How far would you go to get your lost daughter back? In Someday You’ll Return, you’ll undergo a desperate search of the Czech Republic’s Moravian forest – alone, on foot, and struggling to maintain a hold of your own sanity. Yet what will really test your resolve will be the stop-start stealth sections, half-baked game mechanics, and uneven puzzle design you’re forced to suffer along the way. This supernatural nature walk could have been a compelling cross between Firewatch and Silent Hill, but Someday You’ll Return lacks the sharp writing and engaging performances of the former, and can’t pull off the scares of the latter.
It certainly gets off to a decent start, though, and I enjoyed hiking around Someday You’ll Return’s woodland setting for the first few hours. The absence of objective markers on the HUD means that navigating between landmarks and campsites is entirely based around studying maps and observing the colour-coded trail markers in order to get from A to B, which felt true to my real life experiences of orienteering through nature.
The downside of this realistic approach to Someday You’ll Return’s wayfinding is that it’s very easy to get lost, particularly when the environment becomes foggy, or day turns to night, or it just hasn’t been made clear where you’re supposed to be heading to next – all things that happen with some regularity. It’s not just Someday You’ll Return; it’s more like every other moment you’ll return – up and back the same paths and trails, past the same rock and tree assets, circling and zigzagging your way to where you hope you’re supposed to be going. Any tension and suspense built up by the plot is all too frequently dissipated by such monotonous retreading.
Playing as increasingly distraught father Daniel, you’re on your own for large stretches of time in Someday You’ll Return, and much of the context for the events that unfold is provided through Daniel’s interactions with other characters on his phone or his constant monologuing. This is a bit of a shame, since the actor who plays Daniel has a more erratic method of delivery than a paperboy on a broken bike.
Still, the search for Daniel’s daughter Stela maintains a reasonable level of intrigue through to Someday You’ll Return’s conclusion, with countless notes, journal pages and other texts to find scattered throughout the world to gradually help you piece together what’s really going on. I particularly enjoyed the occasions these scraps of writing formed the basis of a puzzle, such as the scavenger hunt list found in a major campsite area which demanded that I carefully follow its detailed step-by-step instructions in order to uncover a series of hidden page fragments that assembled into an encoded message, before studying a cipher in order to solve it.
Unfortunately the bulk of Someday You’ll Return’s puzzles are not nearly as cerebral, and too often rely on point-and-click adventure-style pixel hunting or other genre cliches like lazily turning pipe valves to progress through. Considering its 15-hour length, Someday You’ll Return would likely have benefitted from having the bulk of its more basic brain teasers trimmed.
Someday You’ll Return’s stealth sections seem similarly dispensable. As his search moves from abandoned camping grounds to more sinister subterranean settings and his grip on reality loosens, Daniel’s surroundings will at times devolve into a nightmarish hellscape, with zombie-like sentries patrolling the area that can stun you with a piercing scream before transforming into spider-like monsters in order to finish you off. You’re given no means to combat them with, so instead you just slowly crouch-walk your way through these sections trying to avoid an instant death. These sections aren’t in any way frightening, just frustrating, since even after you’re given an enemy-slowing stasis totem you’re still liable to be stunned and kicked back to a checkpoint by an unseen enemy offscreen. Someday You’ll Return does a commendable job of creating unease with more subtle tricks like whispering voices and creepy dolls placed in its environment, but when it goes all-in with the horror it becomes exhausting rather than exhilarating.It’s not just Stela who goes missing, but also a number of Someday You’ll Return’s game mechanics. A number of elements are introduced, used once or twice, and then largely forgotten. You can brew your own potions by scouring the landscape for various kinds of flowers and herbs, preparing them using a cutting board and mortar and pestle, and then following specific recipe steps. However, despite the fact that there’s always an abundance of plants to pick all across the map, only one or two out of a half-dozen of these potions are ever really necessary, and even then it’s only when their use is explicitly spelled out for you. For example, you might need to brew the ‘Calm Mind’ potion to quell Daniel’s vertigo in order for him to cross a rope bridge between you and your destination, because that’s literally the only way for you to progress.
Daniel can also craft or repair items with his tool kit but, again, this is an ability that’s only ever called on in very specific and obvious circumstances – like when you’re presented with a ladder with missing rungs in the vicinity of a few pieces of rung-sized wood – which robs the construction gameplay of any sense of agency or invention.