Some things lost in translation.
The first-person walking simulator genre was seen an explosion in popularity this past decade. It nonetheless remains controversial: are they still games? Are they ingenious examples of interactive storytelling as games mature as a medium, or are they the products of talentless developers who think they have something profound to say? ‘n Verlore Verstand (an Afrikaans term translated as “a lost understanding”, pronounced “uh-fur-LOOR-fer-stand”) is one such walking simulator from South African development team Skobbejak Games. Can this indie effort add anything new to the genre?
The game’s exact setting and plot is ambiguous, preferring to present itself as something more along the lines of a dream simulator. Players are placed in various scenarios and have to figure out what to do without much in the way of clues; at least, clues which are not extremely abstract. Once a particular level’s solution is found, an omnipresent tree will appear which will end the “dream” and take players to a new one. Rinse and repeat a few times, and that’s ‘n Verlore Verstand in a nutshell, more or less.
What dreams may come?
There’s some rudimentary puzzles to solve, and their solutions range from obvious to sublime. In many cases, players are implored to think in non-linear terms and literally try everything before they stumble upon their “eureka” moment. Complimenting the puzzles are platforming sections, and occasionally the two ideas intertwine. First-person platforming may leave a sour taste in some people’s mouth, but this game handles it tastefully without resorting to frustration. Nonetheless, expect a bit of trial-and-error as you get your head around the distance and impact of your jumps.
How much you enjoy the game is ultimately dependent on how much you’re willing to tolerate being stuck on a problem with no obvious solution. There’s a ton of seemingly random, nonsensical, and downright non-sequiturs at play here. In one scene (which is the game’s actual term for levels) you’re jumping along a series of rocks floating above a bottomless pit. In another scene, you’re in an abandoned cityscape with phones ringing and skyscrapers rising and sinking. The only way you’ll figure out each one’s objective is by moving around, paying attention to audio and visual cues, and just having a sense for experimentation. Other times, it’s down to simply allowing instinct to kick in. For example, a level has players in a field with massive stone heads drop down from the sky. Having one land on you is an instant death, naturally. The best way to tackle the level is to make a beeline for the exit tree in the distance, as deviations tends to turn you into a pancake more quickly.
The second great awakening.
There are a few issues at play there. I found the lack of a plot to really hurt the experience. While I get what they were going for, what with a dreamy experience free of restrictions, the absence of any overarching narrative really hurts in making the scenes fit together. At times it feels like you’re playing a hodgepodge of random minigames, with no real segue into one another. Tying these all together and linking them as a story would have gone a long way to making it all more memorable.
In addition, there’s a few technical issues. The game doesn’t seem to scale up properly to any resolution in widescreen. My monitor is 1920×1200, and the game consistently appeared as a lower resolution with doubled pixels. It made everything look unappealing. I get minimalism in games where it’s a deliberate design choice, but here it’s apparently a technical or coding issue. Let’s hope this is addressed in future patches of the game. Speaking of patching, I had the game crash on me on the odd occasion, but this appears to have been fixed after an update was pushed through. With luck, it won’t happen again.
‘n Verlore Verstand is a fine little experimental game that touches on other genres while unrepentant about maintaining its own distinct identity. It’s definitely not everybody’s cup of tea, but if you fancy a walking simulation that’s a bit different from its contemporaries and you don’t mind abstract puzzles mixed with the odd platforming section, you’ll find a lot to love here. Of particular note is the fact that it has VR support, and indeed it seems to have been built from the ground up with a headset in mind. I cannot comment on this personally as I don’t own a headset, but it seems like it could be quite the experience. Either way, check it out at its official Steam page, where you can even download a demo before you buy it.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Steam), macOS ; Publisher: Skobbejak Games ; Developer: Skobbejak Games ; Players: single-player ; Released: the 1st of February, 2016.
Full discloure: this review is based on a review copy of ‘n Verlore Verstand given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.