Indie developer Krystian Majewski’s debut title, TRAUMA, is a curious adventure title set in the dreamscapes of a young woman who is recovering in the hospital after a nasty car crash. The game sets itself apart from your regular point-and-click fare in a number of ways, not the least of which are its simple, gesture-based control scheme and its use of photographs as the primary art assets. On top of the fact that the premise of the game is fairly unique, it also plays into how the experience is structured.
The game begins with a well-directed (and visually artistic) full-motion-video sequence representing the aforementioned car crash. Shots of the unnamed female protagonist reveal that this event lands her in a hospital bed, where she drifts in and out of consciousness. And then, the player is presented with a number of choices.
TRAUMA is broken up into four “chapters,” representing different dreams. Each of these chapters has one primary ending, and three secondary endings, as well as nine photographs to find in each dream’s environment. Each chapter is rooted in real-world locations that have been artistically manipulated to reflect a dream-state and create engaging places to explore. On the game’s official website, Majewski described TRAUMA as “a compact and deep game for a literate and mature audience,” and I’d have to agree, based on my experience. This is primarily due to the game’s mature themes, which–while not particularly inappropriate for younger gamers to experience–are introspective and adult, and may not resonate for those with less life experience.
Navigation the environments is also handled in a very clever way. Moving the mouse over a currently displayed scene reveals alternate views that shift the player’s perspective of the environment when clicked. As such, moving through a dream often feels like falling down a photographic rabbit hole, with each click leading the player deeper into the scene. The aforementioned photographs hidden in each environment will sometimes reveal interesting and introspective informational snippets about the protagonist’s life, but will often include instructions for various gesture-based commands that the player can use. Most of these commands give the player additional navigation options (such as drawing a left or right line to turn, or drawing downward to zoom out), though some of them confer special story-related abilities. The clever part is that each chapter teaches one new special ability, which can then be used to find the alternate endings within the other chapters. It’s ends up being a great way to encourage players to replay each level multiple times. However, finding an ending–whether primary or secondary–will end the current chapter. Chapters can be quickly restarted, but it would have been nice to be able to discover the hidden endings without having to restart the chapter each time.
TRAUMA has a cohesive narrative, to be sure, but the story-glue that ties the game together is conveyed through the FMV cut-scenes that follow the completion of each chapter’s primary ending. The sub-narratives contained in each individual chapter of the game are far more surreal, doing a much better job of creating tone, atmosphere, and evoking certain feelings. It makes sense, given the dream-like settings and their abstract sub-plots, but the game seems to encourage the player to interpret the story through their own life experience. Videogames aren’t static and passive artistic experiences akin to looking at paintings, for example, but players will likely appreciate TRAUMA the most by consuming it in a similar fashion: deliberately, thoughtfully, and intellectually.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the quality of the game’s audio, which contains some wonderful music and sound effects by Martin Straka (who also did music and sound for the iOS game Spirits by Spaces of Play) and some great work by Anja Jazeschann, who provides some dreamily hypnotic voice-over work for the protagonist.
I had an enjoyably thoughtful time playing TRAUMA, and much its imagery is still lingering in my mind’s eye. Having completed the experience, it’s no wonder to me why the game secured award nominations at 2010’s IndieCade, IGF, and EIGA festivals. You can check out a browser-based version of the game on the developer’s website for free, or you can purchase a higher-quality downloadable version either from the developer’s website or from Steam, starting at 5 euros ($6.99). If you purchase the downloadable version directly from the developer, you can also elect to donate a little extra as part of your purchase price, if you so choose.
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