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When the Past Was Around: Gameplay Review

Yash Mahendra

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The debate of whether games can be considered as “art” is an age-long topic that’s been going on for many years. When the Past Was Around challenges the topic of discussion. The game showcases an experience with a truly artistic core, not just in its graphics, but in the storytelling too. The game is designed with puzzles that drive the story forward, and even though they do not provide too much of a challenge, it’s not the true focus of the game. the game utilizes a beautiful and bittersweet theme. The point and click nature of the game is aided by visuals and music to convey a tale that is equal parts sorrow and joy. The game received a launch date of September 22nd, 2020.

When the Past Was Around explores the relationship between Eda and her lover (an anthropomorphic owl) in a story that reveals their journey of love and loss, without the use of any dialogue or text. In the beginning, we see Eda, a young woman in a fringed dress, walking slowly towards a man trapped in a cage who is composed of nothing but black scribbles, showcasing someone that has angrily scratched out a photo. Interacting with him frees him; a door fades in as the cage disappears, and the scribbled man grasps the handle, inviting us to join them on an emotion-filled journey through past and present.

Also read: Override 2: Release date and Gameplay features!

The next part of the game is in various rooms of the couple’s house and as you investigate further, opening drawers, flipping over rugs, and checking potted plants, the scribbled man is soon revealed to be Eda’s lover Owl. What happens next is a tour of their memories together: cuddled together on the sofa, sharing an ice lolly on vacation, gathered around a campfire, sitting at the kitchen table enjoying hot beverages. These everyday, mundane glimpses into the past emphasize the little joys of life and love. Sadly, nothing can last forever…

The exploration of their history is driven forward primarily by solving escape-room-style puzzles. The players are tasked with finding acquiring lots of keys to find and codes to crack. As the only text consists of a couple of words on objects you discover, the game uses a system of pictures and symbols to point you in the right direction. For instance, in the scene where the couple is sitting together at the kitchen table, images of the drinks they want appear in thought bubbles above their heads. In another scene, out in the garden, a sheet on a clothesline displays birds, butterflies, and brooms as a clue to solving the code on a lock nearby. Elsewhere, you need to lure birds to you to pick up the geometric shapes they’re carrying so that you can open a door and progress the story. Although some of these puzzles are quite inventive, none are particularly challenging.

With most of the chapters, it’s possible to move back and forth between scenes (the memories are connected by mysterious doors that take you from one echo of the past into the next). However, it’s not possible to move Eda around each scene, which does lead to a slight feeling of disconnectedness, like you’re some kind of a floating poltergeist, looking in on this couple’s life, knocking over plant pots and sweeping books off shelves. I felt this reduced the emotional impact of the experience somewhat; if we were able to feel more like we were playing as Eda, the loss and love she experiences would pack a bigger emotional punch.

That said When the Past Was Around still manages to pull at the heartstrings, building up to an ending which – much like the rest of the game – intertwines the warmth of love with never-ending sorrow. Veteran adventure gamers may not find that the puzzles along the way challenging, but ultimately the beautiful visuals, captivating music, and emotional story are well worth the price of the title.

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