Game of the Year 2022 belongs to Elden Ring. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. That entire discussion is now pointless. There have been other good games, and there will be more good games, but there can only be one Game of the Year, and Elden Ring is it. This doesn’t mean the rest of the games don’t matter, it just means we need to change the conversation. If Best Game is locked down, then let’s talk about some other Bests. What was the Best sound you heard? Which game had the best dialogue? We can still give credit where it’s due, and I have a nomination of my own. I think there should be an award for Best Puzzle, and We Were Here Forever’s Guardian Puzzle should win it.
The Guardian appears at the end of the game’s lengthiest chapter. After navigating through Rockbury’s sunken mines and refueling the Nautilus – a giant glass bathysphere that takes the explorers down to the depths of the flooded caves – you encounter a tentacled monstrosity called The Guardian who wraps itself around the Nautilus and doesn’t let go.
To escape, one player enters a small escape pod and drives right up to the creature’s maw – a mess of sharp teeth with a parascoping eye that protrudes from the center of it – where it can listen to it speak. Meanwhile, the other player stays behind in the Nautilus where they can access recordings of the creature talking that have been translated into a series of symbols. The player on the escape pod can hear the Guardian speak and reply to it by pressing buttons labeled with the corresponding symbols. The only problem is that the listener can’t translate the words, and the translator can’t hear the messages.
At first, it seems like a simple enough problem to solve. When the creature speaks, the person that can hear it just needs to use the walkie-talkie to tell the other person what it said, then the other just needs to find that phrase in the recordings, translate it, then select a message to send back. They then tell the listener which symbols to press, and you’re on your way. Unfortunately, the Guardian speaks in sounds and tones that aren’t possible to recreate, and the translator has a lot of recordings that sound very, very similar.
The genius of this puzzle is how much it tests your ability to interpret and confer information with another person. At their core, this is what all of We Were Here’s puzzles are about, but The Guardian Puzzle takes that format to a whole new level by trading pictures and symbols for sounds, which are far more difficult to describe, and even harder still to understand.
I was the listener in this scenario, and when we first started I tried my best to replicate the Guardian’s guttural, inhuman sounds, to less than great effect. It only took a few minutes of me saying “He said ‘Gwaarfghghnnnnnuh’” before we realized there had to be a better strategy for sending these messages.
The Guardian has about six different types of sounds it can make, so the best way to handle the translation is to first identify what category of sounds it’s speaking in. One type of word sounds like a toilet flushing, one sounds like a dolphin, and one sounds like snakes rattling. Those were the easy ones to name, the other ones will take some patience to come to a consensus on. One of them could be the alien praying mantis, for example, because it reminded me of the sound of an insectoid alien from an old black-and-white creature feature. I was lucky my partner understood what I meant, but each team will need to figure out their own way of understanding the sounds the Guardian makes.
The categories narrow things down considerably, but not completely. After that, you’ll need to find other ways to describe the sound. Is it short or long? Does it end with a rising tone, or a falling one? Does it sound angry, or sad? Playing this bizarre game of 20 questions with your partner is the only way to figure out exactly what the creature is saying, and finally landing on the right word is incredibly satisfying.
The puzzle lasts for several rounds, becoming more complicated with each new iteration. The Guardian will display a symbol in its eye that augments the meaning, so the translator will have to find both the right tone and combination of symbols. Its messages also get longer, and determining the right responses relies on you having to pay attention to previous story beats. It’s a demanding puzzle, but if you’ve gotten this far in We Were Here Forever, you’ll definitely be able to solve it.
The Guardian isn’t my favorite puzzle in We Were here Forever, but it’s the one I was most impressed by. Total Mayhem Games has come up with an impressive number of puzzles that revolve around two people sharing partial information, but The Guardian may be the studio’s greatest achievement yet. The mechanics are easy to understand yet impossible to execute, seemingly, until you start to chip away at the edges of each sound and find the common understanding that unlocks the message. It’s thematically ingenious and brilliantly designed, and an early contender for 2022’s Puzzle Of The Year.
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