As we’ve been exploring mobile gaming more and more, we’re running into both regular ‘big screen’ games in a scaled down form and completely unique gaming experiences. The Past Within by Rusty Lake is one such example, and it was recently released for Android, iOS and Steam. We took a look at the Android version on an OPPO A77 – here are our thoughts.
At its core, The Past Within is a puzzle game not too unlike those you find in the escape room genre, with similarities to games like The Room. There’s a major catch though, and that’s that The Past Within was designed entirely and exclusively with co-op gameplay in mind. And what’s especially interesting about the way it’s been implemented is that it doesn’t require you to go online, or even connect two devices together.
This even allows you to play with others who are on a different system, so while we were seated comfortably on a couch with the OPPO A77, the other player could be behind a desktop computer. The only requirement is a line of communication between the two players – an open (voice) chat or phone call works, though the developers recommend Discord. But while easy to use for existing users and tech-minded gamers, we believe that can be a barrier for more casual gamers. In our experience, the easiest and best way to play is to be in the same room together and just communicate verbally – which is more fun anyway.
The in-game setup is super easy, and relies on a few short questions. One player will have to be in the past, the other in the future. Then, you select the same puzzle experience by opting for the butterfly or the bee – which essentially makes sure you’re working with the same puzzle solutions. From there, you’re good to go!
The central story revolves around a box that enables time travel. It contains a room that’s set in the past and houses one of the players, while the other players is in the future and works on operating said box. Driving you forward is the desire to connect the two timezones for a strange experiment that involves transferring flesh, bone and blood in between the past and the future, and of course with a story premise like that you’re going to see a few creepy things here and there.
The game is far more puzzle-driven than story-driven though, and while sometimes you’ll get clear instructions on what to do next you’ll also need to figure out some of the puzzles on your own. Imagine seeing a series of switches in two rows with no idea what the correct positions are – the solution then is to ask the other player to look around their part of the game for clues. Things that might make sense when you say you’re looking at two rows of six – and something that would otherwise not have been noticed by the other player as being a clue.
There’s some very smart gameplay design at work here, and good communication is just as important as puzzle-solving skills. A few immersion-breaking moments come up when the game asks “has the other player progressed to point X yet?”, but for most of the game’s three hour journey we felt fully engaged as we guided each other to the next step in the mystery.
While the game can be played on a PC, we think that mobile is the way to go here because of its touch screen interface, which is especially immersive when you’re on the future side of the story and interacting with the box. A tablet works really well for the game, but we also had a great time with the OPPO A77 because of its larger-than-average screen.
As a rare but welcome little extra feature for a puzzle adventure, The Past Within also features replay value. If you’ve played the game from one time zone, you can do it again by switching roles. You’ll also want to switch to the alternate puzzle solutions when you do to make sure you’re not playing based on memory, but we’re already looking forward to doing this again some time – and playing more games like it!