Communication, communication, communication. Yes, communication is key in The Past Within, the co-op puzzler from the team at Rusty Lake that sees one player working in the past and another in the future in order to complete a peculiar time-travelling procedure. Sounds bizarre? It can be, but it’s also an enjoyable and quirky experience that has some pretty interesting ideas.

Check out some screenshots down below:

I don’t want to go into too much detail about The Past Within’s narrative, just to avoid spoilers. In a nutshell, it sees two people working together: one in the past and another in the future, with each guiding each other as to what they need to do in order to complete a strange (and at times gross) procedure. What is the procedure for? Is it dangerous? Well, I’ll leave that for you to find out yourself, with the often-spooky tale taking some interesting little turns during its roughly two-hour runtime. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t the deepest of narratives you’ll see in a game, but it still kept me intrigued until the very end.

The greatest strengths of The Past Within lie in its co-operative gameplay, with players having to carefully find clues and information and then exchange them with each other in order to progress through the game. It is worth noting that there isn’t direct matchmaking with other players though; instead, you simply play the game at the same time in different roles, with the only interconnecting thing between you being the communication you share. In fact, the game will often ask you if the other player has performed a certain action before it allows you to progress, which emphasises the fact that you really are playing separately. It fits the whole time-travelling vibe of the game so I liked the setup, whilst it also means you don’t have to worry about sketchy net code. It does mean you’ll have to set up your own form of communication though, so it might be a good idea to keep your phone handy when playing with a pal.

“It can be a little confusing at first, especially when you’re just starting to work things out whilst uncovering more of your surroundings, but it’s hard not to feel satisfied and clever when you figure out the next piece of the puzzle.”

Having to set things up a bit more manually doesn’t make the gameplay any less enjoyable, with each player having to carefully explore their surroundings in order to find every piece of information around them. Even the smallest of details might have some significance, so you’ll have to describe everything you can see and all of the different ways you can interact with it in order to progress. It can be a little confusing at first, especially when you’re just starting to work things out whilst uncovering more of your surroundings, but it’s hard not to feel satisfied and clever when you figure out the next piece of the puzzle.

The puzzle design itself is neat too, with some really clever ideas utilised that require careful thinking from both players in order to solve. We never really found ourselves stumped that often, but there were plenty of eureka moments or instances where we’d be left wondering what to do next only to realise we’d missed something small in the environment.

However, there were some instances where the puzzle-solving felt less logical and more about giving instructions to each other, which was a little less satisfying. Rather than carefully considering what we could both see and do, we often had to simply read out some information as opposed to putting our brains together to work something out. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always the case and The Past Within definitely has some good ideas that require a bit more co-operative work from players, but there were moments which felt a bit more formulaic and like we were simply giving orders.  

Check out some screenshots down below:

Still, it’s the clever ideas which stuck with me the most after playing, whilst seeing the effect that our actions had across both timelines was rewarding in itself. It’s even possible to play through the game a second time with the puzzles slightly altered, meaning players can experience both a ‘past’ and ‘future’ playthrough without already knowing the answer to each puzzle straight away. On the flip side, the process of the puzzle-solving does remain the same, so I’d probably recommend going through it with a different player the second time around just to keep things interesting.

The Past Within Review

The Past Within is a neat co-op puzzler that showcases some clever ideas as two players work together to break the rules of time. Don’t get me wrong, some of the co-operative elements did rely a bit too much on simply relaying instructions as opposed to working together to solve puzzles, but these weaker moments never overshadowed the intriguing plot or satisfying puzzle design otherwise encountered throughout the experience.

Developer: Rusty Lake
Publisher: Rusty Lake
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed)