Game

Review: “Fjord Noir” Draugen is Lonely, Haunting, and Gorgeous

Screenshot: Draugen

I love adventure games, and the folks at Red Thread Games have a pretty impressive adventure game pedigree with titles like Dreamfall Chapters, with some at Red Thread making adventure games since 1999’s The Longest Journey—a personal favorite of mine. And while a game like Draugen can be labelled a “walking simulator”—a term that has negative connotations—it’s a beautifully haunting adventure game at its core.

Screenshot: Draugen

Draugen is a first person adventure game set in 1920’s Norway. It’s a slow, pastoral game set in a small village on the coast, with beautiful mountains looming overhead. The setting is idyllic, and often striking. In Fact, Draugen is probably one of the prettiest games I’ve played all year. It’s also pretty unsettling.

Screenshot: Draugen

While not strictly a horror game, Draugen is surreal—like walking around in a dream, or a nightmare. You play as Edward, or “Teddy,” as his companion Alice calls him. And boy does she love to toss around her era appropriate nicknames, like “old fruit” and “Teddy bear, old boy,” etc.

Screenshot: Draugen

Arriving by boat, Edward and Alice’s goal is to find Edward’s sister, Betty, whose journalism career somehow brought her to the sleepy village of Graavik. When you arrive, your hosts are nowhere to be found, nor is Betty.  In fact, the entire town of Graavik is seemingly abandoned. Edward and Alice are big city Americans in small town Norway, and while not fluent in the local language, Edward knows enough to navigate around, and piece together what transpired.

Screenshot: Draugen

Exploring Graavik, and finding letters, journals, and other items will slowly uncover the mystery of what transpired.  Even so, nothing is really quite as it seems. You’ll be experiencing the game through Edward’s eyes, but Edward isn’t the most reliable of narrators.

Screenshot: Draugen

There isn’t much in the way of gameplay in Draugen beyond walking, the occasional dialogue options, and finding objects to move the story forward. You can run, interact with certain objects, etc. If you lose sight of Alice you can call for her, and she’ll answer you—and the game will show you which direction she’s in. But a game like Draugen isn’t about the gameplay, or even traditional puzzles, it’s about its narrative.

Screenshot: Draugen

Despite its crushing sense of loneliness, Alice is with Edward through the majority of the journey. Alice is impish, and carefree: Edward’s foil.  Edward looks as dour as they come, with the countenance of a corpse, while Alice is young, vibrant, curious and even slightly playful. While the nature of their relationship is not clear from the start, you come to learn how much Edward cares about Alice, and what kind of dependency he has on her.

Screenshot: Draugen

Draugen deals heavily with themes of loss and loneliness with a touch of mental health, though these aren’t the central focus of the game. In fact, Draugen doesn’t really have a focus beyond its unsettling but picturesque setting and the mystery therein. And, while I don’t want to spoil the story, a lot of the resolution is up to the player’s interpretation: little is laid out in a concrete way.

Screenshot: Draugen

If I do have one complaint about Draugen is that it’s extremely short.  I was able to play through Draugen in a couple of short play sessions, and it can probably be finished in a single sitting. But despite its length, it has an interesting story to tell—one that’s stuck with me. Draugen has secured a place in my head, and for much longer than most games have, despite its short length. I can’t stop thinking about it.

If you like tight experiences that will keep you hooked from beginning to end, Draugen is perfectly digestible.  Beautiful and haunting with a compelling mystery and a novel setting, Draugen is worth checking out for adventure game fans.

 

Draugen is available now on Steam.

 

 

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