by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
CLAUSTROPHOBIA AND EXPANSE
I love Norway. I’ve only ever had the fortune to visit twice, but both times I was absolutely blown away by the dramatic scenery and the fjords I was able to visit. In fact the only thing I didn’t like about Norway was how expensive it was. So when I heard about Draugen, a game which has been dubbed fjord-noir, I was incredibly excited. Norway (and perhaps all of Scandinavia) provide a unique setting for mystery and tension. There is a sense of loneliness in the more deserted parts of Scandinavia, but there is also a unique combination of claustrophobia and expanse. At one moment you may be walking through closed woodland, or inside a cosy cabin, but the you can emerge onto an epic vista stretching far away into the distance. This combination is so perfect for building tension, so I was really hopeful that Draugen, as a mystery game, would capture it.
And in many ways it is successful, being such a beautifully scenic, and authentically Norwegian game. In Draugen you play as Edward, who accompanied by his sidekick, Lissie, has come to a small Norwegian town in the 1920s in the hopes of finding his wayward sister. In typical style, the story begins with you approaching the town in a rowing boat, down the fjord, and as you arrive you proceed to uncover the mysteries of the small, mysteriously deserted town.
Once you arrive, the central focus of the game seems to shift from finding your sister, to working out what has happened in the small town. The game is effectively a walking simulator, but I wasn’t a huge fan of how it was gated. Good gating is Firewatch for example, a game which stops you going into sections by putting terrain in the way, so you must first acquire the necessary upgrades. But Draugen just literally stops you at farm gates, with a little cross in the UI, which is a little immersion breaking. At the same time, the mystery starts to feel very cliched right off the bat, dead children, a town curse, a mine, a mysterious artifact — it all feels very predictable. And the horror sections I did experience, slamming doors, faces at the window- it’s all typical stuff.
The best thing to say for Draugen is how beautiful the game is, and how authentically Norwegian it feels. The developers also do accomplish that sense of claustrophobia and expanse which is what I feel makes Norway so unique as a location. But in many ways it’s a shame we didn’t have Norwegian characters (or any other characters) than just the somewhat mismatched pair of Americans we do get. There’s not much to say about Edward, he is bookish and short, and contrasts with Lissie in the sense that she is an outgoing tomboy, eager to investigate the world. But I honestly found Lissie quite irritating, however much I wish it wasn’t the case, partly because half of her character seems to be as much regurgitated 1920s slang as is possible. And honestly, something feels weird about Lissie in general, since their relationship is not explained or established.
At the same time, she is incredibly self-righteous about everything, almost to the point of contradiction, something which is not helped by the mechanic when if you don’t look at her as she’s talking to you, she will complain and start over again. I was just trying to look at the beautiful scenery and I am being forced to listen to repeated dialogue.
I wanted to get behind Draugen so much, as someone who loves walking simulators, and loves Norway. But I just didn’t find it gripping — while the setting is unique and captures the beauty of Norway, what I experienced of the central mystery felt cliched, and the two central characters, especially Lissie, felt like 1920s caricatures. I think perhaps an opportunity was missed in giving the game Norwegian characters. If you like walking simulators, and mysteries, you may get a kick out of Draugen, worth a look-up in either case.
Beautiful scenery, great sense of claustrophobia and expanse
Mystery feels cliched, bad gating, I found Lissie annoying