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Draugen review for PS4, Xbox One


Platform: PS4
Also on: PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Red Thread Games
Developer: Red Thread Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: T

If nothing else, Draugen’s creators have pretty solid taste. The game is an artsy walking simulator, and it borrows liberally from some of the very best games the genre has to offer: there’s a bit of Dear Esther here, a dash of Gone Home there, and a helping of What Remains of Edith Finch to top it all off. Given that those are some of my all-time favourite games, it would only make sense if I loved Draugen, too.

Unfortunately, I didn’t. I mean, I didn’t hate it by any means, but I’m quite certain that, in a couple of years, I won’t be looking back at it with the same reverence I have for games like Edith Finch or Gone Home.

A big part of the problem is that it never feels like more than a collection of influences. You can see Dear Esther in the basic premise — a man (and in this case, his companion) exploring a remote island to solve a mystery. You search through the house and learn that something isn’t right while piecing together the story — that would be Gone Home. You discover that there’s a “curse” that’s impacted everyone on the island — that feels a lot like What Remains of Edith Finch. There are also a couple of pretty significant twists (that I’ll get into in a moment) that, while not necessarily taken directly from another game, feel a little too formulaic to have the shock value Draugen clearly intended. That’s not necessarily taken from another specific game, but it still doesn’t feel particularly original.

It doesn’t help that the world doesn’t feel all that lived in. Everything looks and feels a little too sterile, and not in a good way. The game limits what you can and can’t interact with, and it feels a little random, since some of the objects you can touch don’t really add anything to the story. There are invisible walls everywhere, anything more than a step is barely traversable, and the character you’re controlling moves awkwardly. If the whole point of the game is its immersive story, it’s a little self-defeating to throw all these barriers in your way that take you out of the immersion.

Mind you, the game isn’t helped by the fact that the story isn’t great. Even before the big twists — which again, I’ll get to in a moment, and which I’m holding off discussing for spoiler reasons — everything feels flat and lifeless, perhaps because all of it seems so derivative of other, better games.

And as for those twists — one last spoiler alert! — they aren’t that shocking, and because the story is so derivative, you can spot them coming a mile away. The sister that the main character is searching for? She’s been dead the whole time. And the companion? Just a figment of his imagination. Even if you don’t have issues with how Draugen portrays mental illness, it still all feels like a big cop-out, as if the game came up with a cool premise and then had no idea how to flesh it out further.

Because it certainly is a cool premise. Draugen starts off really well, between the mysterious island and the search for the missing sister. On top of that, the island feels truly dead, as if no one could possibly live there — which, admittedly, morphs into that aforementioned sterility once you realize there’s not much more to the game than what you see, but at first it’s genuinely creepy. Likewise, the voice acting is okay, too — not incredible by any stretch, but I’ve heard worse, even if it starts feeling a little silly post-twist.

But it’s really hard to enjoy Draugen when it all feels like it’s a collection of nods to other, better games. A game shouldn’t make you want to play other games, yet most of the time I spent with Draugen I was wondering about whether it was too soon to go back and play Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch. If you’ve never played those before, this won’t seem nearly as derivative — but that’s more an argument for playing those other games than it is for playing Draugen.

Red Thread Games provided us with a Draugen PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: B-