“Does it mean anything to you if I tell you I have a code with different types of shells?” asks staff writer Morgan Park over our walkie-talkies. We’re standing on opposite sides of a chasm connected by hanging carts we’ve yet to find the keys for. Tragically, the shells don’t mean a damn thing to me at this point, but we make quick work of two other puzzles, bringing us together via mechanical gondola and putting us on either side of the mysterious shell roulette machine that marks our next task in this lengthy castle escape.
If you’re unfamiliar, We Were Here is a series of co-op puzzle escape rooms set in a somewhat spooky medieval castle. There’s a story in the background, but the bulk of every game is all about communicating with your pal by walkie-talkie and using the clues from your separate rooms to help one another progress through the castle escape.
Forever’s initial difficulty curve is hands down the best it’s ever been in the series. It begins by literally walking us through the basics—a series of tutorialized starter rooms where we learn to crouch and pick objects up and walkie one another while demonstrating that giant symbols drawn in paint on an abandoned castle wall might be the clue to unlocking the door we’re sat in front of.
Unlike We Were Here Together (the third of the series), which includes some frustrating head-scratchers within the first two hours, Forever’s puzzling has so far gotten more challenging at a steady pace. We started out with symbols on lock tumblers, a collaborative movement logic puzzle, starting up a giant machine with a precise series of actions on a film reel, a giant vault door code, and eventually some timed game board shenanigans. In the middle of it all was the shell puzzle that nearly stumped us.
“Unicorn, coffee bean, icecream, bubble, snail,” I hastily recite, describing six different seashells on a mechanical device so that Morgan can punch them into a console on the other side before the entire sequence resets in ten seconds. When that combination doesn’t work, we return to scratching our heads, but the names we’ve agreed upon for the symbol-filled tumblers are working well for us, which is half the battle of a We Were Here game. Shared terminology is everything.
Even more handily, we were at a point in the game where we could decide to swap sides and tackle the device in different roles. In the end, switching jobs and getting a fresh look at the scarce information given to us is how we solved it, a convenience that We Were Here games don’t often allow.
Just before we put We Were Here Forever down, conscious as we were of wanting to save plenty to experience with our other pals, we came across a gauntlet of timed navigation puzzles familiar from past games. I have not-so-fond memories of timed challenges in the series’ history, and I instinctively feared the worst when I realized that Morgan had wound up beneath me in a checkerboard of trap doors with giant symbols on them. I was put in charge of guiding him through safely, and of divining which spaces were safe at all based on a row of symbols visible only from my perch in the stands. Luckily for both of us, navigating the trap doors with a helmet, sickle, dagger, and other medieval gear was less annoying than the constantly-changing labyrinth of We Were Here Too.
The shell contraption and trap door game board both showed off how We Were Here has reached the peak of its co-op puzzling concept for now. If you’ve played the last three, Forever pulls a lot of familiar tricks: many puzzles rely on symbols, a love of film reels returns, and medieval weaponry gets its due too. I’ll leave you without spoiling the solutions to any of them, though you are welcome to borrow our excellent shell names if you like.
Morgan and I spent two hours playing (the length of the entire first, still free, game) and made just a dent in our escape. There may yet be some frustrating bits in Forever that I’ve yet to see—more timed stuff, I’m sure—but Total Mayhem Games has really nailed what it does best on this one. I’ve really enjoyed stumbling through the challenges of Castle Rock with a friend for the past five years, and Forever has so far proved that it isn’t out of new ways to serve up the same tricks.
We Were Here Forever launches tomorrow, May 10 over on Steam.