Blood and Truth Review – On The Move

As it’s a first-person shooter, it’s not hard to imagine Blood and Truth working without VR. But the ways it reinvigorates some of the genre’s mechanics also wouldn’t be possible without it. Its first-person shooter action is still beholden to some of the inaccuracies and annoyances with PSVR and its less-than-precise tracking. But it also uses these forms of input to give you a satisfying amount of control over each firefight and the various activities between them. Whether it’s tearing off grenade pins with your teeth or hanging from scaffolding while returning fire, Blood and Truth does an admirable job expanding on familiar shooter concepts while maintaining a comfortable VR experience.

Blood and Truth can only be played with two Move controllers. You’re explicitly told to play from a seated position, and you’re given numerous points around your torso to interact with. Putting a hand to your chest, for example, will let you grab stored ammunition for reloading, while you can find handgun holsters on both your hips and slings for larger weapons behind your shoulders. Blood and Truth makes you move to reach the weapons you need at the moment you need them, while also making these movements easy and natural to remember.

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There’s a slightly long calibration process that helps make each of these motions smooth and accurate. A lot of care is taken to ensure that you’re being tracked correctly at all times, which helps when you’re flung into some fast-paced shootouts. The accurate tracking produces one of the most comfortable experiences I’ve ever had using PSVR. Although Blood and Truth doesn’t completely eradicate some tracking issues (which are more hardware related), it entirely sidesteps common issues such as camera drifting and annoyingly erratic motion-tracking losses.

That isn’t to say issues aren’t frustrating when they do crop up. It’s common to wrestle with a two-handed assault rifle and its attached scope while the game struggles to determine the angle that you’re trying to aim at. This leads to numerous frustrating deaths when the situation demands more dexterity than the hardware is capable of providing you, deflating otherwise challenging encounters with failures that feel out of your control.

Blood and Truth almost successfully distracts you from this by giving you much more to do with your hands, enhancing its otherwise rote first-person shooting. Weapons such as a pump-action shotgun feel more satisfying to use when you’re grasping the pump handle with your free hand and actively pulling back to reload after every shot, while a silenced pistol has tangibly more accuracy after you rest your free hand over to the side of it for added stability. Blood and Truth lets you get ridiculous with how you approach combat, too, allowing you to wield a powerful assault rifle in one hand and a sawed-off shotgun in the other at the expense of accuracy.

Your movement in Blood and Truth is limited, but that helps the action flow smoothly. Blood and Truth only ever has you facing in a direction it determines, giving you the control to move to predetermined areas in front of your or strafe to the side at the press of a button. There are no confusing segmented rotations to grapple with, so you’re free to focus on how to navigate your way forward and use what cover is available in effective ways.

With this in mind, it’s comforting that enemies can’t find themselves in inaccessible spaces behind you, and you have enough choices in a firefight to keep it dynamic rather than simply on rails. Transitioning to new cover and the freedom you’re given to make slight adjustments to your firing angles with strafing are smooth and responsive, letting you satisfyingly flank enemies with ease. There are some sparse stealth sections to break up the sometimes unrelenting action, giving you options to navigate through cramped office spaces or derelict apartments and pick off enemies with silenced weapons. It is exhilarating to string together a number of silent kills before being spotted, again highlighting how much space Blood and Truth gives you to work with despite being so restrictive with your movement.

When you’re not poking your head out in between gunshots, you’re doing anything from picking locks to shimmying your way across construction supports and crawling through open vents. Each of these actions (and more) make good use of the Move controllers, making your movements feel more intimate than they ever could with a standard controller. Lock picking, for example, tasks you with rotating one Move controller slowly and then using the other to quickly lock the pin in place when in the right position. It feels both precise and natural, and goes a long way to making the otherwise mundane action of unlocking a door surprisingly engaging.

Although Blood and Truth doesn’t completely eradicate some tracking issues (which are more hardware related), it entirely sidesteps common issues such as camera drifting and annoyingly erratic motion-tracking losses.

The same can be said for the many ways in which Blood and Truth lets you climb around its many environments. You’ll have to reach out to grab overhead bars or protruding rebar pieces from walls to gracefully pull yourself upwards, carefully making sure not to unclench both hands when you’re dangling over a deadly plunge. Some set-pieces make use of this to create some memorable shootouts, as you hang for your life using one arm and frantically return fire with the other. Having to physically grip to hold on, while remaining aware of where your hands are positioned, makes these actions feel all the more natural and satisfying.

With some strong action and creative uses of VR, it’s a shame that Blood and Truth fails to encapsulate all of this into a story that doesn’t feel as disjointed and hokey as it does. Following the escapades of a London-based crime family under threat, Blood and Truth flicks through every gangster story cliche in the book. Moments of gravitas are undone by stilted voice acting and poor writing, while others can’t decide whether they’re trying to be a grounded crime tale or a globe-trotting James Bond imitation. Blood and Truth never settles on a consistent tone that helps move its story along, which make its narrative-focused stages (that feature no action) drawn-out and dull.

Blood and Truth is uneven, especially when it’s determined to get you to focus on an uninteresting story while you’re putting up with the shortcomings of VR. But the beauty of Blood and Truth is that it also does marvelous things with the platform. The addition of motion control make familiar and mundane mechanics engaging, while also breaking up the smartly designed first-person shooting and establishing a great rhythm to the six-or-so-hour campaign. Blood and Truth doesn’t manage to stick the landing in all aspects, but it’s definitely a step forward for PSVR shooters.

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Blood and Truth Review – Move, Britannia

As it’s a first-person shooter, it’s not hard to imagine Blood and Truth working without VR. But the ways it reinvigorates some of the genre’s mechanics also wouldn’t be possible without it. Its first-person shooter action is still beholden to some of the inaccuracies and annoyances with PSVR and its less-than-precise tracking. But it also uses these forms of input to give you a satisfying amount of control over each firefight and the various activities between them. Whether it’s tearing off grenade pins with your teeth or hanging from scaffolding while returning fire, Blood and Truth does an admirable job expanding on familiar shooter concepts while maintaining a comfortable VR experience.

Blood and Truth can only be played with two Move controllers. You’re explicitly told to play from a seated position, and you’re given numerous points around your torso to interact with. Putting a hand to your chest, for example, will let you grab stored ammunition for reloading, while you can find handgun holsters on both your hips and slings for larger weapons behind your shoulders. Blood and Truth makes you move to reach the weapons you need at the moment you need them, while also making these movements easy and natural to remember.

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There’s a slightly long calibration process that helps make each of these motions smooth and accurate. A lot of care is taken to ensure that you’re being tracked correctly at all times, which helps when you’re flung into some fast-paced shootouts. The accurate tracking produces one of the most comfortable experiences I’ve ever had using PSVR. Although Blood and Truth doesn’t completely eradicate some tracking issues (which are more hardware related), it entirely sidesteps common issues such as camera drifting and annoyingly erratic motion-tracking losses.

That isn’t to say issues aren’t frustrating when they do crop up. It’s common to wrestle with a two-handed assault rifle and its attached scope while the game struggles to determine the angle that you’re trying to aim at. This leads to numerous frustrating deaths when the situation demands more dexterity than the hardware is capable of providing you, deflating otherwise challenging encounters with failures that feel out of your control.

Blood and Truth almost successfully distracts you from this by giving you much more to do with your hands, enhancing its otherwise rote first-person shooting. Weapons such as a pump-action shotgun feel more satisfying to use when you’re grasping the pump handle with your free hand and actively pulling back to reload after every shot, while a silenced pistol has tangibly more accuracy after you rest your free hand over to the side of it for added stability. Blood and Truth lets you get ridiculous with how you approach combat, too, allowing you to wield a powerful assault rifle in one hand and a sawed-off shotgun in the other at the expense of accuracy.

Your movement in Blood and Truth is limited, but that helps the action flow smoothly. Blood and Truth only ever has you facing in a direction it determines, giving you the control to move to predetermined areas in front of your or strafe to the side at the press of a button. There are no confusing segmented rotations to grapple with, so you’re free to focus on how to navigate your way forward and use what cover is available in effective ways.

With this in mind, it’s comforting that enemies can’t find themselves in inaccessible spaces behind you, and you have enough choices in a firefight to keep it dynamic rather than simply on rails. Transitioning to new cover and the freedom you’re given to make slight adjustments to your firing angles with strafing are smooth and responsive, letting you satisfyingly flank enemies with ease. There are some sparse stealth sections to break up the sometimes unrelenting action, giving you options to navigate through cramped office spaces or derelict apartments and pick off enemies with silenced weapons. It is exhilarating to string together a number of silent kills before being spotted, again highlighting how much space Blood and Truth gives you to work with despite being so restrictive with your movement.

When you’re not poking your head out in between gunshots, you’re doing anything from picking locks to shimmying your way across construction supports and crawling through open vents. Each of these actions (and more) make good use of the Move controllers, making your movements feel more intimate than they ever could with a standard controller. Lock picking, for example, tasks you with rotating one Move controller slowly and then using the other to quickly lock the pin in place when in the right position. It feels both precise and natural, and goes a long way to making the otherwise mundane action of unlocking a door surprisingly engaging.

Although Blood and Truth doesn’t completely eradicate some tracking issues (which are more hardware related), it entirely sidesteps common issues such as camera drifting and annoyingly erratic motion-tracking losses.

The same can be said for the many ways in which Blood and Truth lets you climb around its many environments. You’ll have to reach out to grab overhead bars or protruding rebar pieces from walls to gracefully pull yourself upwards, carefully making sure not to unclench both hands when you’re dangling over a deadly plunge. Some set-pieces make use of this to create some memorable shootouts, as you hang for your life using one arm and frantically return fire with the other. Having to physically grip to hold on, while remaining aware of where your hands are positioned, makes these actions feel all the more natural and satisfying.

With some strong action and creative uses of VR, it’s a shame that Blood and Truth fails to encapsulate all of this into a story that doesn’t feel as disjointed and hokey as it does. Following the escapades of a London-based crime family under threat, Blood and Truth flicks through every gangster story cliche in the book. Moments of gravitas are undone by stilted voice acting and poor writing, while others can’t decide whether they’re trying to be a grounded crime tale or a globe-trotting James Bond imitation. Blood and Truth never settles on a consistent tone that helps move its story along, which make its narrative-focused stages (that feature no action) drawn-out and dull.

Blood and Truth is uneven, especially when it’s determined to get you to focus on an uninteresting story while you’re putting up with the shortcomings of VR. But the beauty of Blood and Truth is that it also does marvelous things with the platform. The addition of motion control make familiar and mundane mechanics engaging, while also breaking up the smartly designed first-person shooting and establishing a great rhythm to the six-or-so-hour campaign. Blood and Truth doesn’t manage to stick the landing in all aspects, but it’s definitely a step forward for PSVR shooters.

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Dauntless Review – A Whole New World

Dauntless brims with energy. It’s in everything from the exuberant use of color to the larger-than-life Behemoths with cheeky nods to the developer’s Canadian roots. Monster Hunter: World’s high-realism design almost feels grimdark in comparison to the Shattered Isles’ Crayola color scheme of glamors and on-the-nose armor designs. The game has chutzpah, but it lacks that little bit more to keep you properly engaged in its monster hunting fracas.

At first glance, Dauntless looks and appears to play like a beginner-friendly version of Capcom’s monster-slaying franchise. After a robust character creator (which features some nice non-gender conforming options), you’re thrust into a dangerous world via an unceremonious plane crash. The premise behind your existence here is a simple one which isn’t really brought up ever again: you need to kill things that are making the place dangerous, and killing these enormous things sometimes involves calling upon your mates for help. Hunt, slay, repeat. Hunting the giant monsters that stalk the Shattered Isles, slaying them, and repeating it until you’ve gathered enough parts to make a cape out of tailfeathers is something that you repeat ad infinitum.

The game’s Behemoths are intelligent, deadly, and initially occupy a strange space between fantastical and woodland creatures. You find yourself taking up arms against killer beavers, oversized owls, and angry turtles. The beaver feels like a tongue-in-cheek nod to the developer’s Canadian origins, and because the early reference points are mostly animals that we’re familiar with (as opposed to more esoteric dinosaur-dragon hybrids), it means that there’s a level of innate predictability in how some of these creatures fight. The Gnasher, our beaver-like friend, will slap you around with its oversized tail. The Shrike, a gigantic killer owl, flies around and uses its wings to create tornadoes. The Embermane, an analog for a lion, prances and pounces like the best of them in the Serengeti. The fact that these initial monsters have physiques and species archetypes that occur naturally in our world makes them less, well, daunting. Behemoth designs become more intricate once you’ve left the relative safety of the first few locations and have to contend with insects shooting deadly lasers at you, but by and large, you’re fighting creatures that you can intuit a solution for.

This means that the beasts can lack the same gut-punch effect upon first sight that you may be used to from facing down prehistoric nightmares in other games, exacerbated by the cartoony art direction and the game’s straightforward approach to hunting. Dauntless gives you access to an assortment of weapons which all vastly affect the hunting experience. From dual-wielding guns to teleporting with chain blades, there’s a good variety that caters to different styles. Bladed weapons are better for slicing off monster parts, while others crush skulls more effectively. No matter what you pick, you’re going to be able to bring something valuable to a group situation.

That being said, once you figure out the basics of knocking bits off Behemoths using a mixture of heavy attacks, light attacks, and special skills, that’s really all you’ve got to worry about in the heat of the moment. The only concern in any hunt is the slavering monster trying to eat you up–no need to worry about finding respite, concocting traps, or anything related to the idea of tracking your prey. Dauntless isn’t drinking from the well of realism by any means, but the lack of these touches ultimately make it hard to stay engaged in the moment. This isn’t to say that the fights themselves lack the difficulty required to get your heart rate up; a total wipe becomes more common as you start throwing yourself against bigger and badder critters. That being said, the lack of verticality and overall variety in terrain means that there’s simply not a lot to parse.

This same feeling of just falling a little short is also present when it comes to the fifteen or so hours of the core story. Monster Hunter: World worked off an involved, overarching single-player narrative to guide you from each unique in-game location to another in your quest to push a dying, continent-sized lizard out to sea. Conversely, Dauntless gives you an almost-administrative motivation for your actions. You need to clean things in the overworld because, well, it keeps people safe. Also, hope you’ve got time to gather fifteen stalks of a plant in-between trying to knock the skull off a giant monster, because a quest-giver back home is scientifically curious.

There’s not much of an attempt to get you particularly invested in the main campaign, which means that if you’re someone who prefers taking down ice-spewing owlbears solo, your only true motivation is going to be the satisfaction of throwing yourself at said ice-spewing owlbear. If you’re playing alone, you can end up feeling isolated. This is the most noticeable in the game’s hub world, Ramsgate. Even when the servers are bustling (we’re talking matchmaking queues that are 100,000 players deep), there’s a distinct lack of reflection of that in Ramsgate. The place feels empty, with perhaps only a handful of people standing around.

The NPCs feel like a lost opportunity in the same vein. While you will be undoubtedly happy that you can pet the dog (and hopefully, the rams), and that the local blacksmith is serving high-fashion lumberjack looks for days, the aesthetic appeal is where it ends. There’s no feeling of life to Ramsgate. No roaming vendors, no murmuring chit-chat when things get busy. There are swaths of bare corridors and paths for you to sprint down, but by and large, the town exists for you to pick up collectibles and quests. Everyone that you can talk to looks like they’re hiding a cool backstory, but you never get to experience it.

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The multiplayer side of things is where Dauntless really shines, and the reality is that the title feels optimized for it. Cross-platform compatibility has been available since launch day, which means that regardless of whether you’re slaying Behemoths on PC, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One, your multiplayer pool will encompass all three. This is advantageous because matchmaking is, in practice, refreshingly seamless. No need to fiddle with a menu or five, and it’s nice that each platform’s native friends lists are imported into the client. Matchmaking usually takes a matter of seconds, which makes Dauntless feel very plug-and-play in the best way.

The game is not without its quirks, however–opening up a menu as you’re finishing a hunt might trap you in there, unable to exit out. Going into a hunt with a group of friends and becoming stuck on the loading screen until you relog will kick you from the party and the endeavor. You could also fall into part of the landscape at Ramsgate and be unable to extricate yourself without restarting the client. Something as simple as ensuring that the hotkey to interact with things works each and every time is not a foolproof feature yet, which can lead to repeat frustrations at inopportune times.

Dauntless is also a free to play game. It’s impressive in terms of what it offers in terms of content, accessibility, and the fact that you aren’t constantly bludgeoned over the head with the need to spend any real money on anything. There are dyes, cute emotes and other cosmetic improvements which are part and parcel of F2P, and also a “Hunt Pass” which rewards players for completing in-game objectives. There isn’t the ability to purchase your way to a sure victory against the Behemoths and the relatively unobtrusive presence of the F2P elements like the various in-game shops means that you can spend absolutely nothing and not feel like you’re missing out at all unless you’re a fiend for glamoring your gear.

Overall, Dauntless is clearly an experience that has been optimized to deliver the most stress-free multiplayer session possible. From the seamless crossplay to the way that anyone can hop into a game and confidently take up arms against formidable foes, it’s refreshingly accessible and looks great to boot. While it can feel a little empty, and there are bugs that mar the experience here and there, its fresh look and lively spark are more than enticing enough to warrant a spin.

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Void Bastards Review – Glorious Bastards

Void Bastards never lets you get too comfortable. As you explore spaceships, scrounging around for supplies to push yourself that little bit further, your strategy has to be flexible. An electrifying zapper is good for immobilizing some enemies, but it’s useless against those with shields. A lobbed grenade is handy against those shielded enemies, but it prevents you from taking more devastating firepower with you to fight beefier foes. Void Bastards forces you to make small decisions with each stop at a not-so-abandoned vessel, which makes these encounters challenging and exciting.

Void Bastards puts you in the space shoes of numerous rehydrated “clients” aboard a stranded personnel vessel, whose AI has had no choice but to rely on its dangerous cargo to repair the ship for a final jump to its destination. You are tasked with searching any nearby ships for special items and other resources, using components you find to craft new weapons and tools that will help you both evade and combat the numerous nasty enemies protecting these rewards. This encapsulates the main loop you’ll find yourself in throughout the 15-hour campaign.

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The game hops between a frenetic first-person shooter when you board ships and a galactic exploration adventure outside of them. Your small vessel requires fuel to travel, while you need food to survive each passing day in the empty void. Both of these resources are found on nearby ships, which you can inspect from afar to identify its possible inhabitants, lucrative rewards, and unique modifiers before making a choice on whether to board or pass by. Modifiers can include anything from security systems being graciously offline to the hallways being stripped of lights to make your journey through them more treacherous. These small modifiers keep your ventures on ships exciting, providing knock-on effects for you and its enemies to play off of.

Punchy one-liners and some dark humor drive Void Bastard’s world-building, which is primarily conveyed by your AI handler and occasionally by intercom systems on ships you board. Neither expand on the lore enough to make the setting any more interesting than it is at face value, but it’s entertaining enough to earn a few chuckles throughout. The story is supported by gorgeous comic book-style cutscenes that bookend each completed objective. It has a distinct style that immediately gives Void Bastards an identity.

The comic book aesthetic transitions over beautifully into gameplay, where the action looks like it was ripped from the narrative panels preceding them. Explosions litter the screen with onomatopoetic descriptions of their destructive power, represented visually with bold colors and thick black outlines. Enemies move as if they’re 2D sprites living in a 3D space, rotating at fixed increments to face you. It’s a striking style that makes Void Bastards immediately recognizable and imbues its adventure with personality.

With its rogue-lite structure, Void Bastards is as much about staying alive as long as you can as it is about dying. You won’t lose all your progress when your current character expires, but you will lose any hoarded ammunition, fuel, and food. You’ll also lose your current character, who might be equipped with both useful and detrimental abilities. One might be capable of silently sprinting, letting you get by enemies faster without alerting them. Another could do the exact opposite by randomly coughing and giving away your position. It’s fun to work with and around these traits, but Void Bastards graciously lets you keep any weapon and gadget upgrades as well as objective progress intact should you lose a character early.

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Crafting these items is streamlined, too. A clear and concise upgrade tree shows you exactly what you need to build a new item, as well as what components you should look out for to upgrade them a tier. You can even tag certain pieces of gear and have any possible nearby locations with their required components show up on the galaxy map, clearly charting you a course towards them. Void Bastards rewards you with items for upgrades frequently. You’ll likely have something new to craft after most dangerous expeditions onto nearby ships, which not only helps shake up each combat encounter with some new weapons and toys, but also expands your options for engagement with the numerous types of enemies you’ll come into contact with.

The game’s enemy variety is key to keeping each expedition surprising, and they start off simple enough. Slow-to-react but explosive blue alien blobs and dim-witted Janitors litter the halls of your first few ships, eventually giving way to quick and foul-mouthed Juveniles and skittish Scribes that run away from danger. As you descend into deeper nebulas with more rewards, the dangers increase, with formidable variations on previous enemies. Hard-hitting Stevs will make quick work of your health bar while Secs can quickly render your loadout redundant, as their impenetrable shields block everything you throw at them.

The randomized selection of enemies on ships and their increasing ferocity keeps you thinking about which weapons to take on board, as well as how they can combine for particular strategies. You’re given the choice of three items to bring with you as you dock, and your loadout cannot be changed once you’ve boarded the vessel, making your understanding of the perils aboard paramount to your selections. For example, if a ship’s security systems are down but it’s overrun with hulking Stevs, it might be better to leave behind a stun gun and bring along the autonomous and explosive Kittybots, which do a great job of distracting foes as you slip past. Ships with smaller enemies in large numbers might benefit from a weapon with a faster rate of fire over a semi-automatic pistol. Since each slot serves a purpose (weapon, explosive and gadget) it’s fun to play around with different combinations and see which combine in both creative and effective ways.

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There are hundreds of weapons at your disposal, but the variety between them and the tools you have allows for this experimentation. It’s satisfying to use an immobilizing stun gun to freeze groups of enemies in place before launching a package of small grenades that bounce and ricochet off the walls of a narrow walkway to deal devastating damage. A silent dart gun can let you poison enemies from afar, letting you watch them slowly die as you soak up their incoming fire with a personal shield should you be spotted. Or you could take a more indirect approach by sucking up an enemy into your rift gun, placing them in an airlock and launching them out into space. The careful distribution of ammunition for each weapon prevents you from stockpiling enough for your favorites all the time, which pushes you to become familiar with your entire arsenal too. It avoids being frustrating because of how fun each weapon is to use in the right situation, but also makes you carefully consider when to use the right tool for the right job.

The ships you board can also throw up strategic combat options for you to exploit through their randomized construction. Simply being able to lock doors lets you create traps for enemies to wander into, letting you slide in a few explosives before locking them into a hallway with no escape. You can override security systems and make them fight for you if you have enough credits to spend, while environmental hazards such as nuclear spills and severed electrical cables can serve as nuisances or convenient traps depending on whether you see them in time or not. Void Bastards gives you maps for each of the ships you board from the start, letting you focus on the foes lurking in their halls rather than remembering how to get back to your exit. Resources are hidden between enemies and hazards; this keeps exploration fun and interesting while ditching the tedium of basic navigation.

Void Bastards succeeds because it keeps you moving forward and rewards you on the way, without feeling like a pushover as a result.

Void Bastards doesn’t introduce changes to its gameplay loop throughout its course, and its narrative objectives don’t shake it up meaningfully. But there’s a steady flow of new weapons and suitably challenging enemies to test them on, so you don’t get stuck in a rut. And because you maintain some progress between deaths, dying doesn’t dissuade you from jumping right into the next run. Void Bastards succeeds because it keeps you moving forward and rewards you on the way, without feeling like a pushover as a result.

This delicate balance highlights the assortment of randomized levels, enemy compilations and uniquely designed weaponry that all make Void Bastards an absolute delight. It’s wildly entertaining to go from ship to ship and eradicate enemies with constantly shifting strategies, and equally engaging to use your scavenging gains to make yourself feel increasingly powerful. It’s a satisfyingly stylish shooter that manages to play as well as, if not better than, it looks.

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Draugen Review – What Lies Beneath

“This isn’t Agatha Christie. There won’t be a convenient set of clues leading to a tidy conclusion.” That’s what protagonist Edward Charles Harden tells his 17-year-old ward Lissie, and by extension the player, halfway through Draugen‘s fjord-noir mystery. A good ending is only as important as the joy of the journey to get there, but can a fascinating mystery succeed in its own right without a Christie-style “tidy conclusion”? Draugen’s conclusion is certainly an untidy one, but regardless of whether you like your mysteries neatly solved, the somewhat unsatisfying ending does not eclipse the fascinating characters, gripping story, and breathtaking town of Graavik.

It’s 1923 and Edward and Lissie have traveled from Hanover, Massachusetts to a fishing village in Norway in search of Edward’s younger sister, Elizabeth, who has gone missing. Everything you learn about these three central characters is through conversations between the stoic academic Edward and his vivacious young ward. The interplay between the two is delivered through naturally flowing dialogue; you can interject, begin conversations, continue them, or choose to stay silent. This enhances your involvement in embodying Edward, which is important, as he is otherwise a fairly single-minded character in a linear narrative.

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In stark contrast, Lissie has a wild and liberal approach to life. In fact, Lissie is the antithesis of Edward, a fact that becomes more significant as the central mysteries of the game wear on. On top of that, the strong performances behind each of the central characters bolster their personalities. In particular, Edward’s mutterings, pauses, and audible skimming through letters and selecting what to read aloud to Lissie makes those interactions feel more genuine.

The countryside village of Graavik is positively beautiful. Sunlight filters through glowing orange leaves on trees, shadows drift across your path, and the snow-capped mountain tops are such a bright white that they fade into the clouds. Lissie is animated with a loving attention to detail; the minor curve of her lips or a slightly raised eyebrow do much to convey her opinions and relationship to Edward. Alongside the stunning vistas, the sound design establishes a palpable sense of place; the wind is constantly roaring through the mountain valley and rustling trees, and there are rushing falls and singing birds. Everything is, in fact, so perfect that it feels unreal, and it’s no mistake that that is one of the central dualities that underpin the narrative. The town is, as it happens, completely empty, and all of that natural beauty gives way to a tangible tension as you uncover how deep secrecy and tragedy run in the otherwise unassuming village.

Because it’s a first-person exploration adventure, the familiarity of certain narrative tropes that have become expected in this genre–a creepy mine, an abandoned house, a curse, a gregarious companion–have less of an impact. Draugen is most effective when it steps away from expectation–when you engage in and explore the curious relationship between Edward and Lissie, when it calls upon you to second-guess the assertions of its protagonists, and when the imagined blurs with reality, sometimes imperceptibly.

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The central mystery of the town revolves around unique and interesting characters with intricate lives, but it’s Edward’s personal character arc that takes precedence. Draugen deals in simple themes, like its noir whodunit narrative, and more complicated ones, like psychology, trauma, and the perils of isolation. The complex ideas are explored more thoroughly through Edward, forcing the base mystery into the back seat. Though this creates a more satisfying psychological journey for Edward, it rips the narrative away from the mystery of Graavik’s inhabitants at a pivotal moment. Edward carries a journal with him, though there are no consistent entries; rather, it houses an annotated map and his drawings of the town. Given Draugen’s focus on Edward’s evolution and motivations, it’s a missed opportunity that his journal doesn’t offer up a deeper analysis of his inner workings. But while some elements of the game’s mysteries remain unresolved, Edward’s literal and emotional journey is ultimately satisfying, and his character becomes extremely sympathetic.

To explain much more would be a disservice to the joy of unraveling Draugen’s mysteries for yourself. It’s exciting to piece apart the history of the abandoned town, and the horrors the befell it, even though it’s up to your interpretation to decide if there’s supernatural elements or foul play at work. There is a central narrative path to follow, though even if you pore over all of the intriguing newspaper clippings, handwritten letters, and other optional documents, the story comes to a close in three hours. The final chapters are somewhat abrupt, and while certain elements–like the character arc of Edward–are satisfying to see come to their natural end, it feels as though there’s too much left undone. My laundry list of questions upon finishing the game would be a frustrating final takeaway, were it not for the joy of watching Edward and Lissie evolve, running the gamut of serene to terrifying moments, and ultimately echoing one of Edward’s final utterances: “I almost wish we had more time to dig into the history of Graavik.”

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Leaving questions unanswered doesn’t present a failure in the narrative, but rather the notion that Graavik feels like a town with so much more to say, whose inhabitants deserve to have more of their stories told. It’s a theme the game vocalizes through Lissie’s dialogue several times, and yet it rarely provides concrete answers as to what precisely happened in the town. In this way, leaving Graavik behind is disappointing–but more significantly, that feeling is a hallmark of how fascinating the world and its characters are. Graavik is beautiful and unforgettable, and the joy in watching Edward and Lissie grow and change is the core of Draugen’s success in character building and writing. The puzzle pieces of the central mysteries you can slot together are satisfying, and the picture they begin to create is truly captivating, even if you are left wishing you could see just a bit more of it.

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