Phew. This one’s a doozy, huh?
Have you ever wanted to play a game about dissecting consciousness that starts off under the guise of a Doom clone? Me either! But I’m glad I did.
This Strange Realm Of Mine’s Steam page describes it as “a First Person Shooter mixed with poetry and psychological horror.” but I’m not sure even that prepares you for what you’re in for. You’ll start off shooting at spooky monsters through some dark corridors with nothing but a pistol and a torch, solving a few simple (but well done!) puzzles. After escaping, you’re dumped into The Limbo Tavern and are told that there is still work to do.
This tavern is where you’ll spend your time in between each of the game’s stages. NPCs eventually gather here as it becomes a haven for those lost, and you’ll get to know these people before jumping back into These Strange Realms. Where you jump back into, though, is what makes @Encaved‘s latest project so unique.
If you’re wanting to go in blind, I suggest you stop reading here. If not, well, it’s about to get weird.
I had expected that first stage to set a precedent for what’s to come. Nope, not at all. The next stage is familiar enough, you find out that you have to bust into a gang of rat’s headquarters to get to your next objective. After you start popping off rat heads in the alley is where the game shows a bit of its hand. Graffiti is painted all over the walls of these streets that the rats call home. You follow the story of them coming up with a name for their gang, how they feel bad about picking on certain members of the group a little too much, and more. This fleshes these characters out… but only after you’ve smeared that flesh all over the walls with your handgun. Once you break into their tower it feels like a page was taken directly out of the Hotline Miami handbook. You brutally take down scores of these people as you climb higher into their base, eventually finding their boss and, if you choose, splattering his brains all over his room after you get what you want.
And that’s just level 2.
Each time you complete a mission, you head back into your safe haven, have a chat with everyone hanging around, and then head back out to see what could possibly be next. And trust me when I say I don’t think you’ll be able to guess. You’ll go through Minecraft parodies, explorations of social anxiety, and entire genre-shifts. I was glued to my screen as I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning just to see what they might have come up with next.
This game sounds perfect right? Uh, well…
If you’ve played the game already or paid attention to the word “poetry” in the game’s description, you might notice that I’ve neglected to mention a pretty core tenant of the game. That’s because I think a bunch of it isn’t any good.
This isn’t to say that the writing is a total loss, though. There are bright spots in the dialogue that legitimately hit points of shocking poignancy, but they come in between literal name-checks of Rick and Morty characters (it’s a good show with some bad fans) and 2deep4u discussions of religion. Those aforementioned discussions coming from a guy sitting in a cell with some Suicide Squad level of “deep thoughts” scribbled all over the walls. There are moments in the game’s story where I couldn’t figure out if the developer was making fun of people like this, or actually was one of them.
These instances of annoying writing are luckily limited to only about two of the game’s characters, and the rest of the cast is allowed to have some surprisingly thoughtful expression. One of my favorite characters is a girl who fights against her anxieties to be an optimist, and shares some personal stories with you along the way.
Personal is a word I keep coming back to when trying to describe this game. For better or worse, This Strange Realm Of Mine feels like a deeply personal work of an artist. It just happens to be really fun to play.
If you’re ready to jump into someone else’s mind and shoot some monsters, check out This Strange Realm Of Mine on the game’s Steam page.