Far From Serene
There is a cabin in the woods where the collected mementos of a pair of shared lives is preserved. A cast iron pan seasoned with wine-dampened passions and ill-fated experiments. The little wooden pendulum clock that proved too charming for her to yield. Amidst these relics of a long, unwilted romance and the years' mirth, a man struggles to remember his lover's face. Perhaps the key to reclaiming her lies somewhere in the cabin? It's worth searching for, but may unlock memories more likely buried than forgotten.
Though the stories therein don't relate, Serena was borne of all too-real human drama. A man by the name of Paul Trowe had spent an extended tour stirring up malcontent in the adventure game community. Last November, he leveled an impudent Tweet at Serena Nelson, the woman for whom Serena was named. To “counterbalance such awfulness”, some 40 some odd fans and developers would gather to produce the game in question. Serena, stitched together from the hodgepodge of contributions and good will, took form in a matter of weeks.
Serena shows a slow burn. Our protagonist, alone with his inner monologue, waits for you to rummage your mouse through his belongings. He'll have several somethings to say about most things you can examine, allowing you to explore his relationship with the game's namesake as you will. It's a brief little point and click adventure, but admission is free.
It's a wonderful example of community solidarity, but the tang of its publicly sourced origins is recognizable. Scripting can be stilted, and voice work has a tendency to sound like an able friend's first reading, hampering the sell of the early joyful sentiments. Faults that are difficult to brandish against it, considering. Once its emotional hooks sink in, though, they cut deeply.
Dusty trinkets carry wounds that unfold as you refamiliarize the husband with his surroundings, dredging up new strings of monologue. The things you touched before take on new meaning, turning the story forward. Carefully timed swells of music dredge up old ghosts and, strangely, had me afraid to glance over my shoulder. Maybe a spectre of the past is waiting to meet me?
Its best is haunting. Interim moments, which comprise most of the experience, risk leaving you feeling directionless and frustrated. Sometimes your character's development unfolds organically and the progressive investigation system functions marvellously. Sometimes everything grinds to a halt as that necessary trigger remains unmet.
Serena's allure is more than enough to pull you through the problem sections. Its method of revealing its tale to the player as he or she explores their environment, rather than through express objectives or goals, is one I found refreshingly novel yet effective. It feeds the mind just enough to tease and keep it hungry for more. If you ever find yourself pining for a diversion from the norm – a cleanse of the palate, perhaps – Serena's low barrier for entry and unconventional approach to its narrative will cure what ails you.