Not too long ago I reviewed Draugen on Steam (HERE), an interactive narrative-heavy adventure game which perfectly sucks you into the beautiful visuals and relaxing atmosphere of the isolated town of Graavik in Norway. However, due to the age of my hardware, the experience wasn’t perfect as I personally suffered from a few technical issues, pulling me out of the immersion at points and mildly affecting my enjoyment. This week I’ve been taking a look at this gorgeous thriller on the PS4 Pro, playing the experience how the developers intended it to be – an experience which was just as mesmerising and haunting as the first time I played it.
Coming from Red Thread Games, the studio behind the brilliant Dreamfall Chapters (which I also highly recommend to adventure game fans), Draugen is a game which will remain in your thoughts long after you’ve reached the end credits. The console version of this incredible adventure contains a few additional bonuses over the PC version, bonuses which I’ll get into later on as they are both very welcome additions to the experience.
So, come with me as I once again row down the fjord towards the small and private town of Graavik in hopes of being reunited with my sister once more…
You are Edward Harden, a man who is troubled by the recent disappearance of his sister, Elizabeth (Betty). Along with your young companion, Alice (Lissie), you set out to the isolated village of Graavik in order to search for her on the back of a letter you received advising you that she was there a few months ago. Together you arrive in town with the intentions of meeting up with your hosts and then questioning the townsfolk for more information, but what you discover is so much more than you could ever imagine.
Graavik is a ghost town, there appears to be nobody home – including your hosts. As such, you both take it upon yourself to explore the village yourself, looking for the ‘breadcrumbs’ which Betty has left you to prove she was there and is waiting for you to find her. However, you soon stumble upon another mystery, a set of tragic events which could explain what happened to the people who once lived there. So, whilst searching for Betty, you also set out to uncover the truth behind what had happened and piece together the chain of events during your short six-night stay in this picturesque land.
Some may say Draugen is a walking simulator, some may say it’s an adventure game, I personally refer to it as an interactive narrative adventure – it’s more interactive than a walking simulator and encourages you to go off the path and explore your surroundings in order to progress. Although only taking around four hours to complete, the experience is worth the asking price alone…
Seeing as Drauen is heavily focused on its narrative in order to push the story forward, you’ll be gently ‘pushed’ in the right direction via your perky companion, Alice. She’s always there to offer some sort of witty banter, clues, advice, or suggestions on what to do next. The game itself is split into six chapters, each one is effectively a day upon the island, with each day offering you a new goal or objective to investigate. You can ignore the calls of Alice and just go for a walk around the small village, taking pictures of the gorgeous landscapes and vistas, but she won’t be happy if you do!
As an adventure game, it’s up to you, Edward, to look at everything you find such as posters, writing, pictures, and objects. Some items will give you clues as to where to go next and others will simply unlock more banter between you and young Lissie (which is required for a trophy). There isn’t really any puzzle-solving as you’ll automatically ‘solve’ the few puzzles as long as you’ve already discovered the ‘answer’ elsewhere, it’s more a relaxing story where you’re along for the ride, watching as the events play out once you interact with things.
The game has a bit of replayability in that you are often given choices regarding what you wish to say, or how to respond to a situation. Unfortunately, the differences are limited to a different response from Alice and no change to the story in any way. I would have liked the game to branch off in different directions based upon my actions, but that never happened within Draugen – this is a shame as Dreamfall Chapters had a lot of branches and the story in that dramatically changed based upon the actions and path you decided to take.
The thing which stood out for me whilst playing Draugen was the interactions you have with Alice. By simply tapping the shoulder button you can call out for her and see where she is located, both visually via an indicator and audibly via her shouting to you. You can also use the mechanic to simply talk to her when she is nearby, providing witty banter and sarcastic comments throughout. The AI itself is quite playful, something I wrote about in my PC review – if you walk away from her whilst she’s talking then she’ll stop and ask you to return so she can continue – followed by a sigh of disappointment before she continues when you return. She’ll also get annoyed if you don’t look at her whilst she’s talking – something I’ve not really seen outside of VR.
The actual interactions and bond between the two main characters are really special. Edward is very anxious, upset, traumatised, depressed, and confused in regards to his reason for being on the island and the whereabouts of his sister. This is brilliantly played out as you get deeper into the story as he practically begins to break down due to his inability to catch up to her. His personality and persona is almost the opposite of Alice who is a happy, bubbly, outgoing, and carefree type of girl, trying her hardest to cheer you up and see the lighter side of things.
Although interactions with the environment and objects can be limited, each one is highly detailed and rich with lore and information. You can read newspapers, gather exposition from looking at photos, learn about the local events by reading posters, and even try to piece together the history via graves and carvings. I personally would have loved an L.A. Noire-style hand, where you can move it about and rotate the objects you pick up, but the brilliant voice acting and visuals make up for that.
Voice acting, Soundtrack and Visuals
Speaking of the voice acting – Draugen has some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in a while. Both Nicholas Boulton and Skye Bennett do an amazing job of bringing both Edward and Alice to life. It felt like there was a real connection in how these two delivered their lines, further enhancing the experience and the overall feeling of the game. There is a third voice actor, Jane Perry. She also did a fantastic job with her parts but she wasn’t as involved as the others (for reasons I won’t get into, because ‘spoilers’)…
The soundtrack for Draugen is mesmerising, beautiful, atmospheric, creepy and perfect for the experience the game is trying to deliver. I’m hoping that it becomes a buyable soundtrack on the PS4 once the game releases, if not then I’ll be heading over to Steam to pick it up there. If you took away all of the music then the game wouldn’t have as big of an impact as it does with the music playing – it’s an integral part of the experience.
After playing the game on both the PC and the PS4 Pro, I can honestly say that wherever you play it, Draugen is a work of art, it’s a masterpiece of visual eye-candy. The PC clearly looks better due to the abundance of visual options you have to play with, but the PS4 version isn’t that far off with its Depth of Field effects, soft pastel colours, realistic-looking textures, HQ assets, and gorgeous art design. The only thing I wanted, which would make the experience even more immerse, would be a PSVR version which lets you wander around the village as if you’re really there.
First of all, three’s a mode which is present on both PC and consoles (although I didn’t even realise it was on PC until I’ve just re-downloaded the game) – 1923 mode. The game is set in 1923 but it plays out in full colour, with bright and contrasting tones. However, we all know that back in the 1920s everyone was in black and white, right?! So, turning on this mode will make the entire game black and white with camera dust and degradation, as if you’re playing a cameraman or Edward has mini-cameras for his eyes which force him to see in monochrome.
This second bonus feature is listed as ‘coming soon’ on PC, so it may unlock when the console version goes live. It’s a short comic book which gives you the backstory of Edward before he ventures to Graavik in search of his sister. As this contains major spoilers to the game itself, it only unlocks once you’ve completed the story. I read through this last night and I thought it was a nice additional piece of information as it answered a few questions I had, I just hope we see more of these two in the future!
Thirdly, the game contains a new ‘soundtrack Mode’. This, for me, is brilliant as I’ve had it playing whilst writing this. Basically, the camera moves around the village on its own, playing the music you hear in that area as it goes. So, it’s a visual soundtrack which both plays the music and shows the visuals at the same time – kind of like a benchmark test on PC. There is one issue, the launch-model PS4 Pro (which I have) makes so much noise, it drowns out the music unless wearing headphones (I’m running it on my PC via remote play). Also, as it’s a visual soundtrack, you have to have the game running to view it – which I why I hope an actual soundtrack releases.
On a side note – if you have Spotify, the soundtrack is on there – it’s Draugen by Simon Poole – HERE.
Although only lasting you roughly three to four hours, Draugen is a beautiful, yet tragic adventure you won’t forget. Regardless of the platform you choose to play on, your eyes are in for a treat as the game is truly gorgeous and designed with so much love and care. Although some of the plot points may be predictable, thanks to the subtle hints the game drops throughout, I’ve played through the game three times so far and loved every second of the writing, acting, soundtrack and narrative.
If you want something to curl up with and play at your leisure, without worrying about enemies, time restraints, or puzzles, then Draugen is perfect for you.
- - Brilliant voice acting and mesmerising soundtrack
- - Gorgeous visuals which are very realistic
- - Interesting story which keeps you intrigued until the end
- - The added Visual Soundtrack and Comic Book are great
- - Trophies reward you for exploring the beautiful landscape
- - No platinum trophy
- - If you aren't a fan of slower-paced walking narrative adventures, you may not like the pace of the game
- - Not much replayability unless you want to relive the story again