Review – The Wreck
Trauma affects everyone at some point in their lives. There are a wide variety of traumatic situations that one could experience in their lifetime: domestic abuse, childhood neglect, drug addiction, an unexpected death, etc. The fact of the matter is that everyone, even those with a seemingly better lot in life, will experience trauma eventually. It shapes us and defines how we go about dealing with the rest of the world from then on. But what happens when you leave your trauma unchecked? Will you be able to function normally, or will it swallow you whole? These are the themes that are explored in The Wreck from indie developer, The Pixel Hunt.
As you’ve probably surmised, The Wreck is not a happy game. We follow Junon, a failed screenplay writer, who is at the hospital to visit her estranged mother after an an accident has put her in critical condition. While debating on whether or not to actually see her mother, Junon engages with several other important people from her life, which bring back a host of memories. Can Junon repair the broken relationships from her past, or will she continue to keep everyone at a distance?
The Wreck is essentially a 3D, interactive visual novel. There isn’t a whole lot in terms of gameplay, other than selecting dialogue options. Occasionally, when speaking to someone or going through Junon’s internal monologue, certain words will be highlighted in red. You can select one of the words to explore further, which gives a bit more insight into that specific aspect of Junon’s musings. Even then, the options don’t feel like they have any sort of major impact on the story. From what I could tell, it seems like regardless of what you choose, the story will still progress as intended. I might be wrong, and certain options might yield different outcomes, but I’m not going through it again to find out. I’ve already experienced enough heartache from just the one playthorugh, thank you very much.
There is one other gameplay feature in The Wreck: the ability to rewind and fast forward through time during Junon’s memories. This is an interesting idea, that unfortunately didn’t get developed fully enough. At first, going back and forth between moments in time throughout her memories seemed like it was going to add more depth to the gameplay. I thought that I would need to comb through her memories carefully to hopefully spot some hidden detail that would reveal more of the story.
Instead, there are no hidden points to potentially miss; you just run through the memories until you uncover all of the points of interest. Controlling the flow of time has little to do with your success in uncovering the truth. I feel like this was a missed opportunity, as that would have amped up the intrigue and given The Wreck an element of puzzle solving.
Visually, The Wreck is a bit of a mixed bag. Its art design is unique, which is pleasant to look at for the most part. The style is very simplistic, but with some nice details added in to some of the character models during their more extended interactions. The camera viewpoint changes frequently during cutscene, making The Wreck feel like playing a graphic novel at times. However, during the memory sections where you can go back and forth in time, the details drop significantly, making those sections look far less polished than the present day storyline.
Also, it features a stylistic display where often times the edges are blurred and the colors separate, which I found to be pretty distracting. I had that same issue with Little Orpheus, where I felt I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the world and characters because my eyes kept darting the outer sections that looked “off”. This design choice doesn’t seem to have much purpose, and doesn’t fit with the overall tone of The Wreck. For me, it detracted from the immersion of the game.
Thankfully, the sound design fares much better. The soundtrack is serviceable, albeit not terribly memorable. It evokes the proper emotions when needed, but without taking away from the impact of the dialogue. This might have been a conscious choice, and if so, I think it was the right one. The vocal performances in The Wreck are strong all around. When the subject matter gets heavy and tempers are flaring, you can really hear the anger, passion, and pain in the actor’s voices. They truly sold the roles of a family torn apart by grief.
The Wreck is definitely not a game for everyone. Admittedly, it’s pretty tough to get through, for a variety of reasons. It has a somewhat slow start, which might turn some people off. It also covers several mature topics and themes, such as grief, death, self-harm, and toxic relationships. However, for those who love a compelling narrative, The Wreck has that in spades. Once you get to know the characters better and certain reveals are made, you won’t want to stop playing. I fully admit that there were a couple moments that made me cry, and I don’t cry easily. Even after a few gut punches, I had to keep going, just to see how it all ended. The Wreck might have its flaws, but it provides an experience that’s guaranteed to stick with you.
The art design has its own unique style, which is pleasant, albeit very simplistic. The blurring and separation of colors around the edges of the screen proved to be pretty distracting.
Being essentially an interactive visual novel, there’s not a whole lot in terms of gameplay. The one interesting gimmick was being able to rewind and fast forward through time, but even this didn’t stop it from being a linear experience.
The soundtrack was serviceable, if not terribly memorable. Fortunately, there were some wonderful vocal performances all around.
Fun Factor: 7.5
I wouldn’t classify The Wreck as a “fun” game, but it definitely provides a memorable experience. The story starts off a bit slow, but as more is revealed, the more compelling it gets. Be prepared for numerous gut punches.
Final Verdict: 6.0
The Wreck is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PC with i7-9700k, RTX 2070, 16GB RAM.
A copy of The Wreck was provided by the publisher.