This is quite possibly the first time I have ever seen a game set primarily in Norway, and not just regular Norway, but 1920s Norway. Draugen is a walking simulator that takes full advantage of this setting, providing an interesting mystery to be solved. However, it does falter in doing so, in more than just one area.
Interesting mystery. Given that Draugen is a walking simulator, having a good story is a must. Fortunately, it does pretty good on this front, providing a mystery that, while simple in its structure, did keep me interested throughout. Over the course of the game’s two hour runtime, you’ll piece together scraps of paper, photographs, landmarks, and other smaller clues as you try to figure out just what happened in this small town. It’s definitely a piecemeal approach, but it does a good job at only revealing bits of information at a time, preventing any sort of info-dumping. The result is a mystery that keeps you involved throughout, even if it does have some problems (more on that later).
Great atmosphere. A large part of why the mystery works so well is that the game makes excellent use of its atmosphere. In fact, the story here simply wouldn’t be as good without the atmosphere to match. It takes place in a small town in 1920s Norway, a setting we rarely see in the medium, or any medium for that matter. On top of that, it also has a great soundtrack, nice environments, and some pretty cool weather effects. All of this works together with the game’s overall sense of unease to provide an atmosphere that really fits the type of story being told.
Lack of substance. The main issue with Draugen is that it simply lacks substance. Sure, it’s supposed to be a shorter experience, clocking in at just two hours, but even then, it still felt like it could have been more. Take the environments for example. You’re given this town full of buildings and areas to explore, but you only ever visit each area once or twice. You arrive at a new building or some other area, interact with it a couple times, and move on after it has served its story purpose. A bunch of story threads are opened up in the process, but some of these remain unsolved by the end of it.
The developers were obviously full of ideas when crafting the story, but it really felt like they weren’t given the time and/or budget to properly explore all of them. Of course, this leaves us with a story that barely scrapes the surface of the mystery hinted at throughout. I’m not one to complain about what a game could have been, but when it leads to a hollow experience like this, it’s definitely a problem worth noting.
Annoying characters. Draugen may have an interesting mystery behind it, but the characters exploring that mystery can be quite annoying. The main culprit here is a character by the name Lissie, the girl that travels with you throughout the story. She does have some value to the story, but at times, she acts in ways that either kill immersion or simply make the experience not as fun. For example, she is very thin-skinned and at one point goes off on a rant that interrupts the flow the story, taking me out of the mystery I was just solving to deal with her issues instead. Granted, this is how the character was designed and she does play a big role in the story, but when it interrupts the flow of said story, it does become a bit annoying.
However, it wasn’t just her, the main protagonist was also a bit frustrating at times, although for a much better reason. His actions are largely driven by feelings, rather than logic, which leads to a lot of bad decision-making. That’s normally fine, but it also leads to some story threads going unresolved simply because he doesn’t want to explore them.
Really, the main issue here is that the game does little to develop these characters, so there’s very little reason for the player to empathize with them. As a result, they just come off as flat and outright annoying at times.
Stiff animation. Although the game may look good elsewhere, one issue that I noticed right off the bat was just how stiff the animations are, particularly with faces. The game opens with one of the characters giving a bit of dialogue and the odd facial animations are immediately noticeable. Not only is the lip syncing off, but the facial expressions just look lifeless. Fortunately, you won’t be spending too much time looking at these animations, but when you do, it does detract from the immersion a bit.
For a walking simulator, the story is pretty interesting (even if simplistic), but it still feels like it’s lacking substance. Combine that with the lackluster characters and stiff animation and you’re left with an overall experience that falls just short of being decent. Given the incredibly short length on top of that, it becomes really hard to recommend it for purchase on its own. This is definitely the type of game I would wait to be bundled before checking out.
You can buy Draugen on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.