simulators”, there is yet another one in the mix. There’s a lot less to cry about though as this one is free to play.
Serena is a free point-and-click adventure game by Agustin Cordes and his fellow developers who came together to create this for the PC. You play as a man waiting for his wife Serena, but she has not come back yet. You then go around your little house looking for clues as to what happened. That gameplay is a lot like that of Gone Home, although the setting is much smaller in this case. For gamers who are not fans of point-and-click adventure games, this may not be for you, but it won’t hurt to try since it’s free.
The mouse movement may unsettle players at first, thinking that’s it’s full-on first-person fare, but it’s not as all actions are done with the mouse. It’s a lot like other old adventure games like Post Mortem and the Still Life series, wherein you can move the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen and click to turn around and move. You should be able to get used to it after a while, but you’ll still find yourself fumbling a bit while trying to interact with certain objects, and you may miss some and find them later when you have to interact with nearby objects again.
The story is well-written and develops nicely throughout the narrative. The voice acting is alright for the most part, although it can sound dodgy every now and then. Despite that, the emotion in this game matches the atmosphere of the setting and works well in setting the tone. From the lack of light aside from what’s coming from the windows, to the dusty furniture and rotting wood of the house itself, there’s a sense of age and decay like the long-forgotten memories of the past. The size of the house gives a bit of a claustrophobic feel, which adds to the feel as the story slowly gets darker as you progress.
As always with games like this, it’s about interacting with just about everything, then interacting with key objects to progress the story, then interacting with everything again to see changes in dialogue and in the objects themselves. Soon enough, you’ll find things starting to make a bit more sense and the story will gradually unfold. Of course, that means you have to interact with objects over and over again until you figure out what to do next to push the narrative along, so there’s quite a bit of back-and-forth. It does encourage players to really explore the environment and get into the story.
Serena is the developers’ tribute to a person who did so much, but then was wronged. Serena Nelson was a big fan of adventure games and was a major supporter of the Kickstarter campaigns that saw the recent resurgence of the genre. Optimism was abound during that year of 2012, and some of the major campaigns from that time have resulted in games we have now, biggest of them being Broken Age. Then came Paul Trowe, the man behind Replay Games that also had a Kickstarter campaign that raised half a million for the return of Leisure Suit Larry.
Unfortunately, Trowe isn’t known to be the most tact of characters, and he sparked controversy with his bluntness and penchant for criticizing others incessantly. In one of those squabbles, Nelson, who had been critical of Trowe in the past, was involved. As payback, Trowe outed her as a transexual, which Nelson acknowledged as a fact that most of her colleagues already know of, but she was still slighted by it. It was a low blow that resulted in a public outcry, of which Trowe publicly apologized to Nelson for. Despite that, the damage was done and many of those in the adventure game community felt the pain.
Agustin Cordes was an eyewitness to it all, and he was just as angry as everyone else about what happened. But he decided to put that anger to good use and gathered a group of developers to create this game. It was named after Serena Nelson and was released for free. It seems that it was never meant to be sold in the first place, and it shows. It was a product of empathy and a call for sobriety, albeit a disturbing one.
It’s nice to see something made purely out of compassion every once in a while. Serena isn’t a title that players will likely revisit over and over again, but its visuals and atmosphere are memorable, and being free-to-play is perhaps the biggest bonus of them all.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 7.5/10