Within seconds of seeing What Never Was appear on the Steam store, two things came to mind: ‘that looks right up my street’, and ‘it reminds me of Marie’s Room’.
I look forward to these short, free story-driven titles; experiences centred on a character and relationships past. What Never Was centres on Sarah Wright and her relationship with her recently deceased grandfather, Howard James Wright. And like titles including the excellent What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home, the central character discovers unknown parts of the relationship as the game progresses.
Exploring this attic comes with a few smart, simplistic, and satisfying puzzle solving along the way.
What Never Was starts with Sarah’s mother saying she’s unable to help clear out Howard’s attic, so Sarah is on her own to sort through her grandfather’s possessions. For Sarah, there are a lot of memories in this attic. Various items are dotted around, allowing Sarah to reminisce about her childhood and her grandfather’s love of exploration.
Created by Acke Hallgren, What Never Was teases something more in the future; whether we’ll ever get it is unclear, but the game suggests there’s much more to come from Sarah’s story.
Much like Marie’s Room – another free-to-play game about exploration and discovery – setting itself in a single room allows the player to piece together the story in their own order. What Never Was doesn’t lead players through the room but allows them to look at and examine anything in any order they wish. Piecing together the whole mystery, though, requires seeking particular items, and solving a number of puzzles.Sarah’s grandfather had been exploring in search of an item, and what that is reveals itself throughout the very short run time. His journey is chronicled in his journal, for which there are missing pages to be found in the attic. Finding them non-chronologically gives a sense of freedom to the player when learning of his journey.
With a game this short it’s difficult not to give anything away, but What Never Was is definitely worth playing through, especially if you’re into this kind of thing. It’s short – you could probably finish it in around 20 minutes – but it packs in plenty of character for free. I’m hopeful we’ll see more from Sarah’s story, but even as a standalone title, What Never Was is a worthy addition to a still-growing genre.