Review: Draugen

Despite the near total lack of promotion or pre-launch info for the game, I’d been looking forward to Draugen for some time. A psychological horror game with Nordic themes by Ragnar Tornquist seemed the next best thing to a new Secret World game.

The logo and title screen for DraugenI think I may have over-hyped Draugen to myself a bit, but it still wound up being a solid game.

Set in 1923, Draugen is the story of Edward Charles Harden. Accompanied by his ward, Alice (AKA “Lissie”), he journeys to the remote Norwegian town of Graavik to search for his missing sister.

Upon arrival, Edward and Lissie find Graavik deserted, and as the days unfold they delve into the mystery of what befell the town as they search for Edward’s sister.

It is very much a walking simulator. There’s no combat, and the handful of challenges you do encounter are too simple to rightly be called puzzles.

Also, despite how I’d heard it promoted, I wouldn’t say this is a horror game. There are a handful of mildly scary sequences, and the story deals with some dark themes, but I don’t think it actually qualifies as horror. Indeed, most of the time the game is quite tranquil — relaxing, even.

Alice/Lissie in DraugenIt is, however, a mystery. You’ll spend most of your time uncovering clues, and the way the picture of what happened in Graavik slowly unfolds is very well done. It feels neither too slow nor too rushed, and it will definitely get you thinking as you try to put the pieces together.

However, if you want the sort of mystery where everything is wrapped up in a neat little package, you will be disappointed. The ending of Draugen is quite inconclusive, and it’s very much up to the player to decide for themselves what really happened in Graavik.

This is not a style of storytelling I’m especially fond of, but I felt it worked here for a couple reasons.

One is that it doesn’t feel cheap. Nothing is withheld from the player; you learn everything that characters in that situation reasonably could. They might not wrap everything up, but it’s not the sort of story that keeps everything vague and mysterious just for the sake of being “artistic.”

The other is that I choose to believe this is a TSW game.

An ominous message in DraugenGoing in, I had already half-jokingly decided that I was going to treat Draugen as part of the Secret World setting, even if it’s not officially labeled as such, and while nothing in the game disproves that notion, there’s not an enormous amount of evidence to support the idea, either. The closest you get is a piece of dialogue near the end that echoes a mission from TSW so well I question whether it can be a coincidence.

But I do grant even that is far from conclusive.

However, if I press forward with my idea that this is a TSW game, it works wonders to fill in all the blanks of the story. It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but connecting Draugen to TSW is for me the perfect way to make the story make sense.

So Draugen didn’t blow me away — if I’m being honest, The Park is definitely the superior TSW-adjacent walking simulator — but it is a game I’d recommend. It’s interesting, and it’s well-done.

I wouldn’t say you need to know TSW to enjoy it, but I definitely think it helps.

If nothing else, it’s worth it just for the breathtaking graphics and soundtrack. This game is an absolute feast for the senses.

The beautiful scenery of DraugenI really want to visit Norway now.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

Interestingly, it seems a sequel may be on the way at some point. The credits conclude with the message, “Edward and Alice will return.”

Hmm…

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Review: The Umbrella Academy, Season One

Literally everyone I know started watching The Umbrella Academy pretty much the moment the series appeared on Netflix. In fact, one of my friends who works in film even helped make the show (it was filmed in Toronto). Perhaps more importantly, everyone I talked to seemed to like it.

The logo for the Netflix series The Umbrella AcademyAlso, Ellen Page is one of my favourite human beings, so I’m always happy to support her work.

So it didn’t take me long to dive into Umbrella Academy despite knowing very little about it.

Based on a comic book, The Umbrella Academy is the story of a dysfunctional family of superheroes. There were seven adopted siblings in the “academy,” all of which but one (Number Seven/Vanya, played by the aforementioned Ellen Page) have fantastic powers. Their adoptive father trained them to be heroes who would save the world, but after Number Five disappeared and Number Six was killed,* the team broke apart, and the dream died.

*(Like way too many things on this show, what happened to Six is never explained.)

The story begins with the remaining members of the academy reuniting for the funeral of their father. As old family tensions flare, events take a new turn when Number Five suddenly reappears after being lost in time for decades.

Shenanigans ensue.

Basically, it’s one part X-Men, one part Hellboy, one part Sanctuary, and one part Arrested Development without the jokes.

There is a lot that I don’t like about The Umbrella Academy. For one thing, it takes itself a smidge too seriously. I do generally prefer my superhero stories hew towards the gritty and realistic, but that only works so well in a story about a bunch of squabbling siblings whose main parental figures are a super intelligent chimpanzee butler and a robotic 1950s housewife.

The Hargreeves siblings in The Umbrella AcademyAlso, as I said, this show doesn’t explain anything. I get that too much exposition can bog things down, but seriously, WHY DO THEY HAVE A TALKING CHIMP BUTLER.

It’s clearly a show that wants to be taken seriously, which is ironic when you realize Umbrella Academy is actually a very simple story with very few genuine surprises.

There’s pacing issues, too. The early episodes really drag, while the last few are almost rushed.

Despite all those complaints, though, this is still a series that I found more enjoyable than not, on balance. Mainly because it has two big things working in its favour.

The first is the cast. Pretty much all of the characters are compelling, and the acting is pretty excellent. I’m especially fond of Number Five, who is just such a delightful little curmudgeon. A show like this lives or dies by the strength of its characters, and that’s the one thing I can’t fault The Umbrella Academy on.

The other is that I’m a big fan of this kind of story. There’s a reason the X-Men have always been by far my favourite superheroes. Eclectic bands of weirdos trying to save the world despite their own flaws? That’s my jam.

And that, I think, is how I would define Umbrella Academy: It’s good if you’re a fan of this particular subgenre. It’s not the best example around, but if you like these kind of stories already, it’s good enough to satisfy. If you’re not already a fan of these tropes, I doubt Umbrella Academy would win you over.

Overall rating: 7.4/10