STAFF REVIEW of We Were Here Forever (Xbox One)

Tuesday, January 31, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

We Were Here Forever Box art When We Were Here initially released back in 2019 on the Xbox 360 console, I didn't know what I was getting into, nor would have expected to have now played the fourth game in the series. After having played each of the games, including being able to check out the latest, We Were Here Forever, before it's launch, I’ve been anxiously waiting for the console release to once again become stumped alongside a friend. Given that I did a preview for We Were Here Forever, portions of that article will be in this review, but finally getting to reach the conclusion and ending, I was left shocked with the final scene, but more on that shortly. For those new to the series, you don’t need to have played any of the previous games, but there’s some underlying lore that longtime fans will surely appreciate the most.

Maybe you’ve never played one of the We Were Here games before, like my latest co-op partner and fellow writer here at XboxAddict, Peggy, whom I will have her input for her experience throughout our journey in Castle Rock. Essentially the series is an online cooperative puzzle game where you need to find a way to escape. The catch is that you’re almost always separated from your friend, so you only have a one-way radio to communicate with one another and will need to work together cohesively and quite well if you want to be successful.

I’ve thus dubbed the series ‘The Friendship Test’, as you’re going to see how truly effective your communication is with your partner, a test I nearly fail each game. Funny enough, I’ve had to play each game with a different partner as they refused to play with me when each sequel released, hence a new partner this time too. Both players require a microphone and I highly suggest choosing a friend to play with that maybe you’ve known for a while or are able to easily communicate with, as it will make a world of difference. Could you play with a random person, possibly, but may the odds be ever in your favor if you choose to do so.

With a clever naming convention for the series, We Were Here was the original game, We Were Here Too is the sequel, We Were Here Together was the third, and now the fourth and latest is We Were Here Forever, aptly titled for how long you’ll probably be stuck on a handful of the puzzles if you decide to take the high road and not look up any spoilers or walkthroughs. I wish I could boast that our team of puzzlers didn’t require a walkthrough, but we had to succumb to a few clues and hints with how difficult and obtuse some of the puzzles were. Will you be able to escape on your own accord and problem solving skills without external help? You’re a better puzzle solver than us if so, but good luck.

The first two games didn’t have much story to it aside from simply trying to escape, but in the third game, We Were Here Together, a much larger focus on story started to emerge, quite obvious in the latest Forever entry. While you’re still essentially moving from one puzzle to the next once you find the solutions, there’s more narrative sprinkled in here and there as you make your way through Castle Rock.

We Were Here Forever has a similar setup from previous games where you and your partner are somehow trapped within Castle Rock’s walls, seemingly unable to escape. Were you betrayed? Was having you here a small part of a larger master plan? Will you find out whatever happened to the other missing explorers? Who is The Jester and why is he trying to stop you? You learn bits and pieces of Rockbury and the resistance against its King and there’s clearly something larger going on, but you’ll need to do what you can to survive and escape alongside your partner, because without them, you’ll be trapped here forever.

To escape the bowels of Castle Rock, you and your partner are going to need to not only work in unison but rely on communication that other games seldom ever force to this degree. You and your partner will bond and need to be like minded if you want any chance of escape. What may seem like a simple puzzle in the beginning might just be one small portion of a larger one, which my partner and I found out within the opening section of We Were Here Forever. We Were Here Forever will test your mettle and communication with your fellow partner with a large focus on how you help one another separately.

Teamwork isn’t just suggested, it’s absolutely necessary, done completely with communication across a one-way walkie-talkie. This one-way radio is important to note, as when someone is speaking, the light on the radio illuminates, indicating that the other person should be listening. If they try to speak when the first person is talking, it won’t be heard. This takes some getting used to, especially when I’m accustomed to open party or discord chats. With the one-way radio, you’ll need to be purposeful in who talks and when. If your partner is talking, the light on your walkie lights up to indicate, so you better not try holding down the button and try to talk to them because they won’t hear your input. This of course makes things a little trickier, and I won’t lie, we simply used Xbox party chat (since we were both playing on that system) to avoid the one-way limitation, though I do suggest at least trying it in-game for the full and authentic We Were Here experience.

Before you and your friend you’ve chosen to have a ‘Friendship Test’ with can start your adventure together though, you’ll need to add each other as friends from the main menu to play with one another. With cross-play now finally here, you don’t have to worry about what system you and they are on, able to play together regardless. I will say, the lobby system was buggy every time we wanted to get us put together, but eventually we figured it out each time and I’m hoping it’s just some pre-launch bugs that will get ironed out come full release.

Let’s get to the puzzles, the bread and butter of the series and why you’ve chosen to play We Were Here Forever. I’m going to get this out of the way first thing: We Were Here Forever was by far the hardest puzzles in the whole series. Maybe this was because it also felt like the longest game of the four, but we certainly struggled almost throughout whereas in previous games it was just the odd puzzle here and there that we needed to search a walkthrough. While not nearly as many timed puzzles in Forever thankfully, there still was the odd one or two that did add a bit of frustration because of the time limit and the mandatory first person view.

You and your friend are almost constantly separated from one another, so you need to be the eyes and ears for one another, figuring out the singular solution that you both contain portions of the answer. This is much easier said than done, and if not successful you’ll be stumped for seemingly forever if you decide to take the high road and not look up walkthroughs. The puzzles vary quite drastically throughout. One of my favorites was my partner describing a scene with some mannequins without heads, and on my part I had to read some book pages describing the background of a dozen or so different characters to determine which head I should send her to place correctly for her scene. Her seeing generic bodies in some sort of scene and me trying to decipher the character from reading pages wasn't simple. There’s a lot of trial and error in basically every puzzle, and if that frustrates you you’re going to have a long road to attempt escaping Castle Rock.

There’s also other puzzles that if it wasn’t for my partner, I would still be sitting there clueless of where to even start. An example, picking up a bunch of different mannequins and sitting them in the correct order in a few rows of pews in a church. Of course there’s a very specific order, with undercover rebels and other restrictions like how certain people can’t sit beside specific others. Since all the mannequins were hanging together there were very slight differences in who they may be. From reading books and using descriptors like “a girl wearing a pope-like hat and curly hair like the mom from ‘That 70’s Show’, I was thankful she understood what I meant. Thank god my partner knew what to do, as I was basically no help on this particular one. Many of the puzzles felt like one player had to do the majority of the work while the second had the solution in front of them, but had to find a way to communicate it. The only problem with this is that once you’re on a certain path and locked into one of the roles, there’s no switching with your partner, like when I was in an underwater maze aimlessly wandering trying to figure a way out while she moved a bunch of pipes to create open pathways and air pockets for me to breathe.

I don’t mind challenging puzzles, but I’d say at least half of the puzzle included were a bit much. Maybe it’s the way I think or my logical reasoning, but my partner also conceded that we were going to have to try and look up a solution online more than once. Even with finding the solutions elsewhere, it never really left like an ‘ah-hah!’ moment like we missed something, more of a ‘well, I guess that worked’ feeling. Don’t even get me started where I had to carry a massive cog, blocking a good 90% of my vision, needing to be directed of where to go. While I’d obviously like to blame my partner whenever we got stuck, it’s a two way street, where it takes some time to figure out what the actual pathway to a solution is, as it’s not often it’s painted out clearly.

Peggy: I think I'm a smart person when it comes to puzzles, especially logic based ones like the mannequins in the pews and, as Adam stated, I proved it there. Sadly, We Were Here Forever often made me feel rather dumb. Normally I can figure it out eventually, or when we finally decided to look up walkthroughs, I expected to have a 'OMG, that's the part we were missing!' feeling, but that didn't happen often. Mostly I was left bewildered by how you should have been able to decipher the solutions without help. I am thankful that Adam and I are both interested in similar pop culture things, movies, shows, comics etc. This made describing visuals much easier when you could reference something adjacent to what you were seeing to help. I had never played any of the We Were Here games prior to this other than a bit of the preview of Forever before launch, and I did enjoy what I played even if I didn't feel the smartest while playing it. It was really well done, the graphics were very fairytale-like and the vocal performances of character you encounter are well done. While I may have been Adam's latest 'victim' to take part in the 'Friendship Test', we are still talking, so that's a good thing. Without spoiling too much, and if you've played the other games in the series, you will understand what I am about to say. Adam's biggest mistake was telling me how he escaped the last three games, and I ruined his 100% success after the ending of We Were Here Forever. No regrets.

Adam: There is a hint system in place if you truly become stuck, but these really are only subtle clues. The first can be unlocked, but the next two or three which will give a little more detail can’t be seen until a certain amount of time goes by. While we used these hints, it won’t explicitly tell you the solution, still getting you to figure out the answer for yourself, but subtly guiding you in possibly the right direction. I never found they gave enough of a hint to be actually useful though.

Visually, Forever is the best looking of the series. Sure for a majority of it you’ll be stuck underground, in some castle walls or confined rooms, but there are moments where you’ll be exploring the grounds outside and can take in some sights, that while not breathtaking, surely a vast improvement for the series. Even some of the puzzles are quite fantastical to take in, like a particular puzzle where you and your partner are going from room to room where gravity doesn’t seem to matter much, all while a massive Jester seems to taunt you. Peggy did not enjoy the Jester and found him creepy though.

There was the odd time I had some texture issues where one puzzle wasn’t properly loading the clues inside some coffins, so I was essentially no help to my partner until they somehow fixed themselves with a reload. Animations definitely seems much smoother and more fluid in Forever compared to previous games and there’s even some fun emotes you and your partner can signal to one another, including some Rock-Paper-Scissors. The atmosphere is done quite well, with the wind whistling and howling as you ride a gondola to another area. The odd times you hear from the Jester and maybe another character, they are done also quite well, sounding just as animated as their look and movements.

We Were Here Forever felt much longer than previous games, as we had the credits rolling at around 11 hours or so. It didn’t necessarily feel arbitrarily lengthy, as there was even a part where you have to go get three different objects to fix something, but can do them in any order you wish. There’s much more story in Forever as well, though depending on your knowledge of the series before, may be hit or miss if you even care about it.

Just like previous games in the series, We Were Here Forever is once again a ‘Friendship Test’. I highly suggest choosing a partner that you know you’re alright arguing with, because it’s not a matter of if, but of when. I certainly struggled with the difficulty in Forever much more than previous games, but that also shows that the developers are evolving with each game, making them much more intricate and challenging and easily the highlight of the series. If you enjoy wracking your brain on a puzzle for a good amount of time and don’t mind plenty of trial and error, We Were Here Forever is right up your alley, but make sure you have a like-minded friend that you might not miss once you’re no longer on speaking terms.

**We Were Here Forever was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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