App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Somewhere: The Vault Papers is an adventure game that takes place entirely through text message. You play as someone who is helping a woman named Cat as she seeks to uncover a massive global conspiracy. There’s something really neat about the story that Somewhere is trying to tell, but its presentation, pacing, and writing work against it the entire way, making for a middling experience at best.
At the start of Somewhere, Cat is already in the thick of her adventure. The game starts with her seeking your help via text message while she’s in a Berlin hotel room while someone is trying to break in and capture her. She seems to think that you are someone named Orion who can help her out of trouble, and that’s more or less the role you’re forced into for the rest of the game.
Somewhere moves in “real-time,” meaning the game pauses to simulate Cat doing something before checking in with you again. In these check-ins, she might just give you an update about how she’s doing before disappearing again, but in others, she needs your assistance. When providing her help, you get to choose text responses to guide her through these problems, which occasionally might require you to Google things for her (e.g. maps, translations) to make sure she stays on the right track and out of the reach of her pursuers.
Choose your own lecture
When helping Cat, you’re always presented with a handful of canned replies you can give her. Some of these replies don’t really change much of the game, but others—like incorrect solutions to puzzles—can lead you down a path where Cat gets caught and you have to restart again from a checkpoint. Some of these puzzles are kind of neat, as they ask you to do a little online research if you want to reach the right solution the first time, but others are presented a little awkwardly, which can make finding solutions overly difficult.
The real thing that keeps you pushing through Somewhere is its story, which is actually surprisingly well-researched. The only problem with this though is that the developers spend a lot of time showing off how much research they did. Cat constantly spouts off manifestos on all of the game’s subjects, which can be a bit grating. The moment to moment action is a good, thrilling time, but the whole thing feels pretty bloated and slow with Cat lecturing you all the time.
WIth the real-time pacing of Somewhere, it can take quite a bit of time to complete. Unlike something like Bury Me, My Love, Somewhere doesn’t let you skip waiting periods between text messages, at least not at first. Once you’ve reached your first ending in the game, you can go back and replay the game with the ability to turn the timer off, but at that point, you may not have much interest in playing Somewhere anymore.
In addition to some of the awkward puzzles and dialogue, Somewhere has a sort of haphazard design that doesn’t make it the most inviting game to play through once, much less multiple times. Texts from Cat sometimes spew out over the screen all at once before you’re able to read them. At others, her speech bubble comes from the wrong side of the screen, which can be very confusing. On top of this, there are large sections of the game where you don’t really do anything. You open the app just to have Cat text you two things and then wait some more. The whole experience feels really bizarre, and if it wasn’t for my interest in the plot, I would not have stuck with Somewhere to the end.
The bottom line
Somewhere has a really good narrative idea, but then builds a game around it that isn’t particularly enjoyable. Since most of the game is just text messages, it’s not like its poor decisions render it unplayable, but it does feel like something that was kind of slapped together and not refined nearly enough. In some ways, this might make Somewhere feel like a genuine interactive experience with a real person, but over the course of the game, even this tenuous reading on the game becomes impossible to maintain.