We Were Here [Review]

Keep Talking and Nobody Freezes

Developer & Publisher: Total Mayhem Games

Dates Played: January 2021

Platform: PC & Mac on Steam, XBox One

Duration: about two hours

Price: Free on Steam, $5 on Xbox One

REA Reaction

Despite the fact that We Were Here didn’t break any ground in either the cooperative or video game escape room arena, it was a very good example of both. I came away from the experience generally satisfied and interested in trying the two follow-up games.

This was a two-person only, cooperative, first-person POV escape room game. My teammate was Hivemind Writer Theresa Piazza. An escape room veteran, she was an excellent partner as this experience was all about communication. Because we were in completely separate digital locations, we had to constantly describe our surroundings through an in-game walkie-talkie, providing information that would help the other person advance.

It’s clear to me that Total Mayhem Games understands escape rooms and how to keep players engaged. The look and feel was polished, but in the end, lacked a certain specialness that would have elevated it to a “must-play” recommendation. The ending, in particular, was a bit baffling.

That said, it was time well spent thanks to the atmospheric environment, the moments of tension, and the communication skills of my teammate.

Who is this for?

  • Escape room teammates who miss live two-person escape rooms
  • Fans of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  • Streamers looking for something to entertain and engage their audience

Why play?

  • The cooperative escape room concept translates well to this medium
  • This first one is free! (on Steam)

Story

I played one of two members of an Antarctic expedition. We had followed footprints through the snow to a mysterious estate. Once inside, we were knocked out by an unknown figure and separated into two locations. My role was “Librarian” and Theresa’s role was “Explorer.” Our goal: help each other escape.

Setup

We were each in different parts of the same castle-like mansion. I was in the cozy library and Theresa was in the dank dungeon. Moonlight, candlelight, and torchlight created a Gothic mood. The time period was never established, but there were walkie-talkies and a film projector, so it was set in relatively modern times.

Gameplay

Core gameplay centered around observing, communicating with my teammate, and making connections.

The puzzles were linear with easy-to-moderate difficulty. Most of the challenge stemmed from our ability to describe details quickly and accurately to each other.

Analysis

➕/➖ During the main game, the art design of We Were Here was strong. Attention to detail on the stained glass windows and the oodles of candles added character to the environment. However, the cutscenes used an art style that didn’t fit the rest of the game. They seemed to use a different color palette and were much more simplistic.

➖ There was little instruction on what the controls were. Both Theresa and I went into the menu to look up the key assignments.

➕ Some puzzles used abstract symbols as solutions. I appreciated that these were both fun to describe and looked close enough to other “wrong” symbols that my description required precision.

➖ While using the walkie-talkie, there was little indication of when I was talking at the same time as my teammate. Even though this is how walkie-talkies actually work, it led to a lot of unnecessary frustration.

➕ There were moments of true suspense as one or the other of us was in peril and pleaded with the other to solve the puzzle in time. As the peril approached, vision narrowed and the tension ratcheted up.

➕ With this kind of game there’s always a risk of one player having a lot less to do. I felt We Were Here balanced the two roles well. While I, as the librarian, was doing more “instruction-giving,” it still felt like I was actively engaged in my teammate’s success the entire time.

➕ The checkpoints that existed were quite welcome for those moments where we failed and kicked the bucket. Had we wanted to, we could have quit and started the game again from those points at a later time.

➕/➖ The music played its part well, providing ambient churchy vibes that made a good environment for solving puzzles. It also ramped up when a time-pressure puzzle was reaching a critical point, and included a subtle, happy motif when a puzzle was solved. However, I found it too loud by default, and turned it down by 25 percent in the settings pretty early on.

➖ One later puzzle had clues that were too vague and controls that worked in a non-intuitive way for my partner.

➕ While the game was never scary, there were two creepy moments, one for the explorer and one for the librarian. This added a nice dimension to the game – that there was something more sinister at play here than just two people doing puzzles over the radio.

➕ “Free” was an excellent price for two hours of mostly frustration-free puzzling in a game with high production value.

➖ The ending feels like a puzzle to be solved, but it is not. I crossed an invisible line and it triggered the melancholy ending cutscene. My final words over the walkie-talkie were likely: “Wait, what? Nooo!” This wasn’t an ideal final impression.

Tips For Players

  • If you’ve ever tried kayaking or canoeing with your teammate and gotten into a horrible argument over how to turn, this game may not be great for your relationship.
  • It is possible to get a random partner through the game’s lobby. I can only imagine that if you try this, your mileage will vary greatly.
  • Unless you’re a purist about having the experience the game developers intended, use Discord or a similar service to communicate with your partner. It almost seems like the walkie-talkie mechanic is there for those people who play with a stranger and don’t want to connect with a separate voice chat program.
  • There are two follow-ups on Steam: We Were Here Too ($10) and We Were Here Together ($13). Their setting and gameplay are similar to We Were Here.

Get your copy of We Were Here on Steam or Xbox One.

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