Trauma (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Krystian Majewski
Publisher: Krystian Majewski
Released: Aug. 8, 2011
A car wreck. Shadowy forms, impressions; dreams. Memories. They’re the setting of Trauma, an indie hidden object adventure title that popped up on Steam last week for a mere $6.99. At that rate, just about any game is worth a look — and while Trauma isn’t for everyone, it reaches in directions games often ignore in attempts to create a deeper and more profound experience.
The story framework of Trauma is fairly minimal and a little obscure and hazy. It opens with a video of a car accident shown completely in the movement and fluctuations of streaking headlights, implying two cars tangling together and conveying the brutality of the incident in a surprisingly effective way. Like the rest of Trauma’s visuals, it’s a great way to show something familiar and convey meaning in a visceral way.
Trauma’s visuals are easily it’s most striking and powerful aspect. It’s mostly made up of still photographs, many with long exposures and drifting, swirling light. The effect is a shadowy, dreamlike state, in which normal objects can become fantastical and hard to distinguish. These photos create panoramic scenes that represent the dreams of the main character, a woman who was injured in the car wreck. She’s working through the pain and loss of the accident, in which her parents were killed (although we’re never really told that overtly), and part of that process is trying to interpret those dreams.
The game is broken down into four levels. Each one is a dream sequence narrated by the protagonist, explaining some of the things she’s seeing and how the objects found in the dream are significant. In each dream, you can click around the scene to change the viewpoint of the character, moving through the still photos as if you were standing in the scene. Highlights in each photo appears as your mouse rolls over them, showing you what’s clickable in each scene.
Populating the photos are more Polaroids, hidden through each of the dreams. Each carries nine such photos, which can be tracked down to get insight into the story behind the accident. The nine photos in each stage also contain other information: some contain clues to places in other levels where things might be hidden, and others show symbols the player can draw in certain areas.
In addition to clicking around each stage, clicking and dragging the mouse allows you to draw symbols with light on an image, and those symbols allow you to interact with different objects in each level. Sometimes those objects reveal hidden “endings” for each level; there are three hidden exits in each stage apart from the standard ending accessed by following the instructions found in each stage. So if you find a photo in another level suggesting you use the “clear cut” symbol on a tree, you might access a hidden ending, which gives you slightly different insight into that dream and how it relates to the protagonist.
You’ll need to work through all the levels to find all the different symbols you’re capable of drawing. Once you have them, though, you can backtrack and apply different symbols to other areas of dreams you previously worked through in order to find their endings. Knock down all three hidden endings for a stage and you’ll get a highly vague system for finding any remaining hidden photos, which direct you toward them by giving you clues ranging from “very far away” to “close,” in a sort of hot-and-cold setup. It’s not extremely useful, but it does help a little.
As a hidden object game and a purveyor of interesting visuals, Trauma delivers pretty well. It’s challenging and its photographs are generally pretty well hidden. A few can be very, very difficult to find and clicking around some dreams can take quite a while because they’re so big and intricate. What’s even cooler is to remember that each dream is built out of actual still photos, stitched together by developer Krystian Majewski. The sense of realism and surrealism is pretty intense, and Trauma actually does feel like a piece of visual art as much as a game.
From a story standpoint, though, players will likely find themselves polarized on Trauma’s delivery and subject matter. It’s not a game that hands over anything easily, so deriving the game’s story is very much a process unique to each player — Trauma is what you take from it, and that’ll either come off as fresh and philosophical to the person playing it, or a little thin and pretentious. Both are pretty reasonable reactions. Some people may very well think it boring.
The narration by the game’s protagonist, too, can get a little irritating. While haunting, there’s a lot of repetitive speech in the game triggered by looking at certain photos or clicking certain points. In a game that encourages a lot of backtracking, it get annoying listening to the same lines, delivered the same way, over and over. It’s a minor concern, but Trauma’s pretty short as it is; an otherwise stellar audio-visual presentation is a little bit marred by some excessive repetition, and it’s hard to focus on much of anything else as you replay the four levels over and over.
Still, Trauma has a lot going for it: great presentation, unbeatable price and abstract, non-traditional storytelling. Indie fans will have a good time with this point-and-click title, and for $7, if you’re even curious about Trauma, it’s worth a quick download.
- Great visuals
- Tons of atmosphere
- Lots of hidden object challenge
- Interesting concept
- Great price
- Thin on story
- Atmosphere and voice acting can get a touch grating
- Doesn’t quite amount to anything; no climax
- Gets a bit repetitive
Final Score: 75/100