Here’s an interesting situation; while playing through games for review, I’ll often start taking notes that I’ve made and begin forming them into the bare bones of the review before I’ve finished the game. I’ll usually still do it towards the end of a game, so I at least have a good idea of what’s important to talk about and know that I won’t need to change anything drastically once the game’s over. I started doing this when I’d reached around the eight-hour mark in Someday You’ll Return, once I’d gotten past the game’s admittedly lacklustre opening and found myself approaching what I assumed would be the closing chapters. At that point, I’d warmed to the game considerably and already had some fairly positive prose lined up for the review. And then things took a turn.
Let’s wind it back a bit first, though. Someday You’ll Return places you in the shoes of a man named Daniel whose daughter, Stela, has seemingly gone missing. The search has brought him back to an empty summer camp ground in the woods that, incidentally, he used to work at. Almost immediately upon arriving, it becomes clear that things are not as they seem – either with the camp, or with Daniel, or both. Someday You’ll Return’s opening hours make for a slightly rocky first impression as the game takes its time churning through the setup of a story that takes massive cues from big-name horror games like Silent Hill, but delivers them with awkward writing and flat-out horrible voice acting. Sticking with it through the initial series of more linear and disjointed sections though, reveals a core experience that is far more engaging once it opens up and the immediate story takes a back seat to some good, old-fashioned exploration.
Here in what’s roughly the ‘middle act’, Someday You’ll Return shines. Once players are given agency to roam the campgrounds and surrounding forest, the world truly comes alive. In the face of the otherwise awkward delivery of the core narrative, incidental detail and environmental storytelling shine. Picking through abandoned camp tents and halls and piecing together its past is riveting in the way that the best walking sims are, as is exploring and ultimately mastering the dense woods. Like any good summer camp, scouting trails mark important paths and I quickly found myself able to navigate the entire area based on my own memory of guides and landmarks, which is a great feeling. Other summer camp staples like rock climbing and foraging also come into play, which makes for fun gameplay twists and also really helps sell the camp vibe. I also need to commend the game’s trickier puzzles for encouraging me to get out an actual pen and paper and write things down to help me solve them. It’s always a treat when that happens.
Interestingly, the staccato presentation of the early moments works better when it comes back during this middle portion of the game. These sections, things like navigating claustrophobic and disorienting underground bunkers or sneaking through twisted, nightmarish spaces full of creepy entities, serve to take any sense of familiarity and safety away from players and heighten the tension in controlled bursts and it works incredibly well. Just as quickly as things can take a turn for the worst and the anxiety levels are ratcheted up to 11, they swiftly revert back to some kind of normality and the once-unsettling woods feel unexpectedly inviting.
Sadly, all of the good that the game does up to this point proves for naught when it enters its closing chapters. If there was ever an argument to be made against drawing out the runtime of a game just for the sake of it, it should’ve been raised before Someday You’ll Return’s last four or five hours made it to the final build. Without giving too much away (the game does enough of that on its own), it’s here that Daniel’s world truly starts to fall apart and things get extra weird and spooky. Unfortunately, unlike the punchy and tense moments that pepper the rest of the game, this sequence of events drags on for hours through bland, repeated environments full of dull puzzles and massive amounts of backtracking, both intentional and as a result of terrible design. All the while the game barks exposition at you through Daniel’s inner monologue and an excess of flashbacks that attempt, poorly, to explain what’s going on to an audience that either figured the whole, obvious riddle out already or stopped caring about five tedious trudges through ‘symbolic’ underground bunkers ago.
Gone is the engaging forest environment, gone is the summer camp full of secrets to uncover, gone are the clever conundrums that bring out the best in the adventure-inspired gameplay. All that’s left as the game limps toward its conclusion is a maddening maze of bland corridors and ‘otherworldly’ (see: annoyingly dark) areas that fly in the face of what is a surprisingly handsome game otherwise. Comfortably running at a smooth 60fps on my modest rig on Ultra settings, the game (when it’s good) is a bit of a looker. So much work has been put into rendering the forest and camping grounds, themselves largely based on real-world places, with painstaking attention to detail and a density that makes them truly feel tangible and once-lived-in. Coupled with some great use of music (in spite of less-than-stellar voice acting and a very messy audio mix), there’s a real sense of place that permeates the first half of the game and really helps to sell the world. It makes the rest of the game feel that much more disappointing.
Someday You’ll Return is a shame. If CBE Software had had the foresight to cut their game short at around the eight-to-ten-hour mark with a swift and shocking series of revelations the game could have gone down as a memorable horror experience. Instead, it’s one I hope to quickly forget.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher