Sometimes it just takes a good story to warm the heart, to create a deep sense of empathy and make us feel close to the characters. No need for the latest technological discoveries to create amazement, nor the proverbial smoke in the eyes that attracts so much and does not take root. Sometimes, even a minimalist game system, not challenging and functional to the story alone, may suffice. Sometimes games are simply enough developed by a dozen people, able to tell us and involve us more than a huge team could do. Draugen of Red Thread Games is the noir-mystery that you don’t expect, the psychological story with implications from a Scandinavian novel that knows how to surprise.
Draugen is set in 1923, in an abandoned village in Norway. Edward Charles Hardenhe is an American traveler who, accompanied by a sparkling, talkative and enigmatic girl named Elizabeth, arrives by boat on the coast of the village in search of his missing sister. Nestled between the fjords and mountains of rural Norway, the coastal community seems to have disappeared into thin air: there are no traces of life in the whole area and the person with whom Edward had an exchange of letters is not there to welcome him. When he decides to enter the house and poke his nose into furniture, paintings and family documents, disturbing details come to the surface. Two twin brothers and mining partners also married two twin sisters, from whom they had children. There, near the mine, something happened that it would be better to keep hidden.
All the details discovered by Edward could be directly linked to the disappearance of his sister, whose clothes are scattered here and there in different parts of the village, like bread crumbs that lead to the right place. So far, Draugen may seem like a game like many others, a title with a history that is not exactly one of the most original, which it already knows about. And instead, beneath the picturesque surface lie truths that go beyond what has happened in that isolated place, but are of direct interest to the protagonist, his mental state and the silent battle that comes alive in the depths of the his conscience.
For those who have no problem with the English-speaking language (the game is not translated into our language) and are ready to face a fair amount of dialogues, considerations between characters and texts, they will have as reward a intense story, sometimes raw and dramatic; a parable about the difficulty of accepting an ominous destiny and about the repercussions that terrible accidents can have on the psyche and on the modus operandi of men.
Throughout the game you will not encounter other characters except your adventures companion Elizabeth, so the developers have decided to implement a dynamic dialog system that allows you to choose answers based on the deductions you make. The options that appear overlay after a few seconds will tend to fade and eventually disappear altogether, which is why, as happens in reality, you will not be able to dwell beyond what is due. It is essentially identical to that seen in Oxenfree and offers the possibility of deciding, according to personal insights, what the details of the story are. It’s a way to replay Draugen, which lasts about five or six hours at most, and to find out the answers to questions that will continue to buzz in your head even after you finish it.
Having said that, Draugen is little more than a walking simulator: there are no real puzzles, everything is rather guided, the roads to follow are univocal and without crossroads and the village is really tiny. It consists of a church, a shop down the center, some abandoned house, a mine and the main villa. And of course, from the artistic point of view everything is beautifully represented, giving a credible snapshot of the cold and unspoiled beauty of Norway. The comings and goings between one place and another, together with the twists that will force you to examine new details, manage to fill the obvious shortcomings, but it is clear that the most demanding players will not be able to pass over the absence of a true and its own gameplay limited only to obligatory interactions.
It is therefore up to you to understand if Draugen is a work suited to your tastes, if you consider the story above all as the boys of Red Thread Games consider it, committed from their debut to focus on the beauty of the plots. Technically Draugen is an average work, with no particular flashes or obvious bass. However, there are unconvincing facial expressions of the co-star, who shows off looks in the void that do not help immersing herself too much in her shoes, and also a bug near the main villa that does not allow to move on the garden walkways that lead to the empty farmhouses. Beyond that, Draugen deserves your attention for what it can do on a narrative level; both as it is written, and for how the density of the texts avoids making volume and that’s it. On the contrary, you will feel from the beginning entering the story, with the right rhythms of a short novel.