Some people have lived through something so tragic that it shapes their entire life.
That’s essentially the premise of The Wreck, a new interactive drama now available on consoles and PC. It’s the story of Junon on what the game calls “the most pivotal day in her life”. You see, she’s just had a call from the hospital: her mother is in critical condition following an aneurysm, and it falls down to Junon to decide if she undergoes life-saving treatment or not. Her mother might never be the same again, you see. And as the next of kin, Junon needs to make the decision.
That’s a rather big, scary and sad situation to deal with on its own. But The Wreck isn’t about that day. Not really. It’s about everything else that has led Junon to where she is today. You see, Junon has lived through something terrible, and through flashbacks, we’ll come to learn about it. We’ll also learn more about her complicated relationship with her mother Marie, her sister Diane and her ex-husband Alex.
The Wreck is a deep, human story that weaves a rich tapestry filled with emotions, trauma, mental health, love and loss. It’s very easy to sink into its narrative if you’re a fan of emotionally-driven drama. There’s a lot of dialogue to listen to, very well performed by a team of French actors. There’s a visual element in play, too: animated subtitles appear on screen, with occasional words that can be clicked on. You’ll need to click on a word to drive the narrative forward; occasionally there will be two words to choose between, each taking Junon’s train of thought in a slightly different direction.
Related: 20 Best Story-Driven Games on PS4 and PS5
This isn’t a choice-based narrative, though. Your actions throughout The Wreck don’t shape the outcome, not really. There’s a choice to be made at the end, but your journey there will largely be the same regardless of what you’ve clicked on as you’ve played. This is very much a linear experience and it doesn’t try to fool you into thinking otherwise.
The main aspect of gamification comes from The Wreck‘s flashback sequences. Junon will revisit several scenes from her past, often multiple times. After watching them play out, you can fast forward or rewind through them, searching for important elements to interact with. You won’t have to search hard: your controller will vibrate, and large text will pop up, illustrating where to interact. Each time you fast forward or rewind through one of these scenes you’ll get a little more added context, eventually getting the full, true story from Junon’s perspective.
The ultimate goal, though, is to unravel the one specific event that has shaped Junon’s life. We won’t give it away, because it’s an important part of The Wreck‘s narrative, and it’s something that packs a punch when it becomes clear. But it’s safe to say that The Wreck is packed with raw emotion. It tackles grief head-on, not in a straightforward way but in the messy, complicated way that it often manifests. It deals with guilt, with blame, with feeling hopeless, with being afraid to forget the person you’re grieving. It’s expertly portrayed, with The Pixel Hunt’s writing team not being afraid to show the ugly side of human emotion. It’s real, it’s dark, and even if we haven’t been through what Junon has, we can still relate to many of her emotions.
The Wreck isn’t as complex as something like Life is Strange in terms of its storytelling and interactions, but we can see it appealing to a similar audience base. If you enjoy emotion-led narratives, this is one to pick up as long as you go in expecting a largely passive – and budget – experience. While we like The Wreck‘s often stark art style, it’s missing any sort of lip sync or facial animation of the characters. It’s not a deal breaker, but for a story that relies so heavily on emotion it’s a shame that the character models are unable to give us any. With the weight of characterisation falling solely on the voice actors, then, they’ve done a stellar job.
With a playthrough taking around four hours, you can be done with The Wreck in one sitting. Chances are, you’ll come to care for its characters, as flawed as they all may be – but that’s something this game does excellently. It’s real. It’s raw. It doesn’t try to sugar-coat how brutal grief – and human emotions as a whole – can be. It tells its story in a beautiful way, and while there are no major plot twists or huge, action-packed moments, it kept us hooked from start to finish. The Wreck might not be a technical marvel, but it’s clear that The Pixel Hunt have mastered the art of human storytelling.