The Past Within – Review
Follow Genre: Point-and-click adventure
Developer: Rusty Lake
Publisher: Rusty Lake
Platforms: PC, Switch, Android, iOS
Tested on: Switch

The Past Within – Review

Site Score
Good: Unique and interesting concept
Bad: Limited replay value
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According to their own website, Dutch indie developer Rusty Lake has been building an interconnected Twin Peaks-inspired universe across the various games it has released so far. The latest addition to this is The Past Within, a co-op point-and-click adventure that was released on PC and mobile devices last year. The game arrived on the Switch fairly recently, and that release seemed like the perfect opportunity to dip our toes into the mysteries surrounding the Vanderboom family. As such, we grabbed a willing victim and dove into The Past Within.


Central to the story of The Past Within is Albert Vanderboom, an eccentric inventor who has built a mysterious device that allows the past and the present to communicate with one another. Not only that, but Vanderboom also figured out a way to resurrect the dead… right before he kicked the bucket himself. Unfortunately, the technology in the past wasn’t advanced enough to bring a corpse back to life, so Vanderboom is relying on his daughter to return him to his corporeal form in the future. Using her father’s inventions, Vanderboom’s daughter must gather flesh, blood, and bones from the past so that Albert may live again.


While The Past Within isn’t going to impress anyone with its visuals, what’s present here is definitely serviceable. The game requires you to choose a time period when you start to play, and the visuals look drastically different depending on that choice. There are still plenty of elements here that tie everything together, despite this. There is an overall drab color scheme that isn’t all that appealing, with brown being the dominant color in the past and metallic grey in the future. That said, the colors do fit with the game’s creepy atmosphere. Of note is that the game presents itself in two ways: during the first chapter, the Future player will see his surroundings rendered in 3D whereas the Past player gets a more traditional 2D take on classic point-and-click gameplay. In the second chapter, this is reversed, with the Past player seeing 3D environments and the Future player 2D ones.


Given that The Past Within is a game where the core mechanic is built around talking to your partner, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the in-game audio takes a backseat. This is mostly because any ambiance will be drowned out as you are relaying hints to your partner -not to mention that having two devices making different sounds would result in quite a cacophony. What’s present is serviceable, with the limited voice acting standing out in particular but overall, The Past Within’s soundscape isn’t all that remarkable.


A strange mix between an escape room and a point-and-click adventure game, The Past Within is definitely one of the more outlandish games that we’ve played in recent times. Of note is that the game cannot be played solo, and that each player needs their own hardware and a copy of the game. On the other hand, there is no connection necessary between the devices whatsoever, and it doesn’t matter what platform you play on. All you really need is a reliable way to communicate with your fellow player, be it through a headset or simply by being in the same room. The way this works is quite simple: when you start a new game, you’re asked a couple of questions to ensure that you and your partner are setting things up correctly. Puzzles are designed in such a way that as long as you have made the right setup choices, you’ll be able to solve everything by communicating with your partner.

Gameplay is asymmetrical, with one player playing in the Past and the other in the Future. The core idea is that you’ll need to provide your partner with clues that help them solve the puzzles they are presented with, and in return, you’ll unlock the clues they need. For example, the Future player may be confronted with a series of switches, which need to be turned on in the right order. The Past player sees an image with a pattern that indicates which switches need to be flipped. Gameplay then turns into a back-and-forth conversation. The game instructions tell you that you should avoid looking at the screen of your partner at all times, as that would ruin the concept of the game, and rightfully so. Playing through The Past Within isn’t an overly long experience, and should take most teams of two players around an hour or two, so it’s a decent way to spend an evening. The game definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome, but after having played through it, we didn’t feel like it was too short either.

That said, there are a couple of elephants in the room that we need to address. We can’t fault the gameplay or the concept, as both are excellent. However, the game suffers from having limited replay value. There are four possible variations here, adding up to a total of eight hours. You could argue that the limited game time is reflected in the €5.99 price point, but needing a copy of the game for each player as well as a separate hardware setup does factor into that as well. Granted, the game has a Discord server which you can use to find a partner to play with, but tackling The Past Within with a complete stranger doesn’t seem very appealing given that this is a game where talking with your co-op partner isn’t optional but mandatory. If you can convince a friend to pick up a copy, regardless of platform, The Past Within is very well worth it, but if you’re a solo player, this might be one to skip.


A perfect example of a good idea done right, The Past Within might not impress on a technical level, but the puzzle gameplay is solid and the asymmetrical gameplay concept simply works. The biggest hurdles to overcome are the limited gameplay time and that you’d ideally need to convince a friend to pick up the game as well -unless you’re willing to team up with a stranger on Discord. That said, there are plenty of solo games set in the Rusty Lake universe, and The Past Within left us curious about exploring those as well.

VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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