May 5, 2020
It’s getting dark. You’re stumbling through the twilit woods, only vaguely conscious of your destination. At the edges of your mind you hear whisperings – fragments in an unknowable language – as a vile, mossy sludge drips across your vision. You wash your hands in a stream and exclaim at the refreshing feeling. Wander through a pretty, fetid and frustrating mindscape in Czech developer CBE Software’s spooky new release, Someday You’ll Return.
Someday You’ll Return is a first-person horror adventure, placing you in the shoes of reluctant father Daniel as he searches for his wayward daughter Stela. The game’s prologue hints that Stela is somewhere underground, stalked by an unknown terror. With her phone broadcasting a signal from somewhere in the woods, Daniel sets out to bring her home.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Daniel is prickly, self-absorbed, and thoroughly unlikable. The first scene shows him driving out to the woods and speaking on the phone to Stela’s mother – he is incredibly dismissive of her distress, he sees Stella’s disappearance as an inconvenience, and he stares at his phone while driving. Throughout the game Daniel does not endear himself to the player. The various grisly deaths he experiences in a playthrough are not particularly heartbreaking as a result.
Moment-to-moment gameplay in Someday You’ll Return is similar to walking simulators such as The Suicide of Rachel Foster or Gone Home. You wander through the mostly-open woods and look for clues as to Stela’s whereabouts, with her seemingly always one step ahead. However, the puzzles presented are more akin to classic point-and-click adventure games – you’ll be pixel-hunting, combining items, and cracking mysterious codes. There are a lot of mechanics to play with, such as using herbalism to craft potions or assembling items with Daniel’s tool kit.
There are some well-presented moments in Someday You’ll Return, and it’s clear that the developers have poured themselves into its environments and landscape. The woods are vibrant and a pleasure to explore, despite the looming threats. It’s a distinctly Czech vibe – brooding and beautiful. Following trail markers to find real-world landmarks is a lovely touch. I especially enjoyed scanning the QR codes at significant sites for details, and I’m definitely looking forward to some hiking next time I’m in eastern Europe. Some of the environmental horror elements are also really interesting. It’s chilling to stumble across rotten animals in unusual locations, or scrawled notes from terrified children.
Unfortunately the game is marred by numerous mechanical and design issues that make for a frustrating experience. A lack of overall polish prevents the immersive feel the game is going for. For example, Daniel apparently has no shadow and his hand animations are stilted, awkward, and unskippable. The voice acting is not very good. I would have appreciated the option to use Czech voices and English subtitles, but this is not present.
There’s also a fundamental issue with Someday You’ll Return’s pacing. A horror game needs to balance suspension and terror in order to be effective. The balance in this game is unfortunately more between boredom and frustration. The hours of whimsical wilderness tramping really kill any sense of danger built up by the monsters, and when Daniel does encounter deadly enemies the experience is more frustrating than frightening. During the stealth sections you can be murdered by unkillable enemies, which often attack from offscreen. You eventually gain a way to neutralise the enemies but it is incredibly galling to be sent to a loading screen by something out of your control.
A lot of really interesting ideas are let down by their lacklustre implementation. Trawling through a spider-infested cave by burning their webs with a bespoke torch sounds like a horrifically good time, but in reality it feels like digging a hole in a more cumbersome Minecraft. The herbalism mechanic is intricate and unique, preparing plants and following recipes to craft potions. The actual uses of the potions are limited however and the mechanic remains underutilised. Even the puzzle-solving is plagued by unintuitive item combinations and 90s-style pixel hunts. It feels more like you have to brute force the finding of clues rather than the puzzle solutions, which is agonising to do in a three dimensional space.
I really wanted to like Someday You’ll Return, but I did not have a good time. Despite a lot of innovative ideas and obvious passion from the developers, the overall experience is frustrating and difficult to recommend to any but die-hard horror fans. Even then, be prepared to slog through lengthy pixel hunts to get to the thrills. This is more Goosebumps: Escape From Horrorland than Silent Hill.
- Environments are well-presented
- Some interesting ideas
- Frustrating gameplay mechanics
- Inconsistent pacing
- Lack of polish
- Extremely unlikable main character
Patient horror lovers with a taste for eastern European nature might find something enjoyable here. Otherwise, look elsewhere for your adrenaline-pumping kicks.