The We Were Here series has been championing co-operative play for the past five years with a steely resolve and stubborn determination that has to be admired. Games that are designed from the ground up to be played together, with no compromises. The fourth entry shows that it’s not stopping anytime soon.
We Were Here Forever, as with the previous three titles, is a standalone story that just so happens to connect to a wider one that encapsulates them all. In this one, you and your partner find yourself imprisoned in the dungeons of Castle Rock. A mysterious towering abode is situated in the icy realm of Antarctica. The how and the why of your incarceration are naturally a mystery, to begin with, but two things are abundantly clear, you need to get out of here, and you cannot do it alone.
Communication is key. While some of the puzzles you encounter in your attempted ascent through Castle Rock put you in closer proximity, many seek to split you up and in those instances, what one player can see and do is essential to the progress of the other, and vice-versa. The characters hold walkie-talkies for these moments, allowing you to convey any relevant information to each other in order to continue your intertwined progress through the castle.
What intrigues me most about We Were Here Forever is the smart way it creates helplessness and dependence. Developer Total Mayhem Games has seemingly got the formula locked down whereby you feel on the edge of peril at all times, taking every precious ‘quiet moment’ as a reward in itself. Certain puzzles put a time limit in, usually with dire consequences for one or both of the players. This can lead to some genuinely intense moments where you hold another’s fate in your hands, sometimes literally, and trying to clear your head to calmly and clearly communicate with your partner in such high-pressure situations encapsulates exactly what makes the game work.
The wintry castle and its surroundings hold an intruiging mystery
Beyond that, I think a large part of We Were Here Forever’s success as a co-op experience comes down to its design. Not just the ‘levels’, but the art style is chunky, and bold, making it easier to keep out unnecessary background noise and giving the player more chance of focusing on what they should be looking for.
The unraveling mystery of Castle Rock, its surrounding areas, and the protagonists tend to help motivate progress as well. There’s a spooky side to We Were Here Forever that grows beyond the dank, skeleton-laden halls of the castle prison, and it was this that made the mystery that bit more enticing for me personally.
Not all puzzles are created equal, and there are times when you feel the weight of boredom or burden as certain puzzles require far more from one player than the other. In a way, it makes the whole situation a bit more natural, rather than designed for unified cooperation, but you’re then very much at the whim of whoever is having to solve the latest section, a bystander rather than a participant. Thankfully, these are relatively fleeting moments overall, but it’s a shame they upset the flow so much.
A mic can help, but the game has tools to facilitate silent co-op
Understandably, this is best played with those you actually know, but there’s something a bit more in keeping with the story being told to team up with a stranger. No doubt there’s frustration and anger to be found either way as that’s the potluck of online cooperation, but you also get the kind of magical experience that is difficult to replicate in a single-player adventure.
What bugged me for a long time though, was actually trying to discover this. Despite boasting healthy player numbers, I consistently struggled to get matched up with someone, and even when I did, a large number of folks simply disconnected early on without explanation. It does seem like I initially had a rotten run of luck because I fared far better in the last few days, and that makes the discovery of just how exciting We Were Here Forever can be a frustratingly bittersweet experience. Getting a good run through We Were Here Forever is essential for truly appreciating what it does best, and having a prolonged period of piecemeal bites of it left me unsatisfied. Very much a ‘me’ problem, I’m sure, but such experiences serve as a caution for the future of such games and finding practical solutions for when the crowds thin out.
We Were Here Forever may have occasional stumbles, but I can’t help but admire its craft. So few games understand what true co-op can be the way this game does. That brings its own issues because not everyone is into that kind of experience, nor do they necessarily understand it. As such, the ambition on display in We Were Here Forever can come across as stubbornness. By delivering an unflinching, uncompromising vision of what the cooperative experience should be, Total Mayhem Games has made another proudly distinct puzzle game.
Fairly basic stuff, but subtitles come with a bunch of options for size and color, which is a necessity in a game like this.
Aside from possible matchmaking issues, when We Were here Forever runs, it runs pretty solidly with only minor occasional performance issues.
WE WERE HERE FOREVER VERDICT
We Were Here Forever gives no quarter in its cooperative puzzling, fully trusting players to get on with it and work together. At its peak, the wondrous structure of this game is simply sublime, and perhaps the most invested I’ve felt in a co-op game since Portal 2. It doesn’t always hit those highs, and matchmaking was personally hit and miss, but We Were Here Forever generally dazzles.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Wordlessly solving a problem with a complete stranger is rare, but it feels special when it happens.
Generally superb co-op
Puzzles are mostly well thought out
Visual style communicates puzzles strongly
Playing with strangers is hit and miss
Some puzzles are unbalanced
Difficult to find a co-op partner at times