'Strangeland' Is a Stunning Adventure Game Built Around a Dull Concept

Strangeland is actively weird. Staged in the twilight space of dreams in a pseudo-carnival filled with bizarro characters, it asks you to accept its twisted logic and pursue a thematically simple plot: you are a Man who witnesses a Woman destroying herself over and over again in this dream world, and you want to save her from that fate. Along the way, you will ride on a giant cicada that quotes psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, you’ll rewire a carnival shooting game, and you’ll insult a telepathic squid to death. It is certainly a melange of different vibes and tastes, all crammed together into a discrete package that is undeniably an adventure-game-ass adventure game.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/z3x4ga/strangeland-is-a-stunning-adventure-game-built-around-a-dull-concept

So the thing about contemporary point-&-click video games is that I love them, and the thing about Strangeland is that I’ve been looking forward to it since I heard of it. Wormwood Studios and Wadjet Eye previously published Primordia together, which ranks up there as one of my favorite games of all time. I definitely didn’t do it justice with my play-through for Savepoint a few years back.

Kunzelman is right, in terms of the framework of the story. It’s pulling from a pretty tried concept of Man Tortures Himself Over Loss of Woman. I’ve seen this sort of stuff before, it isn’t new to me, and I find it pretty exhausting. It’s why I don’t particularly understand the praise Silent Hill 2 gets as a game. However, I kind of have to disagree in terms of how the game handles a cliche narrative. The fact that it kind of constantly references it over and over again makes it feel almost tongue-in-cheek. It feels like a game that’s pretty aware of the fact that narrative it has decided to center itself around is pretty trite, and so it’s making up for that with the absolutely bonkers stuff you have to do in order to progress through the narrative.

One of the other things I enjoyed about the game, and that may have distracted me from Man-Woman Psychology Loop, was the sheer amount of referential material for it. Off the top of my head, there’s Norse myth, tarot, the aforementioned Jacques Lacan stuff, several references to Edgar Allen Poe, and deja vu’s lesser known cousin, jamais vu. I spent nearly 7 hours with the game, alternating between stumbling around trying to figure out puzzles, and looking up snippets of quotes, names, concepts and information. Each time I learned a little more, I loved the game a little more for encouraging me to pursue this information. Not to mention some of the sayings and concepts it brings up just feel interesting to hear, like the satisfaction you get from a particularly poetic phrase or series of sounds.

Also, I know how to pronounce ‘nepenthe’ now, so that’s a nice bonus.