The Past Within
November 22, 2022
Rusty Lake B.V.
November 17, 2022
Rusty Lake B.V.
A unique 2-player puzzle game that relies on in-person communication, The Past Within is an atmospheric escape room-like experience that’s perfect for pairs. With your partner’s help, solve interconnected puzzles and uncover secrets in two different worlds!
Rusty Lake is a small indie developer that has produced many critically acclaimed puzzle games. Each game is set in the same universe, allowing players to learn more and more about the surrounding world as they play each game. The Past Within is one of Rusty Lake’s more celebrated releases. It combines the studio’s expertise in indie puzzle gameplay with an innovative multiplayer concept. The result is a game that’s quite special and definitely worth investigating.
The Past Within is usually described as a two-player co-op puzzle game. This description is true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. You can also describe The Past Within as a pair of single-player puzzle games with half of the clues missing. These missing clues are found in the other game. In order to progress, you’ll need to find them and input the solutions found therein within the half of the game that you’re playing.
This means that the multiplayer in The Past Within is mandatory. Mostly, anyway. You cannot advance within the game without a steady stream of clues coming from the other part of the game. If you’re trying to find a game for just one person to enjoy, The Past Within probably isn’t what you’re looking for.
The Past Within doesn’t rely on the internet or fancy technology for its multiplayer aspects. Instead, it’s up to you to simply start a new game at about the same time as your partner and communicate the clues that you find to each other. This is super cool, because it means that you can play The Past Within with a partner on a different system or one who’s on a different network. It also means that your organic, human communication will be a vital part of the game.
That said, there are some downsides to The Past Within’s unique multiplayer model. Because the game doesn’t sync with itself, there’s no randomness or variation between puzzles. Each person playing the game will always have the same puzzles and the same solutions on each half. Because of this, the game isn’t great to play through a second time. You’ll know the solutions to all of the puzzles before you even encounter them.
The Past Within follows a somewhat formulaic approach to many of its puzzles. Each player will find a part of a puzzle. Combining these in one world will give another part of a puzzle, but not for the world it’s found in. You alternate sharing secrets with each other that unlock new bits of information, each one relevant to the other person’s game. It’s a great experience when it works, as you feel like you’re working together to solve a bigger problem. When it doesn’t work, however, it feels like you’re working in a call center doing data entry. You’re just reading off numbers to get more numbers to read off.
If you’re into indie puzzle games, escape rooms, and communication-based challenges, The Past Within is right up your alley. If you can’t find a partner, however, it’s totally fine to skip this game. The cool parts hinge on having a pleasant person to work with, so if it’s just you, you’re better off finding a different app.
The Past Within is a puzzle game that loses a lot of its luster when you learn the secrets within it. Most of the experience of the game revolves around your lack of knowledge. Looking up full puzzle solutions may diminish your enjoyment of the game.
The worlds in The Past Within are interlinked. The player in the “past” plays in a small room, while the player in the “future” plays from the outside of a metal box. As the game progresses, you receive clues that the “past” player is actually inside of the metal box in the “future” player’s world. We don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but the game gets pretty cool as it goes on.
The Past Within costs a few dollars. The big hurdle to playing the game is not the cost, however, but the task of finding a partner. While you can play the game with a random stranger on a Discord server, it’s probably best to save this one for a friend who you enjoy spending time with. Your partner will have a big influence on how much you enjoy this game. Alternately, if you have a pair of phones, consider playing the game with yourself by simply playing through both puzzles at the same time.
Rather than spoil things outright, here are a few tips and tricks you can use to advance through the game more easily.
First, consider the game’s basic paradigm. In general, you’ll have the question for a puzzle in one world and the answer in the other. This means that you’ll frequently find things like numeric keypads in one game and long strings of letters in the other. If you find one such string of letters, let your partner know to start looking for a keypad or other apparatus to input it.
Second, remember that this is a game about careful communication. Things aren’t timed, so take your time and talk clearly. If you can, try to use the phonetic alphabet or other ways of presenting letters to keep things easy to understand. Having to read a six-digit code four times because someone confused an “M” and an “N” is a quick way to get everyone frustrated.
FInally, if you think you’re getting stuck, remember to take a step back and explore other options. Often, if you’re having trouble, it’s because you need to solve a different puzzle before you proceed. The Past Within will give you plenty of tools that you can apply to various puzzles, but you’ll sometimes have to perform other tasks before you get the tool you need for the puzzle you’re looking at. Pull back, examine the situation as a whole, and look for other avenues of progress.
Are you a fan of The Past Within? Which half of the game did you play? Who was your partner? What did you think of the experience? Let us know in the comments below!
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