Game Review: The Sailor’s Dream (iOs, 2014)

IMG_0989Swedish company Simogo enjoys telling vaguely depressing short stories in a very oblique kinda way. I ended up not finishing their first game (Year Walk) because I lacked the patience for wandering about, trying to figure out what to do. But its world looked great, was atmospheric and there seemed to be an intriguing tale waiting to be uncovered. Device 6 was Simogo’s second game, and it mixed paranoia with a retro seventies design to great effect. It was more accessible and straightforward than Year Walk and all the better for it.

IMG_0981The Sailor’s Dream is (even) less gamey than the previous two efforts and – in the end – feels like a storytelling art installation. There are songs, audio clips and short pages with text that you can choose to print out, though I am not sure why you would. When combined, these fragmented, piecemeal elements tell a beautifully melancholic story.

You find yourself on an ocean and can sail past various locations. Once you have dropped your anchor at one of these, you can make your way up past painterly interiors, which sometimes will respond to your touch, though not always meaningfully, and you can find objects that tell part of the overarching tale. Once you reach the top, a ‘memory’ rises to the surface and you are prompted to let go, finding yourself once more on the ocean.

IMG_0978In addition to this, there are some timed events. I don’t want to be specific, as you may want to discover things for yourself, but the game expects you to check in at certain times and on certain days to uncover more material that will lead you to the game’s (the story’s) true ending. More likely, you will find yourself taking a shortcut and manipulating the settings for the time and date on your iDevice. This is not exactly the most ‘fun’ activity but better for story flow as the original intent spreads out the fragments so much that any momentum is lost.

IMG_0976In the end, I liked the look of The Sailor’s Dream and I liked the texts, sound clips and songs as I uncovered them. But it seemed to me that some of the obstacles placed between the audience and the story were a bit awkward. It is only once you have grasped the big picture and run through all the bits and pieces again in one go, that the sweet-but-sad tale ends up having a true impact. It lacks this impact while you are trying to wrestle the fragments from the game, jumping through its hoops. The slow coalescing of the narrative is a cool concept, but especially the timed elements hurt the story at the core of the experience. As an experiment in interactive, highbrow storytelling, The Sailor’s Dream is definitely intriguing and should not be missed, but it leaves room for improvement.


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