Release Date: May 29th (Steam, GOG) Consoles: TBA (2019)
Publisher & Developer: Red Thread Games
Platform: Windows(reviewed), PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
I’m going to begin by coming right out and saying I don’t know what to make of Draugen, the beautiful new psycho-thriller from Red Thread Games. I am also going to avoid spoilers, and that’s because Draugen is many things. Draugen is a beautiful work of digital art. Draugen is an excellent piece of voice acting. Draugen is a decent, if not great story. But what Draugen is not is a game.
WAIT for WHAT? That’s right, you read that correctly; it’s more of a movie than a game. You are mostly along for the ride, and your in “game” choices don’t effect much more than the pacing. You will sit and watch the characters struggle almost as if you were watching them on Netflix. It is a beautifully done movie that does a better job than most Hollywood products, but then again, I didn’t pay $19.99 to see The Village, okay I paid $16.99 for two of us and spent another $19.99 for two cups of water and a crust of bread but still, you’re paying about ten buck an hour to watch this thing.
In terms of game-play, it's basically a walking simulator, you walk around and look at things. What menus and controls you have are well executed and straightforward, but overall, you have little control over anything except the volume. You choose where the pair goes and what they interact with, but the program will push you to where you need to be and refuse to let you escape until you’ve played your part, the story runs on rails and none of your dialog choices seem to alter the outcome. Your sole advantage over a moviegoer is that you can look around unless Lissie is speaking to you, which is nearly constant. You also have to wait for her to finish anything important she has to say before moving forward. A few times she seemed more nagging wife than teenage ward. Drauger even flags the items you can interact with for you at the appropriate point in the story, so the few brief “treasure hunts” you find yourself involved in tend to be short and straightforward.
The story begins with nerdy adult Edward and his teenage ward Alice aka “Lissie” in a rowboat sailing into the picturesque but isolated Norwegian town of Graavik in order to find his missing sister. On landing, they discover the town is deserted and set about trying to find out what happened to the inhabitants. The story becomes increasingly convoluted as they discover a cover-up, a possible murder, a suicide, local legends of the dead walking the Earth and a literal graveyard full of fresh corpses. The situation is confused by the apparently degrading mental state of our protagonist and point of view character Edward. I won’t go into depth on the story except to say when I mean psycho-thriller I mean as much therapy as I do suspense. It’s a decent story, but once it gets going you can deduce the basic outline if not some of the goofier details. Because of this you tend to putter about waiting for the revelations you already deduced to drop, and when they hit more of a plop than a bang.
And that's about all there is to say on Draugen. It's in many ways, a noteworthy achievement. The motion-capture graphics are stunning although the character Lissie is a bit too “real” sometimes creating an “uncanny valley” effect. The music and voice acting are excellent, and the story while far from perfect, is better than many things that end up on the silver screen. It did rub me the wrong way a couple of times, but it's still better than most similar works coming out of California these days so I’ll refrain from getting too bent out of shape. What I do wonder is what could have been done if the game were a bit more open-ended, something along the lines of the much more complex Heaven’s Vault perhaps. Even in the limited environment of the town this would have expanded the game's horizons immensely, and it’s a shame the developers decided to simply tell a story rather than create a game.
More of a movie than a game
Quick (about 2 hrs)