We try to keep our eyes open for interesting, original indie games, here at BrainLazy. Sometimes developers reach out to us, and other times we go after them. After seeing TRAUMA, we just had to take a closer look. Read on to see what was so intriguing about this casual adventure game from Krystian Majewski.
Due to the tight link between visuals and gameplay, I’ll be saying plenty about the look and feel of the TRAUMA in the gameplay section, so this is a quick overview of the appearance. Virtually everything in this game is either a photograph or photo realistic. Images and scenes are static but highly detailed, in a way that brings to mind games like Myst and its sequels. The game is introduced by a visually striking animation, showing the motion of traffic, and the eventual collision that caused the namesake trauma, in the form of long exposure animations of the vehicle lights. It was a really interesting way to show the motion and chaos of the road without showing traffic, with red lines traced tron-style along in pairs, blinking turn signals creating golden dotted streaks, and the crash creating an explosion of colored ribbons. Your screen interactions evoke these streaks of light, as the gestures that control your navigation and interaction are traced out in the same trailing glow.
The settings of the game are deserted and sparse, mostly realistic urban environments. Here and there, though, there are surreal and dreamlike details, and when you correctly activate one, you are treated to some above average CGI effects as parts of the world behave entirely wrong. Solid walls swirl down drains, blood cells fill the sky buildings break apart and tumble away. Through the environments you’ll see minor imagery repeated again and again, sometimes subtle cues, other times massive pieces of the environment. These elements serve multiple purposes, from helping you to tie actions to locations, to creating a sort of psychological theme for the problems our protagonist is grappling with.
One final point of the graphics that I was really impressed with was, of all things, the main level select screen. It is extremely clean and well laid out, giving you instant access to a list of what remains for each level. What can I say, I’m a sucker for good UI.
The gameplay of TRAUMA is highly unique. While there are definite similarities to Myst, such as navigating a rich but largely static environment by clicking along from place, almost instantly you’ll encounter some of the more novel alterations to the formula. For instance, rather than an image being a simple hotspot that will allow you to click toward it, in TRAUMA mousing over a piece of the screen that is elsewhere depicted in higher detail superimposes a blurry duplicate of the picture, screwed and rotated to match the orientation you’ll view it in. From the first moment of the first level, this provides you with a fascinating method to explore the game, circling around a massive, carved sphere by selecting a series of images twisted about its axis.
Now, obviously a game about sightseeing and little else wouldn’t be much of a game at all, so there are layers of other elements. Scattered throughout each of the four levels are nine polaroid pictures. They could be laying on the ground in the open, placed just out of sight on a pole, or tangled in an out of the way spiderweb. What is cool about these images is that they aren’t just scavenger hunt collectibles. Some of them will be aged and faded memories that spark a reminiscence from the narrator. Others take the place of a tutorial, showing off the other methods to navigate and interact. Still others will show you an element of the a different level and a hint on what should be done there to trigger an alternate ending for that setting.
All of the interaction is done with the mouse, and is achieved by drawing gestures on the screen. These are mostly intuitive and simple. A swipe to the right turns right (if possible) and likewise for the left. A swipe up moves forward or zooms in, a swipe down moves back or zooms out. Along with these gestures, you’ll learn actions, which can be applied in different situations to clear brush, lift weights, or capture ghosts. The gesture recognition is superb. Getting anywhere close to the right shape will trigger the appropriate action. A sound of confirmation (and animation of the resulting action) will indicate a correct gesture, with a disappointing sound indicating an incorrect one, or a recognition failure.
Each of the four levels is solved by using a gesture, taught to you by careful observation of the environment, in the correct location. Doing so will trigger the main ending, for the level, and it will also score you some of the extremely high quality video that frames the story, to be discussed later. If the game has one weakness, it is its length. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that, if you were really dedicated to doing a speed run, you could 100% this game in twenty minutes. Even taking my time to sample the images and listen to the narrations, it didn’t take me more than a two hours to see all that there was to see. Now, could this gameplay have supported a longer game? I’m not so sure. The settings are, by their very nature, virtually dead. Spending five or six hours pacing through them might not have held my attention. Thus, while I’m not certain it should have been longer, I will warn that those of you looking for a title to fill a few weeks of free time should look elsewhere. This is more of a morsel than a binge.
Everything about the audio of this game made me feel like I was in a European art house watching an experimental film. Our protagonist speaks with a distant, contemplative voice seasoned with an accent I can’t quite put my finger on. She now and again is interviewed by an intellectual British fellow. The music is atmospheric and subdued, mostly synthetic strings and choir. It perfectly sets tone of the game, though if you aren’t the sort who would spend an hour or so watching a foreign suspense film on public television, it might wear on your nerves after a while.
The story is extremely subtle, and most of the details are inferred from the videos and images, rather than flat out explained. You play as a woman who has suffered serious injuries in a car crash. Though you are were badly hurt, you are recovering well. Unfortunately, the trauma of the title doesn’t apply exclusively to the body. It has left your mind in a shambles as well. Each of the four levels represents a recurring dream. As you play, you are tasked with unlocking the hidden meaning or underlying truth of each dream. Imagine a psychiatrist coaxing a hypnotized patient through her nightmares and you’ll get the idea. The hope is that, if these dreams can be successfully interpreted, it will help you toward your eventual emotional recovery and allow you to return to your life. Careful exploration will reveal elements of our protagonist’s life, including her relationship with her parents and the aspirations she’d left behind for her eventual career.
TRAUMA is short, sweet, and intriguing, as much a work of cinematography and psychology as it is a game.
8.0 / 10: An artistic, subtle, cinematic adventure game with a short duration but rich presentation.