Horror never gets old and deep down, I think we all love a good scare from the unknown or rising tension. But horror can be a tough thing to pull off right and often enough, most game creatives now rely simply on jump scares and bathing the environments into total darkness. But what also matters in a horror venture, is a good story and characters we can relate too. So when I saw snippets of Re:Turn, I was extremely intrigued and delighted when I got a preview.
So, I looked and here are my thoughts.
What is Re:Turn?
Re:Turn – One Way Trip; is a single-player 2D side-scrolling puzzle-adventure horror game set aboard a disused and rather spooky old train. You play as a young woman named Saki, who is trapped aboard said train after a rather dramatic event occurs with her friends during a camping trip. As Saki explores the train to locate her friends, things soon become strange as she beings to see horrific visions and feel that a sinister presence is after her.
Saki must use all her cunning in order to fight off the forces of evil located on the train and save her friends before it’s too late. A rather simple premise but from the early stages of the game, I could sense there was something quite special about Re:Turn.
Re:Turn from the get-go has a pretty solid and compelling story. What most horror games get wrong is lacking any characters you care for or even to have a lead with a persona. Resident Evil games (more so the recent ones) have done a great job at presenting likable and interesting characters you care for. But aside from that, most horror titles just give you a vessel allowing you to project yourself into the game as means to make it more intimidating.
But Re:Turn offers a compelling narrative that will engage you from the very beginning. Written by gaming legend David Bergantino (writer of horror novels, Game design consultant writer, worked with leading horror veterans past and present and all round fascinating dude!), Re:Turn offers a compelling start to this adventure and hopeful things will end on the same high level of writing.
The basic premise is that Saki and her friends are camping out far away from the bright lights of the city. They are enjoying the campfire and chatting about some serious topics, such as how long does friendship lasts for (a possible hint at the themes this game is bringing forward). Things seem fine, until a confrontation between two of the friends erupts. Soon enough Saki finds herself alone and looking for her friends in the forest at the dead of night. She soon discovers the location for this story, a rather haunting old train. Saki boards the train in a bid to find her friends, only to discover much more sinister forces are at work here.
As mentioned before, Re:Turn has a rather simple setup and from the outside, it could appear to be another standard tale of spooky shenanigans with silly teens. But the dialogue and inner conflict in the group points at a story being handled with professional care. Saki is likable, while worried and on edge, is not scared to venture on to find her friends. She has a personality and driving force to find the people she cares for. Her friends all have personalities and the struggles seen between them via this small event at the beginning creates a rather compelling mystery later.
Now I personally love the idea of setting a story on a train or indeed setting a horror game on a train. It is a rather refreshing setting that actually has all the right elements with a claustrophobic environment that keeps the tension high and a frightening sense of isolation throughout. It is a surprisingly plot framing device, even though there is often many stigmas and stereotypes about train settings in stories (like how Rick and Morty parodied it in season 4). The pacing of events is particularly good, with new reveals and twists coming out of the darkness at the right moments and the mystery getting more and more complex as you venture through the train.
There is also a neat twist where Saki will travel back in time at certain intervals to when the train was last active on the tracks. Saki will see people exchanges between passengers and thus more stories and conflicts developing as she tries to make sense of what is happening. It builds up to what is going to be the demise of the train is rather compelling but also seeing how Saki will cope with finding her friends is just so.
With plenty of stories are play, it is easy to find confusion or a plot thread that is weaker than the others. But overall, David Bergantino has done a wonderful job at pacing these stories out, unraveling the mystery and tying in new elements to make it grander. Re:Turn is a tightly knotted tale of the inner conflict, emotional fragility, and self-worth. It tackles some difficult issues and from what I have seen so far, it handles them well. Not overplaying them but not making them feel like a gimmick.
I must say I was extremely impressed with the story and very keen to see how things progress.
Re:Turn works similar to other 2D horror games such as Home and Lone Survivor. You move from train car to train car looking for key items and clues on what has happened to your friends. Normally you get an objective such as access a room with a friend inside or leave the train and from there you need to find the right tools to complete the task.
One such task sees you having to wash off some dried blood on a door to reveal a means of figuring out how to solve a tricky puzzle lock. Another instance sees you trapped within a few of the train’s cars and only using several rather creepy Japanese masks to open the doors and venture into the next section of the train.
So, there is often a lot of venturing back and forth to discover key items and use them in the right place. It will take some figuring out but most of the events so far have been straightforward and not too taxing. Although the main puzzles so far have proven quite challenging and even made a lateral champion such as myself scratch my head. It is on the verge of Silent Hill-style puzzles, which is a great thing.
The main quests are nothing special or overly creative, but the tense atmosphere, spooky events and development of the story make them a little more interesting.
There was no combat in this preview, but it feels like Re:Turn might be building up some major events which require you to move your ass as quickly as possible. Aside from a QTE, there was nothing that went into the realms of combat or dealing with an antagonizing force. It is more about the story rather than fighting, confronting or hiding from a scary monster. But I am interested to see if the developers will add a couple of moments where you need to confront or evade something deadly. Or whether the past and presence feature of the story will become more prominent as a gameplay mechanic.
When it came to the final moment of Re:Turn’s preview build, I had the desire to know and play more. I love the setting, atmosphere and the delivery of a compelling narrative which feels endearing and confident. Re:Turn is creepy and different enough that I could easily advise people to keep an eye on it upon its release later this month. The gameplay is a little standard and doesn’t really venture into new territories, but the lateral elements are great, the atmosphere is perfect and past/present concept for story and gameplay outshine the safer mechanics/gameplay.
Re:Turn is out on September 29th and is one I would advise any horror fans keep an eye on.