There’s certainly something to be said for a good old fashioned, slow burning mystery. Neatly filling that niche is Draugen, the latest console bound effort from Red Thread Games, the same talented folks that brought us the sublimely entertaining episodic adventure Dreamfall Chapters. Set against the beautiful backdrop of 1920s Norway, Draugen weaves an enrapturing first-person adventure that deftly blends psychological trauma with Norse legend and mythology in a way that is surprisingly unique.
Draugen PS4 Review
Fear And Loathing In Norway – How Draugen Weaves An Affecting Psychological Mystery
Accompanied by his bubbly and energetic travelling companion Alice, players are thrust into the well-kept shoes of American traveller Edward Charles Harden, as they venture to Graavik, an idyllic Norwegian coastal town nestled in a picturesque fjord with the intention to rescue his long lost sister, Elizabeth.
From the beginning, Draugen leaves the player in no doubt as to the sort of pace the rest of the game will employ. Kicking things off in rather pedestrian fashion, Draugen has you slowly plodding up a hillside, while melancholic strings pluck away in the background soundtrack as you occasionally stop to take in the majestic vistas that have unfurled in front of your eyes.
And this, broadly speaking, is Draugen’s modus operandi through and through – a slow burning, Sunday afternoon of a detective yarn that does not demand any sudden action or trained muscle memory on the part of the player. Simply sit yourself down, prepare yourself a nice warm drink and let Draugen wash over you like an irresistibly melancholic shower of mood affecting rain.
Certainly then, a big reason why Draugen is so keenly effective is in its all-pervading atmosphere that is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. From the stirring Nordic serenade that serves as its menu music, to the hauntingly realized costal town and surrounding rural areas that provide the main backdrop upon which Draugen’s story unfolds, this is one adventure that wastes no time in fully immersing the player in its tale.
In terms of how Draugen actually plays, this is a title that arguably owes more of a debt to a ‘walking simulator’ like Dear Esther than perhaps anything else. To that end, the emphasis in Draugen is very much on exploration, discovering clues and letting the story unfold. There is no combat and the puzzles, such as they are, are not just extremely simple, but few and far between too. As such then, this very much goes back to the notion that Draugen is a Sunday afternoon of a game, the sort of genre effort that you can play to relax your trigger finger or wind down after a stressful day.
What is interesting however, is the way in which Edward interacts with elements in the environment and converses with his erstwhile companion, Alice. Whenever Edward interacts with a clue or is given a choice of dialogue options, additional context is provided to help you better decide on the correct course of action. It’s a small thing, granted, but it arguably helps to not just establish an understanding of the world at large, but also Edward’s state of mind, too.
Speaking of which, Edward’s psyche is ostensibly the bedrock upon which Draugen’s tale unfurls. Very much filling the role of the unreliable narrator, the player is left frequently guessing as to not just Edward’s true motives, but the veracity of his recollection of past events too, both of which combine to create a sense of unease in Draugen’s later acts. A nice touch is how Edward’s mental state is reflected by the weather, with clear sunny days representing an unclouded train of thought, while an almost impenetrable fog speaks to a confused and muddled psyche from which the truth rarely spills forth.
Anchoring Edward’s precarious mental state somewhat is his companion Alice. With a seemingly boundless imagination and an infectious charisma, Alice often helps to brighten up the scenario whilst acting as a neat counterpoint to Edward’s sombre, overly grounded observations and volatile emotional state.
Though An Atmospheric And Wonderfully Gripping Yarn, Draugen Suffers From Some Issues
Draugen then, is a thoroughly enjoyable sleuthing adventure with a psychological slant, however, with little or no challenge and coming in at just 3-4 hours long it can be beaten quickly, and outside of trophy hunting, doesn’t offer a wealth of reasons for players to return to it once the credits have completed their roll. Likewise, though Draugen is technically accomplished in many ways (the effective use of lighting and shadows to support its well-developed atmospherics proving especially impressive), it does suffer from a number flaws that detract from its otherwise polished audiovisual presentation.
For a start, Draugen appears to be plagued by a series of small visual glitches. In one instance, when I was inspecting a photograph, Edward beckons Alice over to look at said picture with him, except that when Alice walked across the room she nudged me into the wall behind the photograph from which I couldn’t escape (luckily, Draugen’s autosave is generous).
Further afield, another more frequent visual glitch sometimes has Edward’s dialogue and situational response choices appearing outside of the viewable screen boundary. Now, while you can pretty much guess what the seemingly missing button prompt you need press is (it’s only ever one button selection that gets cut out of the picture), it can still be a touch annoying – especially when you take into account just how polished Draugen is in other aspects of its design.
Draugen is a thrilling little mystery yarn that combines psychological and Nordic myth in a way that just hasn’t been done until now. With its unpredictable protagonist (and his equally surprising companion) and the rolling, haunting fjord which stands as one of the more memorable and evocative game worlds of recent times, Draugen is certainly worth the price of admission, modest length, minor warts and all.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.
Draugen releases for PS4 and Xbox One on February 21, 2020.