Grab a friend and take a trip not just down memory lane, but through the cubes and into futures beyond.
In the Rusty Lake universe, does anything ever truly die? No, in a place such as this, the past has an uncanny way of sticking around, clinging to the shreds of life found in memory. A tale such as this, of a father and a daughter, is the one spun in the studio's latest title, The Past Within.
Following on from the death of Albert Vanderboom, a contingency plan is set into motion. It connects the past and the future through the secrets of the cubes in order to bring him back to life. It is up to the players - one in the past and one in the future - to co-ordinate and carry out this task. For those familiar with Rusty Lake's previous games, The Past Within expands on the Vanderboom family lore and their relationship with the mysterious cubes, featuring some familiar faces along the way if you keep your eyes peeled.
The Past Within takes the well established and well loved puzzle formula seen in prior Rusty Lake entries (most notably the Cube Escape series) and refreshes it with a multiplayer twist, adding co-operative elements that breathes new life into the genre. As my play partner and I came to discover over the course of our run, in many ways two heads are better than one.
As much as I love Rusty Lake's sometimes devious puzzles, being stuck alone can be somewhat of a frustrating experience. Even though your partner can't actually see your puzzles, it was a nice change of pace to have someone to bounce ideas off of, and in a few instances a different perspective actually led us to some solutions neither of us would've discovered alone.
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There were times when we truly were stumped (momentarily of course) and I do have to admit that having your partner be stuck on a puzzle you can't get your own hands on is a somewhat tiring waiting game. On top of this, some puzzles had such specific actions or missable hints that we were left chasing our own tails for a decent amount of time, but nothing dulled our resolve to press forward. Paragons of truth as we are, when the answer revealed itself to us the feeling of success was all the sweeter; as frustrations had been shared, so too was that 'eureka' moment that so often is the hook for fans of the puzzle genre.
This is a good time to mention that my play partner was actually a complete newcomer to the genre, and despite our differing levels of experience we were both able to contribute equally, both found the game challenging and rewarding, and both were left thoroughly satisfied at the end of the journey. Truly, I believe this game shines as a gateway for fans to ensnare their friends and family into the addictive world of puzzlers as a whole.
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Our playthrough took around three hours in total, but it felt much shorter. The story and puzzles never dragged, even when difficult, and as with most Rusty Lake titles, the excitement is less with the end result, but rather the eerie and labyrinthine path there.
Upon finishing, we were interrogated by housemates who had heard us - from separate rooms in the same house - communicating strange things over the phone. Apparently the game had provided as much of an entertaining experience for them as it had for us.
Overall, The Past Within is a gem. It isn't perfect, but it takes every good quality that has established Rusty Lake as a puzzle studio and refines them, in doing so reinvigorating them. The experience differs greatly from the solo titles, and I really do prefer it. The uncanny vibes seep into every corner of the experience, backed up by the characteristic art style that gives Rusty Lake games so much of their charm.
On top of that, the game has a replayability system so you can do it all over again, changing roles with the same partner or even roping in someone entirely new if you're looking to grow your own puzzle-fiend cult. However you choose to enjoy, one thing is for certain. Through the highs and lows shared with others along the way, this is an experience that will carve a space, past and future, in your memory.
8 / 10
Interesting puzzles. Cooperative experience is a highlight. Very replayable. Unique art style.
Some of the puzzles could be a little too confusing.