Work with a partner to complete puzzles escape room style and resurrect your father in The Past Within.
Format: PC via Steam
First playthrough time: 2 hours
All endings play time: 3 hours total
Cost: 5.99 USD
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The Past Within is a cooperative puzzle game in which two players work together from two different viewpoints. No connection is required between the two devices, instead players each have half of the information necessary to solve the puzzles. By communicating outside the game (voice, text, etc.), players take turns describing what they see and together make progress to solve their half of the puzzles.
One of the most important factors of a cooperative asymmetric puzzle game is how well suited the puzzles are for the format. To be cooperative, both players need to have something to do at all stages and an equal contribution to the solution. To work asymmetrically, puzzles need to be simple to describe, but not so simple that the solution is obvious to either player. The Past Within delivers on both measures, all while bridging an asymmetric 2D/3D viewing experience for each player.
The Past Within features two “seeds”, bee and butterfly, which allow the game to be played with different solutions to the puzzles. Both players must select the same seed for their puzzles to match, meaning the puzzle solutions are different on each seed. This allows players to swap roles after beating the game and replay on the other side of the story without knowing the answers. The puzzles themselves still follow the same format, so replaying takes about half the time as the original playthrough. At a time of 2 hours for a first run and 1 hour for a second run, the game can easily be completed in one sitting or broken up over two shorter ones.
The graphics of The Past Within are well suited for the contents of the story. The atmosphere is themed after Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, both with subtle references. The one issue I had with the visuals were the number of sequences with flashing lights or flickering screens. There were a few puzzles where I found myself wanting to hurry up and move on just to save my eyes. While such effects are often thematic and appropriate for this setting, I would’ve preferred them to be done once for effect and then discontinued so the player can focus on other aspects of the game.
Overall, I found The Past Within to be a well-executed cooperative puzzle game. Its asymmetric nature allows for swapping roles and doing a second playthrough via the second “seed”. Both runs can easily be completed in one sitting or two shorter ones. My one issue was the overuse of flashing lights/screens which, while appropriate for the 19th-century inspired horror setting, made some of the puzzles uncomfortable to look at. I recommend The Past Within for puzzle game fans looking for a cooperative experience to share over an a few hours.