Alone in a cabin in the woods, one man must piece together the fragments of his missing memories to discover where his wife has gone and what has become of his life. While the basic premise is familiar enough, Serena manages to do some things exceptionally well even though it falls short in many other areas.
Serena is a free-to-play, point-and-click adventure resulting from the collaborative work of dozens of adventure game fans and designers. The game itself is short but manages to condense a solid story into those 45 minutes of gameplay. You play as a man, alone in a cabin with no idea why. You start seated at a table and from there are free to move throughout the environment.
Though scenes are rendered in 3D, movement is handled by clicking to the edges of the frame to progress to the next scene, rather than WASD controls. Each environment contains a handful of clickable objects and each time you click one your character offers a line of dialogue relating to it. Each object can call up multiple phrases and memories. As you interact with objects and stir up memories, the protagonists’s mental state changes. This effects what he has to say about objects, the amount of visual static/noise on the screen, and the appearance of the once happy couple in a photograph on the table.
That last paragraph alone is the game in a nutshell. The game does a wonderful job of telling a story and reflecting the mental state of our protagonist into the world throughout the story. Story progression comes though clicking all objects or clicking one specific object to trigger a scene. This is straightforward for a point and click, but is not executed well in Serena. Though you can hit a key to toggle markers on all clickable objects, there is absolutely nothing to tell you what you need to examine to progress. Much of my time with the game was spent running from scene to scene, frantically trying to figure out what I needed to click to progress in the story. This lack of direction quickly became frustrating. The dialogue and memories triggered by an object reset after every major plot revolution, which in short means you spend a lot of time looking around for that one object to progress the story.
I mentioned before that there is a button that toggles icons over clickable objects. This was discovered purely through me meticulously hitting every key on the keyboard to see what they did. There is no interface at all for the entire game; no menu, no dialogue boxes, and no saves. Hitting ‘Escape’ instantly closes the entire game with no prompt, which means that coupled with the fact there are no save files, tapping that key could easily clear your entire progress with the game. Consequently, this is exactly what happened to me and is why I didn’t actually finish the game. I hit escape right as I was coming up to the end of the game and lost everything. Some warning would have been nice.
Overall, Serena is a fantastic short story experience held back only by some technical limitations. The atmosphere is expertly crafted, the story breaks through cliches into something truly emotive, and it is more than worth 45 minutes of your time. If you’ve got a spare hour and enjoy point and click narrative experiences, definitely consider picking this free-to-play title up from Steam. Just don’t hit ‘Escape’.
[+Nice Atmosphere] [+Screen Quality Changes With Story Progression] [+Fully Voiced, Well Acted] [-Very Little Actual Direction] [-Progression is Aimless and a Pain in the Butt] [-No Menu] [-No Save Files, or Notification of Lack Of Save Files] [-Escape Insta-Quits the Game]