HIGH Helping Lea free the dolls.
LOW Dying repeatedly in a late-game “escape” segment because I couldn’t see where I was going.
WTF I haven’t done this much climbing in a horror game since Cursed Mountain.
Stela has run away again, disappearing into the wilderness of the Carpathian hills. Her father Daniel goes to fetch her even though he swore he would never return to that ground, and both natural and supernatural obstacles stand in his way.
There’s no getting around the fact that the premise of Someday You’ll Return feels a bit… familiar. Any horror game where a father looks for his missing daughter while confronting mystical forces will have to reckon with the legacy of Silent Hill, but Someday You’ll Return is strongest when it strays from that formula.
Someday You’ll Return eschews combat in favor of first-person adventuring as Daniel tries to find his way through the woods to reunite with his daughter. One of the game’s strengths is that almost every mechanic feels like it’s grounded in Daniel’s character. Though he initially comes across as a bit of a priss, it’s revealed that Daniel’s an outdoorsman and mechanical improviser who used to run youth camps in these very woods. That background brings a touch of realism to, say, hammering together an impromptu ladder or performing the otherwise-absurd herbal alchemy. Vertical traversals are handled with thoughtful first-person rock climbing, more in line with his past than with typical first-person platforming.
Someday You’ll Return sets this action in a world that’s both beautiful and masterfully designed. The natural wonder of Moravia is lovingly depicted, and the confusion of wandering in a forest is minimized by the true-to-life device of placing trail markings on trees and rocks. At night when these don’t suffice, Someday You’ll Return marks the path with light. These mechanics allow the game to have seemingly unrestricted spaces without the player feeling hopelessly lost.
Unfortunately, the level design tends to break down in segments featuring a Silent Hill-esque “otherworld”. At these moments, a creepy bunker invades the surface world, disrupting areas with rebar and reinforced concrete. Both the bunker and the “otherworld” are dark and confusing, and too often involve low-quality stealth or escapes from a stalking monster called the Beast (another callback to Silent Hill). There’s an effort to signpost paths in these sections using bright lights, but the broken landscape and overall darkness defeats it.
The insistence on this “otherworld” stuff is a shame, because Someday You’ll Return is more effective when it uses a softer touch. Monsters that scuttle around corners as soon as they’re spotted or that are only seen while Daniel is poisoned did more to frighten me than the ones that screamed and pounced.
Someday You’ll Return is at its best when it takes its time, as in long explorations of an abandoned camp and a derelict power station that slowly ratchet up the creep factor, much aided by Jan Kavan’s sound design. Similarly, seeing the slow emergence of the bunker when it appears in the real world created a lasting unease I found more impactful than the frustration of fumbling around in dark mazes. When it aims to be unsettling rather than stressful, Someday You’ll Return succeeds admirably, and this is actually the case for a long stretch.
As Someday You’ll Return approaches the end, however, it loses its grip. The world begins to break down entirely — the wilderness becomes a completely fractured and incomprehensible landscape, and it ceases to be clear whether Daniel is lucid or experiencing a hallucination. This murkiness lowers the stakes and tension just when they should be peaking.
The other problem in endgame is Daniel himself. He’s a bit of a jerk at the beginning, but as things go on, he’s illustrated as more and more of an awful jackass. He’s seen yelling at children, lying to people trying to help him, and even worse in the too-frequent flashbacks. He’s so repulsive and misogynistic that it’s difficult to spend time as him, much less want to redeem him.
Some late-game events attempt to make him more sympathetic, but these refract a woman’s pain through the lens of how bad the consequences make a man feel — a dismal trope too common in games, and made worse here by the fact that Daniel inflicted most of the pain. The few moments he spends carrying a young girl to safety midway through the adventure do more to make him sympathetic than anything Someday You’ll Return throws into its climactic revelations.
It’s in those quiet moments when it ventures furthest away from Silent Hill‘s template that Someday You’ll Return becomes a beautiful, unsettling delight. Unfortunately, the game forgets its strengths towards the end, and as a result, the ending sags and is much less urgent and interesting than the middle.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by CBE Software.It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows X PC equipped with an AMD Ryzen 2700X processor, an ASRock X470 motherboard, 32 GB RAM, and a single GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card (driver version 446.14). Approximately 17 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: As of press time, this game had not been rated by the ESRB. Someday You’ll Return contains Blood and Gore, Violence, and Sexual Themes. Although the overall vibe is “creepy” rather than “gross”, there is a significant focus on body horror, as well as instances of living creatures getting impaled.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. Navigation through the world in several instances depends on following colored markers.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled. Certain enemies make a loud noise when they spot Daniel, and in general this is accompanied by a visual effect. One object in the game makes noises to indicate it is charging up, and this also is accompanied by a visual effect on screen. Otherwise there are no essential sound cues. Three sizes of subtitles are offered, but no choice of alternate backgrounds.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. Screenshots of KBM and Controller layouts are shown below.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.