During the early parts of my time with Someday You’ll Return, I suffered from some serious déjà vu. The whole setup was so similar to Bloober Team’s Blair Witch game that I was prepared to dismiss it as a derivative clone. Fortunately the game goes develops into a flawed, but really interesting psychological horror that actually overshadows its clear inspirations.
You begin as an unnamed young girl trapped in a nightmarish bunker, trying to escape from unknown pursuers, but fated to fail. This opening establishes a great sense of tension and benefits from effective visuals and excellent sound design, something which remains throughout the game.
The balance between calming forest background noises, beautiful acoustic folk music and the jarring distortion of in your face horror is skilfully managed and is certainly best experienced with a decent set of headphones. There is a trace of the gaming cliché that music cues signify shifts in atmosphere in an obvious fashion (the audio equivalent of waist-high walls in cover shooters) but this is also used to subvert and disorientate the player in an effective fashion.
After the dark and claustrophobic opening section, your perspective shifts to that of Daniel as he tries to track down his absentee daughter, Stela. It’s soon revealed that she has a track history of running away from home and you spend the first few hours unsure of the family background behind this behaviour.
As Daniel explores the forest, a land he is intimately familiar with from his days leading camp holidays, he initially relies on technology to locate Stela. The ubiquitous mobile phone serves as GPS tracker and flashlight as well as communication device and works well to place the drama in the present day. The wild nature of the forest is also successfully conveyed by your regularly being out of signal. As the game progresses, the phone becomes less reliable and must be replaced by a flashlight, but there are some nicely scripted moments when an incoming call brings risk and peril to a hiding Daniel. It isn’t a spoiler to reveal that Daniel’s confidence in his knowledge of the forest quickly proves misplaced, as it shifts and changes to reflect his increasingly shaky hold on reality.
While clearly fitting in with the growing genre of ‘Dad’ games, it doesn’t take long for you to begin to lose sympathy with Daniel. There are definite nods to the genre classic Silent Hill 2, with Daniel echoing the complex and unlikeable aspects of James Sutherland’s character. He is surly, quick to anger, over-confident and clearly has something to hide. This narrative uncertainty adds a great deal to the overall feel of the game, as the player begins to wonder if finding Stela will be a happy ending for either character.
The initial sections of the game shape up much like most walking simulators, with narrative fed to the player as you explore the forest and work your way towards the signal coming from Stela’s phone. This eases you into the setting and provides a sense of familiarity that the game can then start to unravel and remove.
As you get closer to your missing daughter, you begin to unlock memories of Daniel’s past, memories which begin to show both him and the forest in a very different light. The beautiful woods start to become filled with subterranean horrors and black slime, which might not be a particularly original metaphor for Daniel’s lessening sanity, but works really well here and continues the game’s evocative sense of setting.
Later on the game introduces enemies and hazards that require stealth and evasion, although this is perhaps one of its weaker aspects. This may be partly down to my personal dislike of stealth mechanics in general, but here they feel a little too loose and it is too easy to be subject to quick deaths from offscreen threats. It is fortunate that the autosaves are generous and that these sections are relatively scarce.
Someday You’ll Return introduces even more gameplay mechanics that help differentiate it from the many other walking horror games on the market. As you work through the game you’ll find your toolbelt and be required to solve some neat environmental puzzles using items you find around the forest. These are largely logical and don’t provide huge obstacles, but help to make the world feel more interactive than many walking simulators.
You’ll also unlock the ability to make mysterious potions from the many plants that grow around the forest, a nice little minigame that connects the setting with the character and mechanics. That said, unless you keep on top of your herb inventory, you might need to break the immersion with a pause to hunt for herbs nearby.
The game brings together many of these elements in interesting ways, combining them with the setting and a rising sense of panic to create a truly memorable piece of horror gaming. It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t always reach these heights, and running at 15-20 hours in length, is an unusually long game that could have benefited from some pruning.