I love a good story-driven game. I love when they let me forget I’m playing a game at all, allowing me to get invested in the lives of the characters. Wayward Strand, a game from ghost pattern, is a beautiful experience that really grabbed me. I’ve been thinking for a while about the best way to relate the gameplay, but I’m going to need you to come with me on this one.
Imagine The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask… but no combat or puzzles. In that game, the people all over the world go about their business on a strict three-day schedule, whether you’re there or not. So it is with Wayward Strand, and because you can only be at one place at a time, you can’t really get the full story of the game on a single playthrough. If you’re okay with that, if managing your time and running around finding the next scrap of a mystery are your cup of tea, then this might be for you.
Story – Lives Filled With Tales
You take on the role of young Casey, a school reporter in 1978 who has been asked by her mother to help out at the floating hospital she works at. You’re tasked with one job: spend time with the elderly patients. But as an amateur journalist, you also want to uncover the mystery of this floating marvel. Where did it come from? Why is it here? Why is it now a hospital? Between talking with the patients about their lives and snooping around the ship, you have the chance to learn a little bit about all of these things
For three days you visit rooms, sit with patients, and chat with them. You can peek in on rooms when they have staff attending them or sneak into off-limits parts of the ship. If you’re in just the right place, you might stumble into a mystery or two. For instance, what happened to the gentleman on the third floor that passed away? Who is this mysterious government worker that’s supposed to visit on Sunday? What are those trophies in Tomi’s room about? And what happened to Nurse Joni?
Gameplay – Ask Me Anything!
The gameplay in Wayward Strand is pretty straightforward. Find a patient, sit with them, ask them questions (or not,) and maybe help them with a minor task or two. Some are chatterbugs, some spin tall tales, and others, like Tomi, don’t speak at all. Yet through all of it, the history of this strange ship, the connections between the staff, and even the strange lives of the patients come to life based on where you choose to be, when you choose to be there, and what you choose to do while you’re there.
The biggest challenge is balancing what you want to see and do with the limited amount of time you have. Fortunately, the game lets you peek into rooms and even onto other floors (just a bit.) This lets you see where patients are wandering and where staff are headed. Helpful when deciding if you need to keep sitting with Neil and listening to his latest book pitch or go check in with Ida and see what she’s knitting.
You have a notebook to keep track of everything you’ve learned and remind you about what you might want to check in on, but beyond that, well… there isn’t much. If you’re looking for an in-depth mystery game where you analyze clues and call out suspects, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re hoping there’s an alien conspiracy behind the floating hospital, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. The word of the day for Wayward Strand is “cozy.” The story and the mysteries in it are all intimate. There’s tons to discover, but it’s all within the boundaries of reality. Well, as much as reality allows for an airship with a geriatric psychic aboard hovering above Australia.
Just a Bit More Polish
All this goodness isn’t to say that game is perfect. I think I might enjoy the whole experience a bit more if I has a better idea about what effect my actions are really making on the plot. The characters talk and interact with you, referencing things you’ve done already, but it’s unclear if anything I’m doing actually changes the plot even after a couple playthroughs.
I think the biggest complaint I have about Wayward Strand, though, is you can only save between chapters. I understand this is a complex game and literally changing from minute to minute, but modern games need to respect the player’s time. If I have to go and it’s the middle of the day, I either lose all my progress so far or I have to stick around and play out the remainder of the chapter, and that’s not a choice I should have to make.
Audio and Graphics – A Lovely Bit of Interactive Art
This game is wholesome. It can be funny, it can be terribly sad. It can confuse you and it can enthrall you. And the key to all of it is the art and sound.
The entire game feels like a picture book from times long past. The colors and the artstyle immediately set you up for the emotional ride you’re going on. As stated before, they’re cozy. You’re obviously not going to set the graphics card in your new PC on fire with this, but that’s not the point. The art here literally paints a picture and it’s a gorgeous one. That’s not to say that the graphics are perfect, though. If I’m being fair, there were a few instances of characters clipping with the background or having some other graphical glitches when moving about (the magical elevator that can be on two floors at once comes to mind) but these were rare and never served to derail the narrative.
Please note I wrote “sound” and not “music.” The soundtrack is great, and it compliments the story perfectly, but what engages me, what really draws me in, is how much care went into the game’s auditory environment. From the superb voice acting to the situationally timed sound effects, the game does well in making sure this feels like a living, breathing place. Hearing announcements over the PA system, the increasingly clear voices of others as you creep closer, the ping of the elevator to tell you someone is moving around the ship, or even just the rolling of of a wheelchair outside your room all serves to not only inform you about important things around you, but helps you engage with the world.
Wayward Strand was reviewed on PC with key provided by ghost pattern.