I always look forward to reviewing art games. Good or bad, the one thing I can guarantee is that it will be interesting, and an invitation to play with interpreting what’s being said by the narrative. A pleasant change of pace from simply taking what I’m given at face value.
The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature is brought to us by French developer ARTE France, and was released on October 30, 2019, for PC.
An Old Classic
The Wanderer is a retelling of the classic Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley, told from the point of view of the creature. Made in a mad experiment and with a hideous visage that brings fear to all who see it, the creature desperately seeks to find belonging and peace.
Of course, as the player, you have some choice in how this plays out. How he chooses to react to humanity’s rejection, or whether or not he accepts the futility of his quest are among the choices you can make…though I must admit I was disappointed in how little these decisions affected the overall narrative.
The story takes a break from more contemporary depictions of the creature, granting it intelligence and casting it in a sympathetic light. However, it’s also not a strict retelling of Mary Shelley’s original either. While the early portion covers a lot of the same story beats, as the game goes on it diverges more and more, celebrating more where the story has gone rather than just where it started.
A Horrid Experiment
Unfortunately, for all the good I have to say on the story, the gameplay is quite lackluster. I’m no stranger to games that have limited gameplay; I’ve enjoyed my fair share of walking sims and visual novels. Here, however, it felt like the developer’s attempts at adding gameplay detracted from the experience rather than enhanced it.
There are a number of sections where you have to solve a puzzle or perform a mini-game to proceed. The price for failure is nonexistent, so it’s just a matter of trying again until you succeed. Outside of a piano playing game that shows up a couple times, they’re not particularly fun mini-games either. It’s just something you have to go through to proceed, and while some have a narrative focus to them (Helping chop wood for the family you’re watching over, for instance), in other cases it feels like there was a narrative element thrown in there just because, “Well, it’s a game and it should have gameplay, right?”
All of this would be perfectly fine, except that The Wanderer is fairly buggy, especially in regards to mini-games. There were a number of times where the game soft locked, refusing to proceed because an element broke, and even one instance of a mini-game UI popping up on the screen long before the mini-game itself was even triggered.
To make matters worse, the gameplay overall is generally slow and the game only saves at the start of each chapter. Experiencing a game breaking bug towards the end of a chapter was…heartbreaking, to say the least.
A Work of Art
Bugs aside, The Wanderer is absolutely beautiful. Each chapter is rendered as a painting you explore, and the music is haunting and melancholy.
There are, unfortunately, a number of times where the artistic direction needs to lean more towards being utilitarian and clear. There were a number of occasions where the text was difficult to read, being white on white, or moments where I had difficulty seeing that I could interact with something for similar reasons. A nice shadow around your UI elements does wonders here folks.
Read a Book
Unfortunately in the end I just can’t recommend this. It’s beautiful, and with a bit more polish I would call it a fine way to experience a classic tale. As it stands at the moment, though, the bugs are an active detriment and the actual gameplay, the stuff that differentiates this from just reading a book or watching a movie, feel like they detract from the story more than add to it.
It’s a solid attempt, and I kind of hate to give it a score this low since I really want to encourage the studio to improve and do better…but the fact is they do have to improve. Do yourself a favor and give the novel a read sometime, however.
Review copy provided by ARTE France for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.