Review – Draugen

Walking simulators are a tough type of game to get right. With little to no gameplay elements other than walking, running, or interacting with objects, the game needs to be strong in a lot of other areas to keep players entertained. Games like SOMA, The Stanley Parable, Through the Woods, and Infliction were able to keeps players invested throughout their experience. On the other end of the spectrum were titles like Tacoma, ELEA: Paradigm Shift, and the disastrous Flowers Are Dead, which failed to impress in just about every way. The question now is which end of the spectrum does Draugen sit?

In Draugen you play as an American naturalist named Edward, who is accompanied by a spirited young girl named Lissie. You’re on a mission to find your sister, Betty, a journalist who went missing while investigating a small Norwegian fishing town called Graavik. Upon arriving you’ll find that the whole town appears to be deserted and the mystery surrounding what happened to its inhabitants, as well as your sister, becomes your obsession. Believe me, I’m actually making this sound more interesting than it really is.

Draugen

Ask permission first.

The gameplay is exactly what you would expect from a walking sim: walk, run, and interact with objects. That’s it. Although, when you pick up an item you’ll have to press the button again to actually interact with it. This is understandable when you have an item that you can do several different things with, like a book where you can choose to turn the page, read the current one, or take it with you. However, this game makes you press the button again even if there are no other options to choose from. If you want to look at a painting, you click on it, it zooms in, and then you have to click “Look” in order to actually look at it. Why? This isn’t gameplay, it’s superfluous button mashing.

Draugen moves at a glacial pace and instead encourages you to take your time observing your surroundings. I will give this game credit; it’s absolutely gorgeous. At first I had no problem with thoroughly inspecting every drawing and newspaper clipping within each room of the house. The landscapes as well as the village itself are beautifully rendered and look like something you would actually see in Norway in the 1920’s. Simon Poole’s musical score is hauntingly beautiful and sets the tone perfectly for a lonely and desolate town plagued by tragedy.

Draugen

Simon Poole’s main theme music is playable on the piano in the house.

The voice acting for Edward and Lissie are stellar. They truly capture the full range of emotions their characters are going through. They even have frequent banter back and forth that feels natural. Lissie is one of the rare video game companions that never annoyed me. She feels very much like her own person and doesn’t get you stuck in doorways like most other video game NPCs. The character animations, especially Lissie’s, are very well done and believable. For example, if you look away from her while she’s giving important dialogue she’ll reprimand you and say, “look at me while I’m talking to you!” This is a nice little trait that helps to keep you more immersed in the moment.

Draugen

Lissie’s mad at me because I wandered off while she was talking.

The problem is the wonder you’ll experience doesn’t last long as the thrills and intrigue just never truly take off. Draugen is an ambitious game that tries to take on some serious subject matter, but feels like it never fully commits to it. The final “twist” is glaringly obvious even from the beginning of the game. Honestly, I would have preferred for the twist to have occurred at the beginning of the game so we could have played it through that perspective.

By far the most disappointing aspect to this game is that the more interesting storylines and mysteries surrounding the village are mostly left unanswered. After a certain point, they’re mainly swept into the background as your focus stays on finding your sister. Not to sound heartless, but I never really cared for Betty as much as I did for the little girl of the house.

Draugen

She’s quite the little artist.

Draugen feels like it doesn’t really know what kind of a game it wants to be. A walking sim obviously, but at times it feels like its leaning more towards an investigative game, other times a horror game, and sometimes even a supernatural thriller. I use the term “thriller” loosely here because it is certainly no thrill ride. The whole game seems like it was building up to something really grand and sinister, but then cops out for a cheap ending instead. It feels rushed, like perhaps they ran out of money before finishing it and had to simply close it off.

It’s a shame because there are some really good elements in here and hints of a much stronger tale to be told. Maybe if it had been developed longer or had better funding, more of the story surrounding the village and its citizens would have been better fleshed out. The game itself is only about three hours long, so it could have definitely benefited from some extra chapters. As it stands, Draugen is a beautiful borefest that is better left abandoned.

 

Graphics: 9.0

This is an absolutely gorgeous game that truly captures the look of an older Norway. The character animations are very well done.

Gameplay: 5.0

As with typical walking sims, you’ll walk, run, and interact with objects. Having to click a button to further interact with an item you’ve just picked up feels cumbersome and unnecessary.

Sound: 10

The voice acting is superb, as is Simon Poole’s musical score.

Fun Factor: 2.0

Draugen moves at a glacial pace the entire time. The story tries to throw twists at you, but you’ll see them coming a mile away. Many of the more interesting mysteries are left unsolved.

Final Verdict: 5.5

Draugen is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Draugen was provided by the publisher.