‘We Were Here Forever’ review: complicated co-op for puzzle die-hards

Lose yourself in the superb puzzle design of Total Mayhem Games’ latest co-op outing

Total Mayhem GamesWe Were Here series has proven itself to be a reliable franchise for duos seeking challenging first-person co-op puzzlers adventures, but the studio’s latest effort, We Were Here Forever, is easily the toughest so far.

If you’re new to the series, one of its defining features is the use of walkie-talkies, meaning that players have to hold down a button to keep in touch while separated from each other. It’s not forgiving, either — if you try to speak over the other player you will get cut off.

As a result, We Were Here Forever demands careful communication to get through its many trials and separations. They’re orchestrated by a looming Jester antagonist and his awkward mannequin henchman, who pop up every now and then to frighten players and keep them on their toes.

We Were Here Forever. Credit: Total Mayhem Games.
We Were Here Forever. Credit: Total Mayhem Games.

Forever uses this set-up to dole out a surprising amount of jumpscares and a healthy dose of atmosphere, with little levity in between. This makes it a daunting, often oppressive experience, especially when you’re bashing your head against a single puzzle, your intellectual self-esteem destroyed.

As a puzzle game, it does a fantastic job of humbling players, right down to the core of their critical thinking. As your mind fills with complex symbols and solutions, simple considerations like knowing your left from your right, or the ability to distinguish basic shapes – these concepts will quickly fall out of your brain, and lead to some serious laugh attacks as you try and return to your senses.

You’ll start making up names for things that already exist — ‘the Crash Bandicoot gem’ or ‘the Mike Wazowski’ being two of my favourites. But it’s these moments of made-up nonsense that really feel like bonding agents, and lead to We Were Here Forever’s finest moments. If you’re looking to test and develop the strength of your relationship with a friend, this would be a good place to start.

We Were Here Forever. Credit: Total Mayhem Games.
We Were Here Forever. Credit: Total Mayhem Games.

The game’s environments are beautiful and brought to life with smart sound design. Stiff levers offer a satisfying creak and buttons give off a sturdy click. But there’s a certain fatigue that comes with We Were Here Forever’s colour palette and fantasy-adjacent steampunk art style. Forever has smart visual ideas and set pieces, but unfortunately, they all feel cut from the same cloth. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and the series has maintained it over a number of games now. Consistency isn’t all bad, but I think it could do with a revamp.

The worst part of the game’s visuals is that the busier environments can lead you to think that innocuous assets are puzzle solutions. Hilarious when you realise you’re being an idiot, but you’re going to waste a lot of time staring at walls in this game, so the less of it that’s necessary the better.

With regards to performance, my co-op partner and I also experienced some gnarly hitching when moving into new areas. Nothing game-breaking, but it was annoying and unexpected to have every new vista come with some chugging, given we were playing on a 3080 and a 2080 Ti, respectively.

We Were Here Forever. Credit: Total Mayhem Games.
We Were Here Forever. Credit: Total Mayhem Games.

I found that Forever’s puzzles were usually long-winded and delivered in stages, often lingering on the same kind of solution. As challenging and rewarding as they were to solve, the “You figured this out? Do it three more times!” schtick got old at times. Some eureka moments tend to lose their vigour when drawn out. The pacing is pretty good though, and you will jump between hands-off and hands-on sections, but I was often left longing for the snappier puzzles of Portal 2’s co-op campaign, or the strong narrative spine of Hazelight’s It Takes Two. Those are two tough genre hallmarks to match up to, sure, but We Were Here Forever sits a few notches below them, even if it is batting in a different direction.

I didn’t care much for the story itself, which is a shame because it is clearly one of the areas where Total Mayhem was looking to innovate. However, I think it’s likely to delight fans of the series, who have a good grounding of the game’s world and are really pining for more lore and mystery. There is a solid amount of dialogue from the omniscient characters, but I found it hokey and it didn’t summon any laughs. Your mileage may vary, but the comedy was almost always player-generated in my case.

Fair warning if you’re new to the series: We Were Here Forever has some brutal puzzles to contend with. I can’t think of a game that has more difficult asymmetrical trials to overcome, beyond the most punishing of Portal 2 mods. This is a credit to the game’s design, but it means that this is not something you can play with your kids, unless they’re toddling MENSA members. Truly the Dark Souls of co-op puzzle games, if you’ll forgive me for such a comparison.

The hint system unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired for the perennially stumped, offering vague ideas instead of anything near solutions. I get why, but I also think there’s no shame in being able to move on when something feels beyond your capabilities. Accessibility should always trump difficulty, in my eyes. There are some awesome puzzles later on in We Were Here Forever, but you might not see them without a steely attention span and a healthy dose of dedication.

We Were Here Forever is out now on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PS4 and PC.

The Verdict

If you don’t mind the whiplash of jumping between satisfying elation to feeling like you’re stuck in a cursed geometry class, then We Were Here Forever is going to work for you. It’s a brilliant co-op game with superb puzzle design and cool visuals, but it is by no means an easy ride. I wouldn’t recommend it as a follow-up to something like It Takes Two — the level of challenge is a far cry and it doesn’t have the narrative chops. But if you’re a fan of the series already or love challenging asymmetrical co-op, you’re going to enjoy this one.

Pros

  • Remarkable puzzle design and cool set pieces
  • A challenging test of strength for any co-op duo
  • As hilarious as it can be frustrating

Cons

  • Underwhelming narrative
  • Unforgiving difficulty systems
  • Performance problems
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