When you think about the 1920s you think of glamour, flapper dresses, cigars, thrillers and of course crime. There’s a sort of glorification that we’ve glossed upon the era, so much so that a whole sub cinema genre was birthed out of it called Film Noir. Otherwise known as Hollywood’s period of detective crime films, thrillers and horrors.
Norwegian based Red Thread Games has brought this theme closer to home with Draugen. The self-professed ‘fjord noir’ is a first-person mystery set in a tiny village in 1920s Norway. Expect a captivating story with plenty of twists and turns (potentially too many twists and turns some would say) set in a beautifully rich atmosphere with tinges of psychological neurasthenia.
Draugen stars Edward Charles Harden and his 17-year-old ward Lissie. They’ve travelled from Massachusetts to Norway to search for Edward’s younger sister Elizabeth. Edward is the stoic American and Lissie is the vivacious teenager who lives to annoy him. Everything you learn about these three central characters is through conversations and the interplay is between the two is fairly natural. You’re able to control Edward’s actions, allowing him to interject, begin conversations, continue them, or stay silent. This mechanic gives Edward a bit more meat as he is otherwise a fairly single-minded character.
The story of Draugen begins on a boat in the fjords. Edward and Lissie have been invited to the small island village of Graavik but when they arrive the island is mysteriously deserted. You and Lissie search the island in detective mode uncovering the deep secrecy and tragedy of this picturesque village.
Graavik itself is absolutely gorgeous. The picture-perfect vistas of the Norwegian countryside, coupled with the immersive sound design truly put you in an idyllic surrounding. The juxtaposition of the environment comes in sharp contrast with Draugen‘s more tense and moody atmosphere.
Draugen is a game for explorers and detectives. This 1920s Norwegian village is incredibly detailed and every house and building has a cornucopia of scattered clues. You really get into that detective mode, searching through every scrap of newspaper and reading every note. The game leaves you breadcrumbs inching your way forward through this atmospheric narrative. Undeniably this adventure is for the intrepid, with shadows appearing out of nowhere, doors closing on their own it definitely pays homage to its noir roots.
I can’t say too much else about the story of Draugen as you’ll need to find out the mystery about that yourself. I will say that the story delves into some interesting and complex themes such a trauma, isolation and psychology. Edward himself goes on a literal and emotional journey. Whether it’s satisfying to you as the player I won’t venture to offer.
The story is very much linear with a central narrative path to follow. Even if you explore every nook and cranny and read every single newspaper article you’ll probably only be done in three or four hours. This doesn’t mean that Draugen is a bad game, length of gameplay isn’t indicative of how good a game is. I just wish we could spend more time in this world. While exploring you find these rich little pockets of story scattered around Graavik, learning more about the characters and the town. There was a lot of twists and turns, some expected, some not. But the story does feel a little unfinished and some of the revelations a little random? I still can’t decide if I was let down by some of my discoveries but I can tell you that I don’t regret playing the game.
All in all Red Thread Games created a beautiful and fascinating world with Draugen. The journey however short was multi-faceted and I enjoyed living through the character arc of our protagonists. I’m sad to see them go and I’d have been happy to spend more time uncovering the mysteries of Graavik. If the credits are any indication however we may get a chance.