Review: Serena

Store page / View this review on Steam

I’ll say up front, I’m pretty torn about this one. On the one hand, it’s an interesting experiment in storytelling through non-traditional means, and it’s no secret that I love stuff like that. On the other hand, it’s not a terribly fun one for reasons I will get into. In the end, I think it being free and short really work to its advantage and put it in a place where I can recommend people trying it for themselves. But now I’m getting to the end before I even begin, so let’s back up a little.

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Serena is the story of a man alone in a cabin, musing about his marriage. The cabin is just two rooms of static, rendered scenes to navigate, with hotspots to examine for fully-voiced narration. This is the entirety of gameplay, and to explain at all about what he finds would be to spoil most of Serena’s appeal. Don’t come looking for puzzles or investigations or scares, because what you’re getting is a low-key journey into one man’s psyche. The issue here is that you need to examine everything in the cabin until something changes, and then examine everything AGAIN until it changes, and so on. You might cotton on to the specific hotspots to trigger the next change but they’re not really hinted at, and checking everything over and over can really stretch this journey out.

The saving grace here is that the journey is a pretty interesting one. As you examine the cabin, you’ll hear plenty of monologues that reveal glimpses of the man’s personality and relationship with Serena. They’re not exactly subtle, but for a game this short they help hustle the story along with a welcome briskness. It’s clear a lot of consideration went into the relationship on display, especially once your examinations start yielding new information. And it all winds to a bit of a twist ending that’s worth seeing once for how well it’s set up.

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This is one of the rare games where the asking price really factors into my assessment of it. While I appreciate the story woven into the quality dialogue and detailed locale, it’s just not that fun to get through. You’re going to have to go through several cycles of examining the cabin’s contents in the 30 minutes or so it takes to see Serena finished, and yes, that means clicking on the same cabinet or magazine quite a few times. It’s limited enough in scope that I wouldn’t be comfortable paying money for it, but as a free experience, there’s really no reason not to see if it works for you.

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