Aug 182011

Status:Complete, all endings and pictures obtained.

Most intriguing idea:Using hidden-object gameplay as an analogy for self-examination.

Best design decision: The “ghost photo” navigation system.

Worst design decision: Describing the possible endings under the “Discoveries” tab. These are telegraphed enough as is.

TRAUMA sets a difficult task for itself and doesn’t completely succeed. The idea of the game is that a young woman has been in an accident and the player is engaged in her mental healing process, as instanced through a quartet of dreams. By moving through the dream worlds and finding fragments of her memory (in the form of polaroids), the player… well, it’s not clear what the player is accomplishing. The vignettes that accompany “success” in a world are ambiguous, and the game ends without any real sense of catharsis, closure, or even definition. While it’s true that healing is a process, not a destination, the game does end, and having the main character explicitly confront what happened to her would have been a satisfying conclusion for this otherwise murky game.

Of the four dreams in TRAUMA, the only one I felt didn’t work was “What they want”. The drain on a wall in the middle of the road wasn’t a compelling image for me, and the way the whole level was decorated with spare drains made it feel heavy-handed and overly posed. Additionally, this level didn’t really have a motif to call its own: the looping road recycles ideas found in other dreams. Broadly, I would have liked a little better sense for the connection of the main character with the settings of the dreams. “The Next Hurdle” is clearly about a place that was a major part of her life, but her relationship to the other settings is uncertain. For me, that made them less interesting and revealing. Despite this, TRAUMA succeeds in conveying a compelling mystery of the self and at creating worlds where the logic is both dreamlike and accessible. It’s not a total success, but it’s worth checking out for its ideas and aesthetic.

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