Review: We Were Here Too

It’s getting colder and two of your party members died from hypothermia. They just dropped in the snow and, oddly enough, you kept walking. But you figured if you don’t find some shelter soon, you’d only be joining them. And out of nowhere, far in the distance, your only remaining party member points to a strange, dark, brick building. As you get closer, the wind is heavy, and the walk is impossible. Soon, the bricks reveal themselves to be a castle, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere. You look at your partner. You nod your heads. You go inside the castle, only to discover that, maybe, it would’ve been better to die in the cold. And then – the gates slam shut.

We Were Here Too is the standalone sequel to Total Mayhem Games’ We Were Here, a series of first-person, immersive, cooperative puzzles, which rely on the players’ ability to communicate with each other, to be observant, to crack riddles, and hopefully, to escape a wretched castle with their lives still in tact.

Right off the bat, I’d like to say that I had a fantastic time playing this game. Cooperative games are among my favorites, and WWHT works incredibly well. But, there’s much to be said about this game, so let’s start off with first impressions.

Setting up a friend lobby takes seconds, and works well. My partner and I were connected right away, and were immediately in too deep. The game offers two roles for each player to assume – The Lord and The Peasant. Based on your decision, you’ll play through an entirely different side of the game than your partner. However, you are always working with them in one way or another. To start, I chose The Peasant, and my partner chose The Lord. Now the roles were set, off we went.

I was in a dark, dank basement of a castle. The brick walls were clogged with dirt, ash, and dust, and the only light source emanated from the center of the room, a few flickering candles. I heard the sound of scurrying little feet as I walked toward the center of the room. On a pedestal, almost begging to be touched, were a series of tiles, adorned with symbols I couldn’t recognize, let alone describe. Suddenly, a bright orange light and a loud crackling sound erupted from the device I had been idly holding in my hand. The Lord’s voice came through:

“Hello? Oh, shit. Hello? Can you hear me? This is awesome.”

Then, we were describing our environments, in overly necessary detail, via the walkie-talkies, trying to figure out what we had to do. I was impressed. The comms system is a neat and immersive touch, and it got us right into the feel of things. From there, we struggled through a large assortment of puzzles, relying on both of our communication, observance, and puzzle-solving skills, to attempt an escape from the castle. First impression: Two excited thumbs up.

We Were Here Too is the best Escape Room I’ve never been to. Really, you feel trapped in a musty, haunted castle basement, with blood spatters, coffins, and demonic symbols on the walls, and all you want to do is solve the puzzles and get the hell out. The controls are simple, WASD-movement, with sprint, jump, interact, etc. But more importantly, left click for Push-To-Talk. When you left click, you begin speaking into your walkie-talkie, which is directly transmitted to your partner’s talkie, which glows orange and broadcasts your mumbling voice.

There are a ton of rooms in the castle and each one is packed with moving parts to a puzzle. To solve the puzzle, your partner’s understanding of his room, and moving parts, along with your collective ability to put the pieces together is needed. I don’t want to spoil much in terms of puzzle-mechanics, but as a fan of Skyrim and Dungeons & Dragons, I felt that these puzzles were fresh, fun, interesting, and challenging. I was totally engaged with these puzzles, even submitting to breaking out a pen and pad of paper, to get all the details straight. The puzzles are fantastic, the cooperative elements work incredibly well, and despite a relatively low replayability value, this game truly stands out as a co-op treasure.

Playing through this game with my best friend, The Lord, was a challenge to our friendship, but in the best way possible. We learned that that the Peasant has trouble orienting the “cube puzzle” and The Lord isn’t so fond of mazes. We also learned that the “spiky square mace” is importantly different than the “slightly spiky square mace.” Jokes and spoilers aside, gameplay and mechanics are fun, and playing through this with a close friend made it even better.

For an immersive game such as WWHT, visuals are important – and in this regard, there was very little slack. I was able to play in a full, smooth, 60fps, which added to the spooky-realistic feel of the environment. The castle was designed with purpose: to strike feelings of fear, mystery, confusion, and claustrophobia into the player, all of which ooze from the scenery and sound design. It isn’t a marvelous-looking game, but it looks just about as great as it should; that is, aside from the writing in the books, but I’ll get back to that later.

The music is ominous and overbearing, supplementing the game’s tone even further. Most sound effects are directly triggered by actions, which can feel as if the environment is a bit “static,” but I believe this firmly relies on itself being a puzzle game. If too many sound cues are given, then the challenge is reduced, in one way or another. Occasionally, though, a “narrator” would speak to the players after completing a puzzle. A booming, heavily distorted voice would begin speaking out of nowhere, and most of the time, I wasn’t able to make out everything that the narrator said. I wonder if a bit more time could have gone into the voice acting for WWHT, because what we have now can be a bit jarring. Not gamebreaking, just startling, almost out of place, to a certain degree.

WWHT is a sequel, though it is standalone, so there isn’t anything to be missed in terms of story or narrative if you know nothing about the first. What I will say is that the narrative in this game is lacking, but alluring. It is dangerously close to being incomplete. There are no dialogue options throughout the game, and your characters remain silent in the few cutscenes that are present. There isn’t much “character” in the player. I suppose that comes down to what you put into it, with your partner, the story you make out of your own trials and tribulations while playing.

There is a story. It’s present from the first room, up until the final room, despite it being vague and hard to understand. The narrative is mostly unraveled through the many books lying around on pedestals in the environment. Interact with a book and get ready to squint – because whatever font, text, or visual system Total Mayhem Games used to write in these books, needs work. Honestly, some books are barely legible. At one point you may stumble across a book with a list of names, and you won’t be able to make out a single one. (At least I couldn’t, and neither could my partner.) I suspect that maybe, though it would be a dreadfully poor excuse, that the illegibility of the text in game is “part of the puzzle,” but I really hope not. The text in the books needs to be patched, in my humble opinion.

Anyway, the story revolves around a royal family: an aggressive, abusive King, a love-stricken, conflicted Queen, their band of misguided and misaligned children, and a crazed, possessed butler. You know, the usual. The story is told in small pieces, and players are encouraged to understand the complicated family tree, without having any grounds to start on. Figuring out who was who, what everyone’s names were, and how they related to each other, was one of the mysteries that carried throughout the entire game – a goal my partner and I chased after vigorously. We wanted to know more about the family, we needed to know whose names these were, and what the books were referring to. We were eager to unravel the narrative mystery.

Unfortunately, in the end, we discovered that there wasn’t much to be unraveled. But I must remind myself, narrative wasn’t the focus of this immersive puzzle game. The presence of it at all, and the thrill of chasing down that side mystery, was bonus enough. I wouldn’t mind a bit more narrative, but I’m thankful for the experience that was provided.

I’m a huge fan of co-op games, and the partner I played WWHT with has been my go-to co-op buddy for quite a few years, but we have never been challenged quite like this. The immersion that the game brings, and the forcing of walkie-talkie communications were some of my favorite parts of playing. I remember feeling scared that my partner wasn’t saying anything, or feeling an extreme sense of relief when I would see the orange light flicker on. Solving puzzles, trapped in a castle, without anything but our voices was a fantastic experience, leaving me wanting more.

We played through the game over the course of two evenings. We had to take a break during the Spiral Staircase, Cube, and Room puzzle, but were eager to finish the game the next night, which we did. After finishing the game, we had suspicions that there may be more than one ending. So we switched roles and started a new hunt… The hunt for all twelve levers. Again, I’ll save the spoilers.

But what review would be complete without some constructive criticism? As I mentioned, the legibility of the in-game script was distracting, and downright impossible to read at times. Some of the error seemed to be on the choice of font, an overly complicated cursive script, while other errors were just the size and shape of the text, some too small, or oddly stretched out.

Voice acting was odd. It felt obvious to me that one person recorded themselves and added 10-15 voice effects and distortions in FL Studio and plopped it into the game. It was awkward, and I found myself laughing at some of the lines. The “scariest” part about the narrator was the suddenness of which he would begin speaking, and the overpowering volume that came along with it.

Another point, made by The Lord, was that WWHT teases too much story. Sure, there’s something there, but it’s elusive and barebones. Maybe, with a bit more support, time, and effort, Total Mayhem could implement a more serious story-based narrative into a future title. I’d love to see it. I’d love to see our nameless protagonists go from castle to castle, dungeon to dungeon, and somehow take on an ultimate evil overlord. Wishful thinking, I suppose. But being cramped up in these castle walls really does something to ya.

One more thing, if you plan on buying and playing We Were Here Too, prepare to have a partner. I logged in moments before writing this and found eight players online, and 0 public lobbies available.

All in all, I liked this game. I’ll remember it, and it’ll go down in my list of favorites. I’m a sucker for co-op games, but We Were Here Too is a definite standout. It’s different from playing Borderlands or Ghost Recon: Wildlands with a partner. You’re solving puzzles together, not killing tangoes and bagging quests. You’re using the only thing you have – your voice – to escape from a hell coated with riddles, locked doors, evil rituals, and only one way out.

I highly enjoyed We Were Here Too, and am eager to see more from Total Mayhem Games. If this series continues, it would be interesting to see the possibility of a storyline, or a more drawn-out adventure, or a four-player series of puzzles. I recommend this game if you are the type who enjoys co-op games, solving riddles, or a game beyond the typical adventurer, RPG, or shooter. Jump in, get scared, yell at your partner, pull some levers. It’s a great time.

We Were Here Too was played via Steam with a code provided by the developer.

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