Genre: Adventure    

Developer & Publisher:  Wormwood Studios/WadjetEye Games              

Released: May 25, 2021             

Requirements: Operating System, Windows 7, 8 and 10 or XP SP2

Processor: Dual Core or above (can run on single core)

Memory:  2 GB RAM

Graphics: Direct 3D, Open GL

DirectX: Version 5

Storage: 2 GB available space







By flotsam



Wormwood Studios / WadjetEye Games

Born from a seed of sadness, and inspired by the likes of Goya, Ray Bradbury and Mervyn Peak (not to mention Eraserhead and Sanitarium) this is a strange and captivating land indeed.

You ‘wake’ on a floating walkway that leads to a surreal ‘funhouse’ carnival. A riddling head and a lolling tongue beckons you in, so you do. Where a golden haired woman throws herself to her death, which she will do again. Its all your fault you are told. Determined to somehow intervene, your endeavour begins, but who will save who?

Self described as psychological horror, its an apt description. Not in the sense that it induces terror, but in its conveyance of the horrible things which can occur in life, and how they can become horrific. Loss looms large, as does grief and self-loathing. As the makers say, the horror genre allows those themes to be confronted and given expression head-on.

There is other stuff the makers say, and I will borrow more as I write this review. I recommend that you check it out, either through their page or the Steam store page. Its well worth it.

(Or better yet, turn on the in-game commentary and annotation options. The game itself recommends you don’t do this the first time, so I didn’t, but I have started again and both are fascinating. More about these later).

Allegory abounds, and the game draws you into thinking about that. The struggles of your character are about more than simply solving the next puzzle or accessing the next area; his self awareness grows as he progresses through the landscape.

I couldn’t describe the visual world of Strangeland in any way that would do it justice. Forced to try, I would say its Giger-esque in nature, exhibiting a similar richness and stark fluidity. The grotesque is significant, but doesn’t overwhelm. In building the world, space and emptiness is used to great effect, the whole thing enhanced by the (very) limited colours and tones.

But don’t listen to me, go check out the screenshots.

Puzzling abounds, and is one of the many highpoints. At the macro level, it reflects that belief we have – a belief that is driven by the enormity of the failed consequence - that you can solve anything if only you try hard enough. There is also a symbolism in many solutions that mimic or are indicative of the broader themes of the game.

At the level of each puzzle, they offer a variety of intuitive challenges, some (perhaps more than I am aware of) capable of being solved in other ways that better suit the player. By way of a slightly spoiler example, one involves a shooting gallery. Do it as is, or perhaps don’t.

Most involve finding and using items, while some are more like straight out puzzles. You will have to work out ways to craft certain implements, and I liked the way that particular conundrum was constructed. It’s a multi-part solution, drawing on different bits and pieces and some lateral thinking. Its not the only example.

Help is at hand via a telephone booth in the entrance. You might get chided if you come back too soon, or if the subtle hint remains beyond you, but it will move you on. It’s a mix of hints and solutions, and you don’t determine which, so perhaps use it sparingly. Or maybe not. Its up to you.

The same phone rings not infrequently, and the voice on the other end will remind you of your failings and flaws. And all sorts of other things about who and what and maybe where you are.

Strangeland is littered with memorable characters, whatever the reason you might remember them. Talking ravens, an eyeless scribe, a sentient blast furnace and a tumescent legged teratoma to name a few. Most are intriguing, none are boring. Many are helpful - riding a white cicada will get you somewhere you need to be – and all add something to the sum of the parts.

Then there is the Dark Thing, the game’s ‘big bad’, sitting up there at the peak of the park.

You can’t die, or rather you can but you just get re-animated back where you first woke up. Some deaths are by misadventure, others not so much and at least one was deliberate. There weren’t a lot of them, so don’t be put off.

Sound-wise it’s everything you would expect from a polished piece of adventure gaming. The voices, the effects, the score; nothing disappoints. Read more about the sound at one of the early commentary points.

Which I said I would say more about so here goes.

Turning commentary on generates ‘signposts’ throughout the game. Hover the mouse to get a short description of the particular topic. Click it and one of the makers will tell you more about it, sometimes in great detail. Turning on the annotations will generate pop up ‘footnotes’ at various points with respect to some game element. It might unpack the riddle of the talking head, or explain the nuances of a raven’s utterances.

I am not fully through my second play, but I can say without doubt that both are excellent. They add layers to an already rich tapestry.

More mundanely, the game autosaves very generously but you can save whenever you like should you want to do so. Its all point and click, and your cursor will glow when it comes across an active hotspot. Left or right click, which might elicit a different response but left click will likely be your stock in trade. Bring up your inventory with the ‘I’ key, and click any item to use it in the game world or combine with another item. My mouse wheel also scrolled through inventory items, enabling me to stop on one and then attempt to use it. Moving the mouse to the top of screen pulls up the menu.

There is a lot of stillness in each screen but it in no way detracts from the experience. Some screens slide left and/or right as your character approaches so be sure to move him around or you may miss an exit or two.

You have a choice at the end, and I have generated three different endings thus far. The game will save for you just before that point, putting different choices at hand. Another plus.

I could say more, but really, just go play. You will be well rewarded.

I played on:

OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit

Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz

RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB

Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB

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