A while back, I did plan on writing about Dark Souls and such, but I never found the time (probably because 112hrs of said time was spent playing it). However, yesterday I bought a pretty cool little Indie game named “Stranded”, designed by Peter Moorhead (for the rest of the team see www.petermoorhead.com/stranded/), and despite being a much shorter game than the aforementioned behemoth, it is nevertheless a shining example of why I play games.
Mystery is key in Stranded. The player (gender indeterminate) awakens after having crash landed on an unknown planet, under unknown circumstances, with an unknown amount of time left. Just the kind of situation you wouldn’t want to find yourself in, and not too dissimilar from the time I woke up on a bench next a wood on the outskirts of Cheltenham…
You have no choice but to search your immediate surroundings and try and find a way out of this mess. Luckily, you have 152 oxygen tanks at your disposal, which drop by one a day – all the time in the world, or so you might think.
With limited places to conduct your search, and nothing to call company but a collection of weird golems that watch passively, panic soon sets in over your apparent lack of options.
You can gather from the off that the alien technology around you might hide some hints as to a way out of your situation, but so obtuse are the temples and machines that it feels while the answers are likely there, your human mind keeps them placed just out of reach.
The small size of the world map works fantastically in this regard. Being a game, you are acutely aware that what you need to do is in this area, but the game cleverly drip feeds you information while never fully allowing you to take advantage of what you learn immediately. You’ll slowly walk between the handful of screens many times a day, hoping for perhaps another tidbit of information, a key, a sign, something to give you a sense of control over the situation while listening to the slow rasping of your character’s breath. Combine this with a growing sense of impending doom, and Stranded truly makes you feel afflicted in the way the title suggests. Amazingly enough, Stranded has provided me with one of the few occasions that I can claim to have felt claustrophobia and agoraphobia simultaneously.
Your short tale is presented to you with some astoundingly evocative pixel art, the likes of which I would love to have made myself! Understandably, 2D pixels don’t appeal to everyone, but I wouldn’t want to see Stranded depicted in any other way. Your confines may be small, but variety is in abundance. A broken ship interior, an expansive view over the horizon, a glowing cave, and crumbling temples with strange artifacts inside. There is certainly more than enough here to keep your sense of wonder topped up, and the game effectively doubles your world by bringing in the changes that come with the night, which may drastically alter any conclusions you had reached about the land by day.
Walking hand in hand with the artwork, is a similarly immense soundtrack by s-t-u-x. Setting the mood throughout the game, it also works when it isn’t there! While trekking through screens from left to right, you’ll feel a sudden sense of loss as it comes to an end, forcing you to spend the rest of day searching in silence. The music feels unquestionably lonesome and alien. I would hope that I would be accompanied by such beats should I ever find myself in such a situation in the future. So good were the tracks on offer, that I had no hesitation in purchasing a copy of the soundtrack from the game’s homepage.
Stranded features a very simple control scheme, though despite the simplicity, you are still expected to find out all of the functions for yourself: I had already made it to day two before I discovered that clicking on my astronaut provided me with a map! Use of the map in all screens only seasons the mystery further! Movement is done simply by clicking on the screen to move to the desired location. Interaction is kept to a minimum, which may frustrate gamers looking for more than a story in their digital interaction, but if that is what they need, then there are plenty of other games out there! Stranded’s simplicity works very much in its favour, and extra options would have needlessly complicated the game and diluted the emphasis on solving the puzzle at hand.
Make no mistake, Stranded is a very short game (I took my time and had seen it through in just under an hour), and the price of £5.99 may put you off after hearing that. It is also definitely not a game that will appeal to everyone. There is no hand holding here, just a terrible situation and yourself to deal with it. I do, however, think that it will easily appeal to those that enjoy a good short story, a great atmosphere, love pixel art and are fans of older, retro games. Someone who doesn’t just want to buy the latest shooter, but wants to see that games can be home to an astounding range of experiences.
I consider it £5.99 and 1hr very well spent, and I’ll most certainly play through it again.
P.S. Do NOT mistake it for the dire Christian Slater film that is also named “Stranded”!