Review | The Wreck
It is not often that I am drawn to a title described as a “Mature 3D Visual Novel” but something about the art style and subject matter made this one stand out as something special. Based on the concept of a main character facing a life-changing dilemma (don’t worry it is not an Eton-educated clown fighting for their political life) and having to make important choices, it seemed to me to be worthy of further investigation. Let’s discover if I was correct in that assertion.
Before the game starts players are warned about a car crash simulation and given the option in the settings to limit motion sickness. We are also warned that the subjects of self-harm, sickness, grief, and toxic relationships are encountered within the story. The car crash is used as a medium to explore the past and is experienced many times over but only because it is integral to both the story and the structure of the gameplay.
After running up the game, I was presented with an unwritten screenplay. After choosing to start writing, the script began to write itself as if I was responsible and the game proper began. This was a novel way of quickly drawing me into the proceedings. The art style is similar to that of “As Dusk falls” without being so photo-realistic and is not used in such a stop-motion fashion. It is a lot more static and has a brighter colour scheme, but being in 3D this style works particularly well for a visual novel.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Created by French developers The Pixel Hunt I played the game in English but all dialogue was delivered with a French accent, presumably by French actors and actresses. Considering that this is most likely voice acting in a second language, the quality of the dialogue delivery was exceptionally good. In a somewhat shocking extra twist, even the actor representing a child put in a steady performance and was not in the least bit irritating. Something which has been very thin on the ground in most of the games I have played over the years.
Spoilers aside, the story revolves around the main character Junon (a screenwriter) being called to her mother’s hospital bedside after she suffers an aneurysm. Needless to say, life and death decisions have to be made and she finds herself replaying pivotal moments from her past to get through this day of all days and move onward with her life. Once unlocked, traumatic events and previous important decisions are presented to players as a series of cyclical dioramas. These need to be investigated, with individual trains of thought, examined until eventually, all becomes clear, a mystery is solved and onward paths for both Junon and her mother’s futures can be chosen.
Conversations with close relatives take place in various locations around the hospital while the player is treated to an internal monologue from Junon. Making sometimes time-restricted choices between various highlighted words from the subtitles (which explains why I was unable to turn them off in the menu) allowed me to gain access to extra dialogue paths and musings from the leading lady.
Reliving the trauma of the car crash repeatedly allows players to select items thrown up into the air by the violent impact. These are no random objects however and using a unique time-bending mechanic, players can move backward and forward through sometimes repeated memories until a particular revelation is revealed. These new pieces of knowledge lead to other branches of conversation and more memories that can be examined until another part of a historic puzzle falls into place. If this sounds like a rather dry concept that is because it has been intuitively designed and is not easy to explain with words. This takes a bit of getting used to but believe me when I say that it quickly becomes second nature and works really well.
How Does This Make You Feel?
A mid-game section based around a bathroom is particularly interesting in that each button press of the controller advances the time through the different stages of the day. As the sun rises and falls the room takes on different shades of colour and shadows spread across the scene. Observed from a static perspective near the ceiling this piece of visual art was truly inspired and a refreshing way of presenting mundane events in a simple yet memorable way.
Although the narrative is fairly straightforward forward it has many hidden depths. Inter-sibling rivalries are explored, as is religion, dark family secrets, mental anguish, and musings on how truth can be relative. LGBTQ+ relationships are reflected in a positive light I am glad to say while the subjects of love and loss are explored in thought-provoking ways. Symbolism also plays a key part in proceedings with a ‘wreck’ describing far more than a crashed car and a particular animal representing many different things. I enjoy gaming experiences that deliver deeply emotional journeys and I am glad to report that this one certainly does.
Slyly educating players with references to certain books, games, and facts the story does so in an intriguing manner that does not come across as preachy or overbearing. A short factual explainer about the humble Lobster was not only interesting but also made me change my whole perception of the creature. Witness it yourself and you will understand why I will never see them in the same way again.
The Wreck ran seamlessly on my Series X with no glitches or issues whatsoever. The only slight complaint that I have is that I sometimes struggled to get the cursor across to a time-limited word before it faded out of existence. I don’t think this caused me to miss anything that important and there is always the option to play through again as I completed the story in just over three hours while collecting the full one thousand Gamerscore.
Rounding things off, this is possibly one of the most deeply emotional gaming experiences out there and boasts an art style that works perfectly for a visual novel. As well as serving up a unique game mechanic this is an inexpensive title that could easily go unnoticed in this world of AAA behemoths, but hopefully, it will get the attention that it rightly deserves. Delivering a truly different gaming experience, fans of the genre are sure to appreciate what is on offer here.
After all, any game with a pumping theme tune in the style of the soundtrack to Road 96, which shouts out the classic French indie game “Night Call” has to be worth anybody’s time. It is strangely cathartic to lead a broken character through one of her darkest days and succeed in leading her out into the sunshine with the hope of a better life going forwards. Why don’t you give it a try?
Xbox Series X
- A deeply emotional experience.
- Uses a unique game mechanic.
- An inexpensive bargain.
- Offers something realistic and different to fans of visual novels.
- Great voice acting.
- Some selectable words can be missed if you are sloppy with the cursor.