I’m Facing Hell

HIGH Solving most of the puzzles without having to dial for help.

LOW Getting stuck at the end, despite a simple solution.

WTF Down to Earth by Ozzy Osbourne was a real inspiration!

Throughout history, masterpieces that use allegories in tandem with elegantly-woven narrative — like John Milton’s Paradise Lost or T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland — are timeless. But can that same staying power in narrative also be found in games?

The tale of Strangeland, while not particularly difficult to decipher as a whole, does make use of allegories, most of which may not be entirely revealed through play. It’s the second point-and-click adventure by Primordia developers Wormwood Studio, born out of a game jam, gone on to require almost four years of development. The writing employs rich classic (and some less classic) literary oeuvres and Norse mythology. The overall narrative touches on the inevitability of loss and death, coming to terms with one’s own limits, and trying to help the Stranger — the protagonist — come out of a malevolent, spiraling hole of depression and self-doubt.

Visually, Strangeland is heavily influenced by psychological horror adventure of the ’90s, such as Sanitarium and Darkseed, even though the lion’s share of inspiration comes from the latter and its overall Giger-esque look. This style of visual is among my favorite, so I was on board from the moment I glanced upon the trailer, especially with its ‘malignant carnival’ motif on full display throughout.

It’s a short game that clocks in between five to six hours, which makes sense as it feels like a ‘smaller’ adventure with limited environments and only a handful of characters to talk to. The puzzles are mostly straightforward (one of the more mysterious ones involves finding a phone number with minimal clues to go on) and the developers have done a great service by implementing a full hint system.

I can’t share many specifics about the narrative for fear of spoiling such a brief experience, my impression is that some may feel – at times – like being led down an obscure path made up of broken images, with Strangeland requiring players to dig into the overall significance of every single reference, in order to get the most out of it. By doing so, the purpose of the Stranger’s journey will become clearer and ultimately reveal what the narrative’s relationship with the player was meant to be. As such, those awaiting a big narrative twist might, indeed, be let down by what is ultimately a personal tale, as opposed to an average horror narrative.

If that’s the case, my suggestion is to go through the game again while listening to the exhaustive commentary track from the devs. By using this key, it’s possible to decipher all of the images and realize just how much emotion and effort was put into each single detail. Ultimately, this is an adventure that goes beyond the intrinsic value of its references, managing to touch upon human emotions and feelings, filtered through what reveal themselves to be something grander than just plain scary images.

Would I recommend Strangeland? Yes I would, especially to players willing to expand their boundaries and go beyond the general concept of what a videogame story is. The obscure, allegorical journey of the Stranger is not a typical adventure game for fans of the genre, but ultimately an experience that will amply reward those who come to it with an open mind. Will it prove as enduring as the great literary works? Only time will tell.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Wormwood Studio and published by Wadjet Eye. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it contains moderate violence and several horrific images. Even though there is no blood and guts, nor salty language, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under 18.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue in the game is subtitled, along with the commentary track. Text cannot be altered or resized. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. In my view, the game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: There is no control diagram. the game is controlled via the mouse with some additional keyboard shortcuts. The controls are not remappable.

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