We’re big fans of horror games here at the Tavern of all varieties; from big budget titles to more indie-style affairs, there’s not much better than getting a fright on while gaming in the dead of night. Re:Turn – One Way Trip is on the indie end of the scale, but don’t let that lower your expectations. It’s a solid, creepy tale that kept me engaged throughout, despite some niggles in the gameplay aspect.
The set-up is a familiar one, though not overly tropey. A group of school leaving teens are out in the woods, spending one last trip together before heading out into the big, wide world. After telling scary stories they decide to head to bed, but not before fetching some more firewood to keep the light going while they sleep. Naturally, things take a turn for the worse; a letter appears seemingly out of nowhere professing strong feelings for protagonist Saki. Assuming it’s from her boyfriend back at camp she puts it back in his bag, waiting to be presented with it. Upon finding it he flips out, accusing one of the other guys, Yuuta, of harbouring feelings towards Saki. Yuuta flees from embarrassment but the group decide to let him compose himself before going after him. From here, the friends find themselves continually separated amongst some creepy goings on.
There’s no spoken dialogue, but the writing is excellent and managed to keep me interested even during seemingly incidental conversations. The crux of the adventure takes place on an abandoned train that Saki finds when out searching the woods, though this is only part of the tale. At points she is transported back in time to when the train was new, and is able to investigate it fully while observing the passengers (they are unable to see or hear her). Throughout there are plenty of creepy revelations and interwoven threads that cross both time lines. As Saki gets further into the web of betrayal, love, and mystery she begins to use her knowledge of the train in the past to help escape it in the present – and visa versa.
Complementing the great story telling is some puzzling gameplay that has us wandering back and forth in search of the next McGuffin needed to progress. Little tool tips pop up on items that can be investigated as we approach them, while a menu system lets us apply said items to the appropriate solution. It’s not the most elegant menu, but it gets the job done. Generally the solution is easy enough to figure out, with the challenge coming from finding them in the first place. Items can be hidden in obtuse places seemingly just because, and one late puzzle saw me searching for a long time only to discover an extra interactive area tucked in the corner of a room I’d otherwise explored a dozen times.
While the train isn’t overly large, I did find myself getting a bit turned around at times as some areas look a bit too similar to others. There’s a lot of backtracking involved throughout, often sending us to each end of the train to grab an item before heading all the way back (rinse and repeat a few times too). I also found that one of the selling point in the description – “Minimalist interface so your focus never wavers from the experience” as was perhaps taken a little too far. While it’s true that a lack of HUD or any other screen furniture adds to the atmosphere, it’s also completely possible to lose track of what we’re supposed to be doing, or even where we’re going. Outside of a diary that keeps some helpful info in it, we need to rely on our own memory for the most part. If you’re anything like me then it’ll pay to have a notepad nearby to jot down rough ideas of where you’re going! Re:Turn isn’t an overly long game by any means, but when I got stuck searching for an item for too long I often forgot where I should head once I eventually found it.
It also doesn’t help that the only saves are manual ones, and only at two specific points on the train. Forget to save before turning it off and all progress is lost. The lack of a rough objective guide hinders here too as loading in to a save from who-knows-how-long-ago lead me to having to try and piece what I was doing together rather than checking a handy menu or checklist. The saves themselves are needlessly obtuse too; I like to use a couple of save files just in case of an issue, but here when loading in they are not time stamped or dated. Instead, there’s a small screenshot of where we were but it’s easy to forget which one was the most recent save, especially if I saved at the same save point a couple of times.
That’s the niggles out of the way, and while they aren’t inconsequential they weren’t enough to stop me from pushing forward with Re:Turn. The sense of place and atmosphere is excellently crafted, even in its 32-bit era 2D style, while some lovely music features in certain parts of the carriage. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a scary experience, but it was certainly creepy at times. Some of the imagery and scenarios rival the best (read:worst) out there in terms of their content, and while there’s very little danger as such there’s always that sense that the next carriage might just change that fact.
Even when I lost my sense of direction or was struggling to find an item I was still somehow captivated and willing to push on to see where the tale would take me. The way it twists and turns through the time travelling as well as between the various characters kept me hooked until the end. The characters come across well, with main character Saki becoming ever more likeable throughout the adventure, while the rest of the cast all go on their own arks that kept me interested and engaged. There were a few leaps of faith where Saki devised a solution to an issue with very little information, but then that’s all part of the horror fun, no?
I came away from Re:Turn – One Way Trip having had a great time. I really dug the 2D, 32-bit aesthetic that managed to get a good, creepy atmosphere across without relying on all the usual flash and pomp we’d expected of a horror title. The story is constantly engaging and well written, complimented by some great audio work. Some minor niggles in the constant back tracking and lack of helpful direction can lead to some frustration, especially if played across a few nights, but it doesn’t take too long to get back into the swing of things really. If you’re after a solid start to the Halloween season, this comes highly recommended.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.