Wake up, blunder around, face trauma, die horribly by doing something you shouldn’t, wake up, repeat. Bonus points for being mocked by an enormous clown throughout.
No no, this isn’t commentary on the current state of modern life… it’s the process by which you explore Strangeland, the titular carnival of oppressive imagery, twisted metals, fleshy… somethings and stark skyborne islets, featured in Wormwood Studios and WadjetEye Games’ latest adventure game.
While as densely packed with narrative excellence, careful puzzles and excellent voice acting as any of the champion combo of studios’ finest, it’s the absorbing, consuming and compelling sense of place in Strangeland that slinks its tendrils around your psyche and tugs you inquisitively into its depths.
With death always a misclick away — yet somehow never frustrating, thanks to the unique mechanics and circumstances that tether our protagonist to this maddening black-and-violet realm — exploring Strangeland is about embracing the unexpected, soaking in the dark carnival and keeping an open mind… especially given the people you’ll meet.
Get stuck? Not to worry — dial your handy-dandy guide for assistance, with a healthy dollop of thinly veiled contempt and seething disapproval.
So much of what makes adventure games wonderful is that ‘new screen feel’ — you walk off the side of the screen, or finally bribe or barter your way into somewhere a character has blocked, and you take in the views, potential and puzzles of a fresh new screen of fun.
And, of course, you have a bit of a rummage for anything you can take that isn’t nailed down on the off-chance it becomes inexplicably crucial to your progress later. Don’t worry, you’ve always got massive pockets.
Despite the oppressive atmosphere of Strangeland — where just walking somewhere new has the chance of evoking a soul-chilling, screen-garbling screech that shakes our hero to his core to extents even Giygas would find enviable — the disjointed vistas and sky-lands of the game gel in a cohesive way that never fails to feel engrossing.
Fractures of Strangeland itself fragment away from its core locations, sprinkling into a starry void where motes and madness frequently fly past against a vibrant skyscape. The otherworldly nature of the place is somehow offset by the grounded needs of its characters, all of whom express sorrow, lament, cynicism, hopelessness and bewilderment at their fates.
The reasons behind all this become wonderfully, ingeniously clear the deeper you dive, the further you go and the more you embrace the sides of oneself we prefer to leave languishing in the dark. Yet so much of Strangeland is enjoyed by the sense of being in Strangeland itself, and feeling as though the very place conspires to control and liberate you simultaneously — to unshackle you from your burdens and wrench you snarling to confront them all at once.
The carnival itself is a character all its own, urgent for you to succeed and desperate for you to fail for its own amusement. Brilliant, mind-bending and beautiful in its stark and unapologetic nature, both Strangeland and Strangeland itself ought to be experienced by any adventure game lover.
It’ll stay with you long after you leave… or think you left….