Draugen is a single-player, first-person Fjord Noir mystery set in 1920s Norway. Explore a picturesque coastal community in your search for your missing sister, accompanied by your gregarious and enigmatic young ward.
Publisher: Red Thread Games
Reviewed on: PC (Steam)
Also available for: macOS, Linux
Cast: Nicholas Boulton, Skye Deva Bennett, Jane Perry
Developer: Red Thread Games
Writing: Ragnar Tørnquist (story and screenplay), Quintin Pan (story), Filip Lange-Nielsen (story), Christoffer Grav (story)
Design: Quintin Pan, Filip Lange-Nielsen
Not all is what it seems in Graavik, a little Norweigan fishing village were a great mystery is afoot.
Edward Harden and his ward, seventeen-year-old Lissie arrive at the seemingly deserted village in the 1920's with a mission to find Edward's missing sister, Betty Harden. She had come here some time ago, and although Edward had written ahead to announce his arrival, there is no one to be seen, or heard from in the village of Graavik.
Although Draugen sets up a very detective inspired direction and mysterious plot with Edward and Lissie trying to discover what happened in the seemingly abandoned village to not only the villagers but also Betty, it's a very straightforward experience. This is a character story and it'll take you only a couple hours to finish unless you spend unnecessary time exploring — which, I did my fair share. There are no puzzles to solve, and no complicated dialogue options, although you do get some choice over what you say to Lissie as you put together pieces of the village’s figurative puzzle.
It's not necessarily a bad thing that Draugen is such a story focused game, but it was disappointing there wasn't some more involvement from the player in piecing together certain elements. Instead, you simply click on items and Edward will think aloud to Lissie, or read over a letter translating it to English for the player and also, Lissie.
You'll be mostly be walking and interacting with key objects to trigger the progression of the story in Draugen. It’s a very linear experience, but a well paced one. There isn't much to consider in the way of optional content, but there are times you can sit and soak in the Norwegian setting and even let Edward draw in his journal. And it is stunning quite often, so much so that I took every opportunity to sit and soak it in I could. I also took over thirty screenshots while playing Draugen — but I know smelling the roses isn't for everyone.
As a short and tight story experience, I can not discuss the finer details of Draugen's story without spoilers, but I enjoyed its themes more than its plot. The story wraps with a somewhat disappointing ending leaving open some annoying questions. But the journey is, thankfully, really enjoyable and this is thanks to the writing for the two main characters in Edward and Lissie. Although Lissie at first rubbed me the wrong way with somewhat annoying 1920's slang thrown around like "old-bean" constantly as if she was a character acting in her own play, I eventually grew to like her. It's Edward's and Lissie's banter that's the centrepiece for the game, so it's important it feels natural and realistic, which it mostly does. I question how often things like "old-bean" were thrown around in the '20s though, but hell, I didn't live then — so, I dunno, applesauce!
Nicholas Boulton as Edward and Skye Deva Bennett as Lissie bounce off one another very naturally throughout the adventure and their performances along with the visual spectacle are easy standouts.
Lissie's character doesn't have the same quality as her writing or performance, however. Although the facial work is fine, it's the lack of anything resembling a real person at times that can put the performance from Bennett to waste. One second Lissie may be moving around and skipping about like a teenager, but as soon as you enter a conversation with her she's a stationary talking head that never moves or emotes physically. It stuck out like a sore thumb in an otherwise very polished experience.
A very string heavy selection of music from Simon Poole fittingly carries the journey along with its emotional beats from mysterious to sad and scary. Disappointingly it's not available on Spotify yet, but it'd be one of my favourite game soundtracks of 2019 so far none-the-less.
As Draguen began to unravel it's mysterious, I wasn't shocked to learn I had pieced together most would-be-surprises myself preemptively, but still, I had enjoyed the journey. However, when it came time to bid farewell to Graavik, I didn't wish to say bye to Edward and Lissie, two characters I had formed a stronger attachment to by the time the credits rolled than I was aware of. One final message at the end of the credits promised their return though, so hopefully Red Thread Games mean to keep that promise.
For as much as I wasn't blown away by Draugen's plot, I enjoyed my time with Edward and Lissie and their adventure to Graavik quite a lot. I do hope they return, sooner, rather than later, old-bean.
(Draugen code provided for review)