In this point-and-click video game by Wormwood Studios, the developers behind the brilliant Primordia, you’ll find yourself trapped on a floating festival ground in a madness-inducing cycle of death, desperation and poor jokes, chasing a golden-haired woman through a creepy world of croaking ravens and hollow laughter, running away from a dark thing that lashes out and kills you without the least provocation. Can you keep your wits together long enough to find out what is going on, and who you are?
Strangeland by Wormwood Studios, the developers of the brilliant Primordia, is in the unenviable position of succeeding one of my favourite video game experiences ever. I’m going to admit right of the gate that it didn’t quite live up to that expectation; but then, Primordia was exceptional and I am not sure if any game could have.
Having said that, Strangeland is a great point-and-click adventure, that, like Primordia, has a very distinctive art style and soundscape that make for a very atmospheric experience. Where Primordia went with a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Stangeland goes for an occult horror vibe of bodiless fortune-tellers and eyeless scribes, talking ravens and people in straightjackets. I understand that the creepy carnival-style horror is not for everyone, but for some reason I love that trope. Especially when mixed with various references to Poe and Norse mythology (and probably all kinds of things that I missed), it made me feel right at home.
The gameplay is what you’d expect from a point-and-click adventure, with an avatar moving through several screens looking for objects to solve logical (and sometimes: less logical) puzzles, going back and forth between the various NPCs to convince them to help his struggle to defeat the ‘dark thing’ stalking the carnival grounds suspended in nothingness. An interesting element in the game is that you’re not set back when you die (the only penalty is having to sit through a poor joke told by a depressed clown) – and you even need to die to progress sometimes. Another thing I really like is that you can always walk up to the payphone and call a literal help line, which will tell you off for being an idiot and give you a hint for the next puzzle. Because the hints are built into the gameplay like that, it feels a lot less like cheating, and a lot more like the developers intended. In the end, we only ended up needing hints once, when we got stuck because there was one screen we had overlooked (a small hint to all you prospective players: there are four exits to the main tent – yes, that shadow on the right is also a tent flap). In the end I thought the puzzles were very fair, and sometimes there are several different solutions, which always helps.
I ended up feeling a bit let down by the ending, where you get to make some choices, but since they are so late in the game, they feel a bit shallow. One other reason was that the main character is very much intended to represent you, so (strangely?) I found there was less of an emotional impact compared to the struggles of lovable characters like Horatio and Crispin in Primordia.
Overall, I think that Strangeland is definitely a recommendation for people who love point-and-click games, people looking for a horror game without jump scares, or people who loved Primordia and want more – though in almost any event, I would recommend you check out Primordia first. Like with any point-and click game, I would recommend playing in short bursts or with someone else though, because more creativity is better and the last thing you want is frustration boiling over because you’ve been breaking your teeth on a problem that turns out to have a simple solution you missed.